What are Christians in American most known for?
A few years back, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons published unChristian, which surveyed the perceptions non-Christian young adults held of the American Church. The results were not pretty. We American Christians are perceived, according to Kinnaman and Lyons’ research, as hypocritical, too salvation-focused, antihomosexual, sheltered, too political, and judgmental.
Obviously, caveats apply. Perception is not reality, for one thing. For another, surveys may only reveal “lies, d***ed lies, and statistics,” as Mark Twain famously put it. On the other hand, as any marketing expert can tell you, perception is reality as far as the customer is concerned. So if we’re perceived as a laundry list of negative qualities, then we’ve got a problem.
What should Christians in American be most known for? First Thessalonians 4:9–10 offers an answer:
Now about your love for one another we do not need to write you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia.
In Greek, “love for one another” is philadelphia, literally, “brotherly love.” Christians are supposed to be known as people who love each other. We’re supposed to be a community that works.
unChristian surveyed the perceptions non-Christian young adults held of American Christians. Kinnaman went on to write You Lost Me, which surveyed the perceptions Christian young adults held of Christianity. Again, the results were not pretty. We are, according to Kinnaman’s research, overprotective, shallow, antiscience, repressive, exclusive, and doubtless.
If you take unChristian and You Lost Me together, the one thing American Christians are not known for—by young unbelievers or by young believers—is love. That’s a problem, folks. We’re known by who and what we’re against, not by who and what we’re for. Both outside and inside the church. By contrast, the Thessalonian believers were known throughout the Macedonian Christian community as loving people.
How do we become what we should be, especially when we’re perceived as being the opposite of what we should be? Two quick suggestions:
First, we need to remember who teaches us to love. “You yourselves have been taught by God.” How often do we reflect that it is God who gives us the Great Commandment to love him with all we’ve got and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:37–40)? Not often enough, if survey results are any indication. If we honestly believed God himself had taught us to love, we would love, wouldn’t we? Since God himself has in fact taught us to love, then let’s just do it!
Second, we need to refocus our priorities. We Christians get wrapped up in all sorts of crusades that don’t have to do with the main things of Scripture. The main thing is love: of God and of neighbor as self. And of enemy too, for that matter (Matt. 5:38–48). That’s what Christianity is all about, and what American Christians should be known for.