Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Monday, January 22, 2007

Do Christians make bad friends?

I'm hopeful that we can start a little conversation around this topic. In the wake of yesterday's sermon, I received this thoughtful e-mail, and received permission to post it for our collective consideration. Here's what someone offered:

First, I found tonight’s sermon very interesting and thought provocative. Second, I do not regularly attend your church, so I do not know the content of previous and future sermons. Third, I can only comment using my previous experiences and do not intend to accuse Christians as a whole. That being said, my friends and I have had a question about friendship and the church for the longest time. In my opinion, Christians make the worst friends. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy the level of friendship of which you spoke tonight, but only with non-Christians. I have found most Christians with whom I have associated incapable of anything close to that type of friendship. One portion of the sermon that I believe was absent was the “how.” You did mention a need to not be envious of other’s achievements and to sacrifice your desires and goals for those of your friends, but how do you gain the ability to do so? The simple answer is to pray and ask God for the strength. However, this answer deprives the inquirer of a true answer. I believe the answer, and the area in which the Christians with whom I have associated have failed, is acceptance. Non-Christians accept each others faults and are capable of loving each other regardless of individual flaws. Acceptance does not mean ignoring another friend when he or she strays from that which is moral and right. As a loving friend, it is one’s obligation to call the other out and guide the individual back to the appropriate course of action. However, Christians not only call the other out, but judge as well. Groups of Christians tend to be more prone to forming clicks, speaking poorly of others behind their backs, and entertaining disputes over petty differences. I believe the difference is that non-Christians are more aware of their flaws and are allowed to be flawed. However, I do not know the answer so I will finally ask the question; Why are Christians such bad friends?

True or False in your experience? Why? And what of the question, "How" can we become the kind of people capable of such friendships?


At 22/1/07 13:14, Blogger Steve DeKoker said...

Interesting. I have heard this same sentiment before, and have certainly experienced it as well. However, my comment would be that Christians are neither better nor worse friends, just friends with a different title. I have incredibly strong Christian friends, but they also live the "Christ-Follower" part of "Christian". I have also had very strong non-Christian friends, but never with the same level of intimacy and accountability. The truth is we are ALL judgemental, we all fail each other, and clicks are prevalent in every aspect of life, Christian and Non. Hopefully, we will all look at ourselves first, and see where God would have us change for the better.

At 22/1/07 16:26, Blogger Geoff said...

I can understand where the writer of this letter is coming from... however, I would like to respond to a couple of statements made in the letter:

"Non-Christians accept each others faults and are capable of loving each other regardless of individual flaws."

"Groups of Christians tend to be more prone to forming clicks, speaking poorly of others behind their backs, and entertaining disputes over petty differences."

While I have seen first-hand the attitudes described here, I would encourage the writer of the letter not to be too hasty in his/her assessment of all Christians. My own experience has been that people tend to surround themselves with others based upon similar beliefs, ideologies and interests. Additionally, people are generally fairly civil to one another as long as their deepest-held beliefs aren't challenged.

BUT - put people together who have differing belief systems and quite often, Christian or not, the sparks will fly! There are enough bad examples of friendship everywhere that one doesn't need to highlight Christianity... except for the fact that Christians are supposed to be DIFFERENT!

So what's the problem? I think what leads to the experience of many like the letter-writer is that Christianity has, for a couple hundred years at least, been primarily expressed as a rock-solid, empirically-verifiable series of propositions that must be defended at all cost. Add to this the Puritanical concept of "being holy", and the distinctive "individual" faith that is more reflective of American ideals than biblical witness, and it is not surprising to me that many Christians feel they must defend their faith against everyone who doesn't think exactly the same.

This is what creates all the cliques and "petty differences" mentioned. Ironically, because many Christians are certain that they have found the "absolute truth", they then feel that they must protect that truth at all costs.

So what's the solution? Well, that's no easy answer, but I would make two suggestions:

1. Every Christian should get to know at least a couple people who think very differently than they do. Let's have enough faith that if God is the creator and redeemer that God is also big enough to take care of us outside of our comfort zone in friendships.

2. Christianity must rid itself of the idea that the Truth of the Gospel is something we need to defend or protect at the cost of loving others. In fact, God doesn't really need our help; I think God is capable of defending Himself just fine. But do we really believe that?

Anyway, that's my 2 cents for now... I am glad to have read this blog entry as it's a convicting reminder to me as well. Thanks Richard!


At 24/1/07 20:28, Blogger MountainPowerLineman said...

I have caught myself in the act of distancing myself from people that aren't Christians. When I think back on it now, I am so sad. Why didn't I just let friendship develop better? What was I afraid of?

I believe that Christians tend to use their Christian code words as a shortcut when talking to other Christians about matters of the soul. I think that because we use these specialized words that the Christian community has created, we are less likely to clue in to what our non-Christian friends might be saying. We lose the ability to understand our neighbor.

Christians tend to isolate themselves in the Christian community. We listen to the Christian radio because "it's safe". We hang out with the Christian club on campus because it's safe. We ask each other about the last time we "witnessed to someone". We go to Christian schools and Christian muffler shops.

We get used to keeping tabs on our "brother". We call them on their sins. We should be our "brother's keeper".

I wasn't a part of a regular church group for a couple of years. I missed it. Because I was visiting places I wasn't known, I gained a parallax shift. I could see where the "Christian" thing to do was hurting the reputation of Christ.

I'm hoping that I can learn to love my neighbor as Jesus would have. I'm planning to be the friend I should have been in the first place. God didn't call me to judge my unsaved friend. He called me to love him. After all, they should know that we are Christians by our love.

I guess that's a comment and a prayer request.

At 28/1/07 09:45, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have actually caught myself distancing myself from people who ARE Christians because of these very things. I agree with the writer of this email - the people I have had the deepest and most unresolved conflicts with and the people I've felt totally attacked and judged by (and probably done that myself) have been Christians, and I do think it has to do with us being christians. I think it has to do with the fact that we are expected to agree on certain things and when we don't, it's just too confusing because it questions where we are coming from in our own faith and world-view. Some of my closest friends are not christians and i believe that one reason for that is along the lines of what the writer of the email said...there is a lot less judgement in those friendships.

My best best best friends happen to be believers who, at the core of our friendship, we are friends because of who we are and it has very little to do with what we believe about how well we follow the rules of Christianity - we just love and trust each other. I would love them exactly the same if they were buddists or atheists. I love who they are even if they're annoying or cranky or if they're "sinning" or doubting God. It doesn't really occur to me to judge them and I suspect that is reciprical. the level of trust and care is so high that I just want to be with them in whatever the struggle is, not crack the whip behind them to get them moving 'back to holiness" or something. Our love for each other has nothing to do with whether or not we're being "good Christians." We "get it" that judging people is usually a result of not having struggled with whatever that person is struggling with. These Christians I speak of that I love so much - we've been through hell and back together and we get it that life is rough and people are human and that in the end, God is still in control.

Christians who can have those deep, meaningful, till-death-do-us-part friendships care a lot less about whether or not someone is sinning (because, frankly, aren't we all, most of the time) and more about being there for each other, supporting each other, enjoying life together. I have come to value God's grace, and I guess that is what I want my friendships with my loved ones to be characterized by, whether they are believers or not. And I want to give the gift of my friendship to people who are on the same page.


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