Over the years American Christians have been inundated with warnings about the threat of liberal social norms in varying degrees and extremes. We must guard our hearts against that kind of music, this kind of behavior, not spend time with those kinds of people. In other words, we must watch out for the hippies, the sex, and the drugs.
I don’t endorse pre-marital sex or drug abuse, but this obsession with hyper-morality and “goodness” has masked a more insidious danger; the grip of individualism on faith.
The American ideal of the lone individual, forging his own way through the world, choosing rugged individualism over community, has poisoned our Christian faith.
Now, instead of embracing hospitality, we close our doors. Instead of loving our community, we tell them to get a job. We don’t love our neighbors as ourselves.
We love ourselves and look down on our neighbors.
What would Jesus do?
Jesus told us to love God with everything we have, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. The whole law is summed up in those simple ideas (Luke 10:26-28). We forget that “true religion” is to care for the widows and orphans (James 1:27), and that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends (John 15:13).
As simple as these instructions are, we have forgotten their meaning in an effort to make ourselves more important. You do not love your neighbor as you love yourself when you shut them out because of ethnicity or religion.
Even if that religion is your enemy.
Jesus commanded us to love our enemies.
He reminds us that even the pagans love those who love them, but Christians are marked by the unique capacity to love regardless of prejudice and beyond hatred (Matthew 5:43-48).
We love because God loved us, and Jesus saved us from death. We are no more and no less than anyone else because God loves unconditionally, and Jesus died for everyone. We should want desperately to share that message, the Good News, with those who haven’t really heard it. That kind of love is life changing, community changing, even world changing.
American Christianity must change.
Condemnation does not bring about change; only love can do that. The Bible tells us that it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
American Christianity has to move beyond this individualist-centered philosophy and embrace Jesus. We are never told to elevate ourselves above another person. Jesus doesn’t say, “arm yourselves, protect your family from the scourge of the unbeliever”.
God has not put any qualifiers on His love. We don’t have to be free from sin to earn His love. We don’t have to be a certain race, color, religion, or sexual orientation to be worthy of His grace. He loved us first; before we repented. While we were still sinners Christ died for us. That is the love that we are charged with giving freely to others (1 John 4:7-8).
Once we embrace that ideal, of putting Jesus first in our lives, American Christians will see a radical change in our country, our lives, and future generations to come.
I’m sure you’ve seen, as I have, this non-Christian behavior on the news from some of our Presidential candidates. They are exploiting fear, and pushing the individualist ideal to establish their platform – this idea that “we” are better than “them”.
Let’s be honest though, this bigotry has been with us for far longer than this election season, by voters and candidates. In the 1940s it prevented us from opening our borders to European Jews. It caused us to shamefully incarcerate our own citizens of Japanese descent. It’s given justification to racism that is still prevalent today.
This bigoted individualism is a cancer at the pragmatic heart of American Christianity. We must aim to kill it, the same we would any cancer.
How do we kill the cancer of individualism?
We kill individualism, put ourselves to death, when we love our neighbors, our enemies even, as we love ourselves.
We invite refugees from the Middle East to America, and into our homes, despite our fear. God is glorified the more because of your fear when you act in love. We don’t look down on the poor and needy, not even the ones that we think are shiftless and lazy, but instead offer them a place in our community of believers where they feel safe and loved.
We follow Jesus when we make God our priority, and not our selfish desire for safety, prosperity, and comfort.
P.S. Many thanks to my wife for her invaluable help with this post.
P.P.S. This article inspired my post, or maybe it was just the last straw…