Last year I was interviewed for a podcast on how young people view faith. I had been invited to share my experience and wisdom. In the end, though, it was a humbling experience as it was me who ended up learning from the two young interviewers and being inspired by them. At one point they explained that young people today, who are so often missing from our church pews and seats, are tired of being chastised about what they do and what they believe. As they described this to me, I couldn’t help but picture the receptionist in Little Britain, the BBC comedy from a number of years back, banging at her laptop keys and then looking up and announcing glibly: “computer says no”. Is this how our faith is seen by people today? Are we seen as surly, judgmental hypocrites, announcing to the world that: “church says no”?
If so, this is a huge challenge to us as Christians, and it is so different from the Jesus we read about in the gospels. The woman accused of adultery didn’t feel judged by Jesus, neither did the children running up to him, nor the woman who washed his feet with perfume, nor the unscrupulous tax collector. Quite the opposite. They felt loved, accepted, and welcomed, whatever their flaws.
In fact, it was often the disciples in the background who were sniping and criticising those approaching Jesus. And so we need to ask who we are more like today? The Jesus who asserted “let the children come to me” or the disciples who frowned and complained at the noisy youngsters? The Jesus who asserted “let whoever is without sin cast the first stone” or the uptight, judgmental people who grabbed the nearest rocks? The Jesus who sat and ate with broken people or the religious leaders who viewed those on the margins of their society as unclean and beyond redemption?
Jesus has gifted us a liberating and compassionate faith of hope, centred on a God of love. Yet we Christians are sometimes drawn into criticising, belittling, and condemning. When we do, it can incarcerate us in our own self-righteousness and leave others with deep wounds. In secular terms, it could be said that our faith needs a good PR job, as our life-transforming, love-centred way of living can sometimes be viewed as merely a backward, hypocritical superstition. But people of faith don’t look to spin doctors for salvation. Instead, we just have to continue to live out, as best we can, the revolutionary way of the person who said “yes” to radical love, compassion, and welcome.