The Cynicism Trap: Why Trusting Fellow Christians Is a Spiritual Discipline
Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. And suspicion?
The fruits of the Spirit included on this list should look pretty familiar to anyone who has spent time in a church. So should the final item—even though it's certainly not a fruit of the Spirit.
It doesn't take a new Christian long to discover that the church is full of damaged people, healthy wheat and toxic tares growing side by side. If a church leader is of the toxic tare variety, those affected by the leader's poisonous words or deeds have to find a way to reconcile the sinless life of the Christ they follow with the hurt and confusion they've experienced as members of his body. To move forward, many of us re-brand our innocence as naÏvetfamp;copy; and our newly minted sense of suspicion as wisdom.
But I believe that as our suspicion grows, our ability to trust God, and others, gets lost in the translation.
Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman's oft-cited 2007 book, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity … and Why It Matters, pointed to the cumulative cultural effect that broken Christian leaders and followers alike have on a watching world: "Outsiders most common reaction to the faith: Christians no longer represent what Jesus had in mind, that Christianity in our society is not what it is meant to be. Every Christ follower bears some degree of responsibility for the image problem; it is not helpful to assign blame to those who have made mistakes." Those outside the church are damaged by our shared spiritual blunders, but so are Christians, who live the paradox of being both perpetrators and victims of our own mistakes.
Lyons and Kinnaman emphasized that assigning blame is counterproductive when it comes to addressing the church's image problem, but there is a flipside to their contention. Those who stumble while representing or leading us from the platform inject visible new reasons for creating a culture of suspicion in and about the church. Progressive theologian Tony Jones reflected on the recent story of former-evangelical-turned-gay-activist Azaraiah Southworth "outing" Southern Baptist author and speaker Jonathan Merritt in the media run-up to the recent Chick-fil-A "buy-cott." Jones makes an important point about the standards by which we judge the microphone-holders in our world: "If you put yourself forward as an purveyor of public ideas, your life is open to scrutiny. It may not be fair, but it is the way of our world, the world of the panopticon."