The Gospel of Luke includes many parables, including one about a Pharisee and a tax collector. A parable is a simple story used to illustrate a moral lesson, and a Pharisee was a member of a Jewish sect known for its strict observance of religious ceremonies and practices and adherence to oral laws and traditions. It’s a short but very important read from Luke 18:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’
This weekend, BuzzFeed posted a video called “I’m Christian, But I’m Not…,” in which five women and one man said they were Christians but they weren’t, you know, like all the other men and women who are Christians. They cheerfully reminded God and others that they weren’t homophobic or closeminded, or uneducated, or judgmental, or placing themselves on pedestals. Featured respondents proudly announced they
fasted twice a week were “queer” or “feminist!” or listened to Beyonce. One said she wished people knew that “Just because we prescribe [sic] to a faith that has some really terrible people in it doesn’t make all of us terrible,” followed by someone saying that “love is the most important thing.”
It was easily the most unintentionally hilarious, if shockingly bigoted, BuzzFeed video ever produced.
Here are just a few of the problems with it.
1) No Mention of Jesus
Michael Wear, a former Obama and White House staffer, tweeted on Friday (before the video came out, if you can believe it):
The christianity of too many millennials is built around proving what type of Christian we are not. This is not edifying.
Michael Wear (@MichaelRWear) September 4, 2015
When you build your faith around what type of Christian you’re not, your faith is not built around Christ. Below is the text and transcription of the viral video. Note the absence of any mention of Jesus. Text: “BuzzFeed presents, I’m Christian but I’m not…”
- I’m Christian but I’m not homophobic;
- I’m Christian and I’m definitely not perfect;
- I’m Christian but I’m not close-minded;
- but I’m not unaccepting;
- but I’m not uneducated;
- but I am not judgmental;
- but I’m not conservative;
- I’m not ignorant;
- but I don’t place myself on a pedestal;
- I’m Christian but I don’t have all the answers.
Text: “What are you?”
- but I am accepting;
- but I am queer;
- I am gay;
- but I am a feminist;
- I’m a feminist;
- definitely am a feminist;
- but I do believe in science, in fact I think science makes God look really cool;
- I’m not afraid to talk about sex;
- I love me some Beyonce;
- but I love wine;
- I do believe in monogamy before sex but I will give you sex advice if you need it;
- but I do go to church on Sundays;
- I was a YoungLife camp counselor;
- I do listen to Christian music, Christian rock, Christian rap, T-Mac, all the cool kids;
- I have friends from all walks of life and different religions, and I love them all.
Text: What do you want people to know about Christianity?
- I guess what I’d like people to know about Christianity today is that we’re all kind of not crazy;
- We shouldn’t be judged on just the people that you see in the media, or just the people that you’ve met in everyday life. every Christian is different, and we deserve a chance to explain ourselves;
- A lot of people think Christianity ruins people, but to me I think it’s people that are ruining Christianity, you never really see the good that happens, you only see the hypocrites, and the people who put themselves on a higher pedestal;
- But at its core it’s really about love and acceptance and being a good neighbor;
- Just because we prescribe [sic] to a faith that has some really terrible people in it doesn’t make all of us terrible;
- I don’t think that Christians should judge people for who they are or what they do, I think everybody is in different part of life on their own path to wherever they’re trying to go. we’re all people and love is the most important thing.
Not a single mention of Jesus, the author and finisher of the Christian faith. In fact, you could easily switch out all references to “Christian” with any other religion or belief system and it would have the same amount of meaning. Consumer choices of Christians are interesting, I guess, and, hey, I like wine and Beyonce, too, but Christianity isn’t about our consumer choices.
Heaven forfend! We have a reason for the hope that is in us, and we should aim to make a defense of that reason even above our political inclinations. Now, perhaps—I certainly hope it’s the case—these six Christians from the BuzzFeed interview did make such a defense, and it was left on the cutting room floor. But when Christians get asked by a member of the media, “What do you want people to know about Christianity?,” let’s agree to take advantage of this rare opportunity by pointing to the object of our faith—Jesus Christ and him crucified.
2) No Diversity
BuzzFeed featured six people who identify as Christians. At least 33 percent of those interviewed are LGBT (roughly 10 times the national average) and at least 50 percent are feminist (only 18 percent of of Americans actually identify as feminist). You have to wonder where they were looking for them. BuzzFeed didn’t include Christians who don’t share these half-dozen millennials’ hangups on the sexual doctrines that differentiate Christianity from the dogma of BuzzFeed and most other American newsrooms. Or Christians who don’t think the most recent trends denying distinctions between the sexes are all that helpful to relationships.
