Here in Boone, sunshine means Enos and slacklines, Chacos and tanktops, picnics and adventures on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Warm weather brings all the students who have been hiding in their warm burrows somewhere in the secret depths of the library out onto Sanford Mall. And, here at Appalachian, sunny days also mean the return of good ole’ Preacher Season.
“You’re going to Hell.”
“I believe in judging.”
“There is no hope in yoga.”
Some of my “favorite” phrases from these Bible-thumping men don’t have any spiritual basis. Instead, they are founded in anger and frustration. Many have labeled Christians as hypocrites because they see people like these fanatic preachers proclaiming a religion of love but spouting words of hate. Age, race, gender, sexuality, major, height, weight—you name it, you’re a sinner and you’re going to the Lake of Fire. There is no hope, no love in their words or message.
That is not Christianity. That is not the Bible. That is not my God.
Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship—it’s not about condemnation, it’s about grace. It’s not about how much wrong you’ve done or how much punishment you deserve—it’s about how much forgiveness you’ve received. Look at the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—Jesus came to seek and save the lost, the sinners. He came for the broken. His disciples were common men; his friends were prostitutes, thieves, drunks, and social outcasts. He hung out with sinners because the so-called “righteous” condemned him.
So if you would call the Sanford Mall preachers hypocrites, I would readily agree with you. Their message is so skewed by the hateful, harsh and condemning way they present it, that all hope, all love is lost. Plain and simple, they are offensive.
But Christianity, even when preached in love, is an offensive belief. It is founded on the principle that we’re messed up sinners. It’s founded on the principle that we can’t save ourselves. And it’s founded on the principle that we have to rely on someone else—a just God—to save us from the consequences of our sin. Unlike many other belief systems, Christianity is not about works. It’s not about what you have to offer or how good you can be. It’s not about being perfect. If it was, we would all be just as screwed as the Sanford Mall preachers claim we are. Christians (or at least the ones that have truly taken their faith to heart) accept that they will sin. And no sin puts you beyond grace, beyond forgiveness and salvation. Nothing you have done or will do can place you out of reach of God’s love. Nothing. At the same time, that’s not a free pass. God accepts and loves us—but not our sin.
As a Christian, my heart breaks for those men who stand there and scream their words of hate at us. They do not love the way Jesus loved. They are only hurting, only condemning. My God is a righteous judge who hates sin and loves sinners. The Sanford Mall Preachers seem to only love the sound of their own voice.