Three preliminary thoughts before you read this article:
- Though this article addresses the response of Missionaries’ Kids (MKs) to Cultural Christianity, the conclusions may extend to clear-minded Christians as a whole…
- In this article, I refer to North American in its narrower definition, meaning the United States and Canada.
- It’s important to note, as one reader commented, that “the same kinds of loud, hypocritical voices that give Christianity a bad name in the public square in the US exist in every society. They’re garbed in Christian symbolism here, whereas in other places, they’re covered in whatever cultural symbolism prevails there.
I asked Emma [name changed] if she’d sit with me at some point before the end of the week. She rolled her eyes and giggled, “What—so you can fix me?”
We’d spent enough time together that I knew her lighthearted tone held some genuine fear. She’d been someone’s “project” too often, on the receiving end of sermons and pleas from well-intended Christians. I hoped she knew me well enough to expect something different from our conversation.
When she plopped down next to me with another eye-roll, a couple days later, and mock-groaned, “Go ahead—ask me your questions,” I laughed and said, “Welcome to the torture chamber!”
She unloaded her story that afternoon. There was meaning in every detail she depicted and every emotion she described. She answered each question with a dull “Fine” or “Yep”…then took a breath and verbalized the real answer. She talked about life on the field and life since her return “home” to North America.
“So how do you feel about Christians?” I asked this woman-child whose entire life has been steeped in faith and evangelism. Her answer didn’t surprise me:
- They’re small-minded
- They’re bigots
- They’re hypocrites
- They’re arrogant
- They’re fake
- They’re political hacks
- They’re culturally irrelevant
They are huge generalizations that (unfairly) paint an entire faith with a negative brush, but I’ve heard other MKs express a similar distaste: at best, Christians are laughably gullible and at worst, they’re morally bankrupt.
I’ve outlined in previous articles how the faith of MKs can be damaged by ministry-related factors like neglect, loss, expectations and hypocrisy. (Click each word to be taken to the article.)
But for those who return to North America and encounter its Cultural Christianity, their distrust of all things Christian can take on a heightened intensity.
(Cultural Christianity is not unique to this continent—it just may be more prominently displayed here.)
This cynicism about faith is proudly on display in a group I was asked to join a few weeks ago. It’s a collective of adult MKs, many of whom have rejected the cornerstones of their family’s beliefs: traditional Christian values, an evangelistic world view—and God itself.
Though I don’t exactly fit the group’s demographic, I accepted the invitation. So for the past few weeks, I’ve been reading the posts of MKs who find community and relief in lambasting people like…me. It’s troubling. It’s heartbreaking too.
To be honest, I can see where they and Emma are coming from. They’re speaking out against narrow social constructs masquerading as faith. Many of the loudest voices in Christianity today mistake social bullying and political grandstanding for righteous indignation.
They use God to legitimize diminishing others—and ultimately diminish him.
The agendas of self-declared “Bible-believing” politicians, pundits and high-profile figures always accurately reflect God’s…right?
This brand of Cultural Christianity can be so closed-minded, angry and manipulative that it looks neither relevant nor honest. And MKs highly prize relevance and honesty. Whether we’re believers now or not, we see the falseness of their claims and resent the assumption that we are one of them. We step away lest we be indicted by association.
So when members of the adult-MK group question the intelligence and goodness of Christians, when they post links that ridicule morality, excoriate faith and disparage believers, I cringe at the Disillusion Discourse. But I can see where they’re coming from too—they’re pretty good at picking out hypocrisy. The problem is that they associate it with all of Christianity.
Is it any wonder that so many young adult Missionary Kids are walking away from faith?
What’s true for society as a whole is true for MKs too: in our rejection of false-faith and hypocrisy, we’ve sentenced ourselves to a life devoid of the presence of God. Cynicism wins and we come away with nothing.
After spending part of an afternoon enumerating the ways she’s been harmed and neglected in the name of God, and after listing the flaws she attributes to Christians as a whole, Emma looked at me serious-faced expecting a response. The only genuine one I could muster was:
“I don’t want you to be a Christian.”
