The Rev. Dr. Tim Ahrens
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Too often I find myself agreeing with Gandhi as I witness the behaviors of Christians which fail to reflect the grace and love of Christ.
When we fail to fight COVID-19 and instead fight each other as Christians and senselessly lead people against vaccines, wearing masks and practicing health measures during a global pandemic and national health crisis, we are not following Jesus.
When Christians decry the chronicled truth and facts of racism in America, past and present; deny that the Earth is warming and the climate is changing; and seek to ban a faithful practicing president from receiving the Eucharist in the Catholic Church, Christ is shamed and most Christians are embarrassed.
These actions, done in the name of Jesus, give Jesus a black eye and the rest of his followers a bad name. Preposterous foolishness sets us all back.
Through the years, I have seen and heard some crazy things from the mouths and pens of Christians, but they seem to be getting more ludicrous each day. Bad biblical interpretation and theology lead to bad preaching and teaching and lead people to the worst, rather than the best, practice of faith.
To paraphrase radio broadcaster Paul Harvey, “Now for the rest of the story, Mr. Gandhi.”
I am inspired every day by the tens of thousands of pastors and tens of millions of faithful Christians who are holding together families, communities and congregations in these trying times. I see them working joyfully to proclaim and model living truths of the Gospel – that Jesus Christ, our great healer and teacher, our Savior and liberator, favors masks, vaccines, dealing with racism, protecting the planet and offering the bread of life to all.
My friends believe he calls us to protect and serve our brothers and sisters and to save lives – spirituality and physically – which can’t be done in a pandemic without masks, vaccines and pursuing healthy outcomes. My friends believe Jesus calls us to love one another.
The Apostle Paul writes to the fools and faithful in Galatians 6:7-8: “Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others — ignoring God! — harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life” (from Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message).
It is time to stop harvesting weeds. It is time to harvest crops of real life, eternal life.
For the past three months, I have been blessed by a bountiful harvest of 53 incredible conversations with Geniuses of Justice. These women and men of faith and action have shared their life stories with me through my “Genius of Justice” project. Their faith in God leads them to live lives of righteousness, justice and peace on behalf of all people. They are creative and collaborative, focused and fearless as they take on the challenges of injustice in Columbus and across the country. They seek the common good and the healing of the world.
Many of the Geniuses of Justice have faced seemingly insurmountable hardships and great personal losses in their lives. When knocked down, they rise. When put down, they respond in love. They constantly inspire people to be faithful followers of God and Jesus.
Take a moment to hear five of their voices.
If you have lost hope, listen to the Rev. Ron Luckey, a Lutheran pastor in Lexington, Kentucky: “Hope always shows up when our sleeves are rolled up. We cannot sit back and ‘hope’ change comes. We have to get out there and get busy and remember that the work we do is not ‘our work’ but God’s work. We are just part of God’s make-up.”
If you have lost your vision for compassion, listen to the Rev. Phil Egitto, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Daytona Beach, Florida: “My congregation believes we love the God we cannot see by loving the neighbor we can.”
If you have lost touch with making a difference, listen to Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington, D.C.: “I was brought up by two parents who always said, ‘Do what you can when you can, and if you see a need, meet it.’”
If you have wandered away from the needs of the poor, listen to Pastor Shane Claiborne of The Simple Way Community in Philadelphia as he asks: “How can I worship a homeless man on Sunday and evict him on Monday?”
If you have lost your faith in Christianity or God (or both), listen to the Rev. Loey Powell, a pastor and leader in the United Church of Christ from Cleveland: “It is the quality of our heart and mind that requires a touch of the greatest Spirit which will move us to do something good. We need to follow that greatest Spirit down the road less taken. That road is a lot more interesting.”
If you are feeling defeated, beaten down, faithless, hopeless or feel like your life doesn’t matter, follow the Spirit of God and the Spirit of God’s hopeful voices. Don’t allow yourself to be dragged into a harvest of weeds.
God is great and worthy to be praised, and through the lives of people who follow faithfully and well, God harvests the crops of real life and eternal life. Mr. Gandhi, meet the Christians who seek every day to be more like Christ.
The Rev. Dr. Tim Ahrens is senior minister at First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Downtown Columbus.
Keeping the Faith is a column featuring the perspectives of a variety of faith leaders from the Columbus area.