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.
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.”
Please join the conversation!
- Contribute your thoughts in the comments section below
- Use the social media links to Like and Share this article
- Many of these articles are now available in podcast form. Simply search for “Pondering Purple” on your usual pod platforms, or click this link to be taken to its host page.
- To subscribe to this blog, email firstname.lastname@example.org and write “subscribe” in the subject line
- Pick up Of Stillness and Storm (my novel about a missionary calling gone awry) on Amazon
If interested, the results of the Adult-MK Survey are HERE.