Imagine the shock on her face. And likely on mine too, as I hadn’t expected to articulate that sentiment. But I couldn’t blame Emma for shying away from adherence to a religion largely seen as “small-minded, hypocritical, bigoted, arrogant, fake and irrelevant.”
To be honest, based on that definition, I don’t want to be a Christian either—angry, prone to slander, incapable of listening and willing to measure people’s faith by the nature of their political vote.
Here’s what I want—and what I told Emma I’d pray (yes, pray) for her: to have a relationship with Jesus. To experience and be changed by his kindness and compassion. To be motivated by his example and empowered by his commands.
I want to be challenged to live up to the highest of God’s standards—including Truth-telling and humility—and to be mindful of the mandate that we love others to him in a way that honors and reflects his heart.
That we be humbly unyielding and wholly accepting as we strive to model the ideals he embodies.
This is not a call to abandon God’s principles—they are good and worthy and immutable. It’s an exhortation to pursue them and display them as he would. (There are so many Christians in North America who exemplify a vibrant, genuine faith! But they aren’t the loudest voices, so are easily overlooked.)
God is not petty. Not demeaning. Not bigoted. Not a megalomaniac coercing submission for his own validation.
Anyone who displays those characteristics and claims they reflect God is lying and does not represent Christianity.
What I want for the MKs in my care—for a generation scared off by “Cultural Christianity”—is that they seek a relationship with Jesus not defined by adherence to a political party or social movement.
I want them to have a marrow-deep understanding of God’s love that will naturally and without self-righteousness draw others to him—not to a religion. I want them to experience transformative faith and speak truth in a way that will be heard, not dismissed.
I want Emma to know Jesus, so she can recognize the distortions that rant from cultural platforms and wound from social stances.
This is what I want for myself too, above all else, though I am far from achieving it:
“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
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If interested, the results of the Adult-MK Survey are HERE.
I am an MK that understand where Emma is coming from. I don’t tell people I am a Christian. I don’t try to evangelize people. I try to love every person in may contact like God loves me unconditionally. I don’t expect anything from them. One thing I can’t understand about Christianity. They claim God only can save a person. The Holy Spirit is the one who draws people to God. Then why do Christians think they have to do all the work of God and the Holy Spirit. But many of the Christians I know think you can force people to love God. They intend to do it by making laws to make people Christian. It will not work.
The mission field and related experience has such a profound affect. People either remain close to their religious roots, abandon all togethyer or, like me, stay on the fringes
I understand the point you’re making, but it’s sad that the term “Christian” has lost its true meaning. Having that relationship with Jesus is what everyone should think of when they hear the word “Christian.”
Fantastic article, Michele. What you describe is sad – I’ve had my years of feeling disenfranchised with the American packaging of my faith and socio-political values, but I see many positive outcomes. The desire to keep faith genuine, the instinctive knowledge of cultural mores that faith is not, and the willingness to hold out until the right thing comes along – these are the marks of people that innately want to know God and not rely upon mechanical props.
Because of the problem of ‘cultural Christianity’, here in Japan I rarely use the word that is translated as ‘Christianity.’ Instead, I use the word that is translated ‘faith in Christ.’ I’m not espousing a religion–a list of dos and don’ts. I’m talking about having faith in Jesus Christ, by which we can have a relationship to Him. I might do the same things that ‘cultural Christianity’ does, but there is a reason for my doing them–because I want to, not because I have to. Many Japanese think I’m a Christian because I was born in America (I was, tho I came to Japan before I was 2). But that doesn’t make sense–if I were born in the garage would that make me a car? It’s a choice I made (after rebelling for a few years). It’s sad when MKs can’t or don’t see thru the facade and make the choice.
It is perhaps important to remember that the very existence of a counterfeit actually vouches for the existence and value of the “Real Thing.” No one counterfeits that which has no value.
