There’s a scene in The Avengers where Captain America is about to jump out of a jet to intervene in a conflict between Iron Man and Thor. Prior to his jump, the Black Widow cautions against this intervention, because Iron Man and Thor are essentially gods. Captain America shrugs this off, “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.”
This quick scene reminds me of contemporary American Christianity. So often the Church acts like Iron Man and Thor, fighting over what they believe is correct, and injuring others in the process. They suit up with their powers, their superhuman abilities, to demonstrate their vision to pursue peace. Captain America isn’t buying it. They aren’t gods. I’m not buying it either. The messages of “truth” that are often quite vocal seem disconnected from the God that truth is sourced in. I’m not buying it. When messages of truth lead away from love, it is not a Christian message.
I think of “controversies” that have arisen in the last year or so. Hobby Lobby, World Vision…
I think of the Christian mechanic in Michigan who said he would turn away gay people from his business simply because of their sexual identity. This seems light-years away from the message of Christ with the woman at the well. There, Christ welcomed, embraced, and loved. Here there is applause for a man excluding others because of his “Christian values.”
I think of stories of personal friends, of loved ones, who were excluded from their church communities simply because they did not meet conditions…divorce, addiction, political affiliation, etc. All in the name of love and truth.
These stories aren’t just case studies or issues subject to debate. These are stories which involve lives. Might our words about the poor change if we were also less fortunate? Might our rhetoric about the LGBTQ community change if we have seen the tears of the gay person who has been harmed by the exclusion and words of a community which should have embraced them? If our words about Muslims were more loving, would that better the relationship between Christians and Muslims? As Christians, if a view that we have leaves individuals hurting, if our words in the name of “truth” leave wounds on souls, then something must change.
The communication of Christians is often disconnected from the essence of Christ. Christ is the embodiment of love, of truth, of justice. Christians proclaim these things, but they look so different from Christ. We so often confuse our ideas of God with God Godself.
When I discuss some of these ideas with other Christians, I’m sometimes accused of making Christianity “soft.” I genuinely do not think that is the case. While I certainly put on my own costume and fall prey to fitting God in my own understanding of God, I try to move in a direction of the greatest commandment: Love God, love others. If I do something that leads away from this, then I must re-evaluate my actions, my values. When I look at the narrative of Christ, I consistently see Christ sending messages of love that center around inclusion. Christ loved Zaccheaus by entering into relationship with him. Christ invited twelve imperfect individuals to be his disciples. When they got it wrong, Christ lovingly corrected. And Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, that is for humanity’s inclusion to salvation and relationship. His love is one that embraced.
There’s so much talk in evangelical settings of “living life together.” But that togetherness is often centered on others meeting our conditions, whether spoken or unspoken. We have to work better to move past this. If we can reframe out mindset about the “other”, whoever the other might be, to one of respect and love, then we are moving in a direction aligned with the message of Christ. And maybe, just maybe, we might learn from the “other” a perspective that we might need.
So join me in throwing out your superhero outfit constructed from our own personal ideas of right and wrong. Because right now, Captain America is correct – God doesn’t dress like that.