We Can Show Them How to Accept the Imperfect Christians

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When I was a Christian, it was hard not to notice that some Christians were good people. They were kind, considerate of others, and generous with what they had. They stood out to me, and I considered them role models. I often wished there were more of them because they weren't as common as I would have liked.

At the time, I wanted to believe that Christianity was a force for good in the world. I wanted to believe that it transformed ordinary people into good people. But no matter how many times I heard people make this claim, I couldn't accept it. It didn't seem to work this way.

There were too many counterexamples. For as many Christians who were good people, there seemed to be at least as many who weren't. They were cruel, insensitive to the needs of others, and only looking out for themselves. And they were right there with me in church, expressing many of the same things I believed.

I remember thinking of them as hypocrites at the time. I couldn't reconcile their behavior with what they claimed to believe. Decades later, I suspect I was wrong to do so. They weren't hypocrites. They were Christians who weren't especially good people. And they had a lot of company.

Disentangling religious belief from morality opened many doors. Once I realized that "Christian" was not synonymous with "good," I was able to let go of some of my anger. I had an easier time not jumping to conclusions and setting myself up for disappointment. Christians can be wonderful people and many of them are. They can also be despicable people, and some of them are.

Within a few years, I'd meet people from other religious traditions. I met Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and (gasp) even a few atheists. When I did, I discovered a similar pattern. Some were good people, and others weren't. Their views on religion didn't seem to have much to do with it.

We've all seen reports of the indices of declining religiosity in the United States. It isn't hard to understand why this makes some Christians unhappy. But I doubt that they have much to worry about when it comes to the moral decline they imagine. Change is coming. Increased pluralism and choice are on the horizon. Neither has to result in a moral catastrophe.

Many Christians want to equate Christianity with moral goodness. But they are quick to turn on each other. They play the game where any Christian who does something they dislike is "not a real Christian." That isn't how morality works, and it isn't how religious identity works. Some Christians are bad people. That doesn't mean they aren't still Christians.

When I learn that someone is (or is not) religious, I try not to pre-judge their morality. They haven't told me anything that equips me to make that call yet. Besides, guessing about someone's morality based on their religious identification doesn't seem fair. It seems closer to the sort of bigotry good people seek to avoid.

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