For most of 200 years, the Church has worked at developing a fire-insurance-behavior-modification-religion counterfeit of Real Christianity.
Throwing away the Real Thing does nothing to help the problem of the counterfeit. In fact, the only way to be sure one can identify and dispose of the counterfeit is to focus on finding and acquiring the Real Thing.
Good point, Peter. If you read the second half of the article, you’ll see that that’s exactly what I point to. Authentic relationship with Jesus.
I don’t think dismissing the name “Christian” or using the “faith vs. religion” argument is helpful to the degree you take it. There is a mixed bag of people in the culture wars, but I don’t think that means we should let those who are only Christian in name take the name from those of us who are genuine followers of Christ. That is our name! because we identify with Christ Jesus! And those are our battles too. We should not be passive because there is a Biblical command to bear His righteous image on this earth and to protect the weak. That’s not meant to be an all-political-issues encompassing statement, but often those are the instances when Christians can be perceived as bigots. It can be unwanted in the eyes of the world, but I don’t want to let that straight jacket how I follow Jesus and the Word of God.
A lot of what is refered to as “Christianity” might be more accurately refered to as (NORTH AMERICAN) “Christendom” . . . and part of the issue raised is the perpetual challenge to chose live Christian “religion” – trusting relationship(s) – over dead Christian “religion” – controlling/distrusting legalism, rituals, & secondary local mores. At the beginning “Christians” were known as followers of the Way. For me a good plumbline has been “follower of Jesus [of Nazareth]” . . . The planet is so much more than north america and its (parochial?) “culture wars” of these days.How wide & how distant are your horizons?
Andrew Olson, I can’t find where you made the comment regarding “North America” usually including Mexico. You’re ABSOLUTELY right! I’ve gone back to amend the post and clarify that I’m using the term in its narrower form. The article was written as a response to those MKs who return to Canada and the US after a life overseas, which is why I kept the scope narrow. This cultural phenomenon is not unique to this part of the world, though. As someone wrote in a comment, “I have to remind myself regularly that the same kinds of loud, hypocritical voices that give Christianity a bad name in the public square in the USA exist in every society. They’re garbed in Christian symbolism here, whereas in other places, they’re covered in whatever cultural symbolism prevails there.” I was really referring here to the form it takes in this culture and chose this secondary definition of N. A. “The term North America maintains various definitions in accordance with location and context. In Canadian English, North America may be used to refer to the United States and Canada together. Alternatively, usage sometimes includes Greenland and Mexico (as in the North American Free Trade Agreement), as well as offshore islands.”
I know that we all come from”third cultures” and as such have a looser sense of patriotism, but I would like to point out that this is not a primarily North American issue. The lack of true surrender to be “little Christs ” is seen globally. I have also watch this unfold in any religion. There are always many people who try to earn their way via following the rules versus living the life. It is not a primarily Christian problem, it is a people problem and transcends religious lines. It is not an American packaging. The new testament warns of false teachers and urges discernment by the Holy Spirit rather repeatedly. We who have a real relationship with our Savior and Lord should shine that light even brighter so that it will be evident what “Christianity” really means, not abandon its nomenclature because of some people’s assumptions of its meaning.
Yes. Devin. Couldn’t agree more. From the just-edited intro to the blog: “I have to remind myself regularly that the same kinds of loud, hypocritical voices that give Christianity a bad name in the public square in the USA exist in every society. They’re garbed in Christian symbolism here, whereas in other places, they’re covered in whatever cultural symbolism prevails there.”
Faith is a messy business, as are family and democracy. There’s only so much I can do about my loudmouth niece, my other self-centered rude niece, and the cousin that is vociferous about his unfortunate political opinions. They’re still family, and I should accept and love them even if they are irritating. For democracy to work, we have to allow freedom of speech, which means putting up with viewpoints with which we may disagree strongly, and floundering our way through negotiations on issues over which we’re divided, and submitting to the leadership of people we didn
This is so well-said, Michele. It’s a hard but important truth to face, and once we do, it’s possible to envision a better way forward.