Heck, how about Christians who don’t just believe in, as one BuzzFeed Christian so bravely put it, “monogamy before sex” but marriage before sex! Remember back in June, when the Supreme Court discovered a constitutional requirement for states to define marriage in such a way as to include same-sex couples? BuzzFeed celebrated the ruling with wild abandon, and its editor Ben Smith told one media watchdog there weren’t “two sides” on the issue. Radio host Hugh Hewitt interviewed Smith about that, during which they discussed that Smith doesn’t believe in God. Hewitt wondered if BuzzFeed could do a good job of covering believers and whether there were any evangelicals on staff. Smith responded:
BS: We do have, yes, but I also think, second, that newsroom diversity is like you know, it’s really important in having people of faith and particularly religious Christians in newsroom is important, yes, and we do. And I think that’s an important perspective… I mean, you know, I think good reporters are very good at least trying to understand the people they cover, and I think we have people who have all sorts of different beliefs here, so…but that’s important.
It’s a great idea for newsrooms to have ideological diversity on major topics of the day, something I’m not sure we’ve seen evidence of at BuzzFeed, but for a video on Christianity, any diversity at all would have been helpful, particularly when the views of most Christians were treated with such disdain here. But if BuzzFeed thinks that a video featuring this very narrow and in some cases unorthodox subset of views is going to dispel criticism that BuzzFeed has significant religion blinders, think again.
3) Wow, Was It Bigoted
As the better half noted, imagine that BuzzFeed did a video like this for Muslims. “I’m Muslim but I’m not a terrorist!” The outrage would be immediate. But somehow it’s okay to castigate the vast majority of Christians whose views differ from BuzzFeed dogma as homophobic, holier-than-thou, close-minded, unaccepting, uneducated, judgmental, conservative ignoramuses who put themselves on a pedestal. On that pedestal front, I wonder if the BuzzFeed video production team or those interviewed had any idea how self-contradictory that came across. It’s one thing to disdain judging, entirely another to do it so ungraciously while disdaining it.
4) Christianity Offends
No one is surprised that some Christians would seek to minimize the differences between the Christian faith and the zeitgeist. And certainly some Christians might see zero distinction between their doctrines and those that happen to be pushed by the culture at that moment. All Christians do this in one way or another, minimizing what the Scriptures say when they push up against our pet sins or political allegiances. But we should really guard against this instinct. Caught up in the heat of the moment, that moment being intimate or public, we’re tempted to say, “Did God really say …?”
However, the history of Christianity is full of men and women whose pronouncements against sin and proclamations of salvation in Jesus led them straight to martyrdom. Our message is not necessarily a message the world loves. Or, as one Christian snarkily put it in response to the BuzzFeed mockery of traditional Christians:
“The Christian faith really boils down to be nice, don’t offend anyone. That’s what’s behind the crucifixion of God and all those martyrs.”
Nathan Duffy ≠ (@TheIllegit) September 7, 2015
5) It’s a Pharisee Prayer!
BuzzFeed’s viral video is the cry of the Pharisee. Thank God I’m not like those other men! The problem is, all Christians pray this false prayer at times—and we’re just as clueless about it when we do. That’s undoubtedly why Jesus told us this parable, so that we’d be on guard against the instinct to put ourselves on pedestals over others.
The media wrongly think that any time you articulate Christian doctrine on sexuality—which is exacting and more or less completely contradictory to the way of the world—you’re putting yourself on a pedestal. That’s a childish reading of such articulation. And it completely ignores the point of Christianity, which is that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. St. Augustine preached on this prayer, noting that the Pharisee “had no mind to pray to God, but to laud himself.” The Book of Concord notes, “He who prays for grace in this way does not rely upon God’s mercy and treats Christ with disrespect.”
Let us all beware of smug complacency and measuring ourselves against others. The Christian measures himself against God’s standards, then repents. As my study Bible says of this verse, “God is ready to justify the worst of sinners by His generous grace in Christ.” Let’s join the tax collector and cry out, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” And forgive BuzzFeed while you’re at it—particularly when it comes to religious content, they could use your prayers.