Dean Obeidallah, a Muslim and professional comedian, recently opined for CNN in “Where are the good Christians?” on his longing for a Christianity he would prefer. The title caught my eye, as it suggests not only that there is a clearly defined line between “good” and “bad” Christians but also that this author knows where this line is and feels it’s obvious enough that we all should know it, too (or learn quickly).
He complains in the piece that the Christian faith has been “hijacked” (he conveniently throws in “by the far right”) and that “good” Christians (the far left?) need to take it back. It gets even more interesting when the reader learns that Obeidallah is an American Muslim. The reader may well be baffled that someone who does not believe in a religion should claim to know who the “good” adherents of it are. Despite this lack of qualification, he seems to imply (though not explicitly state) that he knows how to get Christians back on the right path.
In his article he lists examples of recent “anti-gay” hate speech from “Christian leaders” and their followers. While it is true that hate is not becoming of a Christian according to the Gospel, Obeidallah takes this opportunity to list not only the extreme, blatant examples of “hate speech” but also throws in some more debatable “examples” and bundles them all up as one big package of “hate.” In this package he lists the following: Christians attacking Roman Catholicism as “false doctrine,” Christians saying Mormonism is a “false religion” and a “cult,” and Christians showing disrespect towards a statue of Buddha. Surely a “good” Christian would never support such things and should even vehemently speak out loudly against them! His platform for this claim is the Christian Scripture (and common secular admonition) “love your neighbor as yourself.” However, despite being a Muslim (and quoting Christian Scripture), he seems to defer wholly to the secular American view that we should all be “good” (whatever religion we are) via whatever the current societal definition of “good” is.
In keeping with his bundling, he speaks disapprovingly of negative Christian attitudes towards Muslims as if it were a uniquely Christian trait without likewise reflecting on Muslim attitudes towards and even persecution of Christians in much of the rest of the world (and growing in the US), or historical Christian-Muslim relations, not to mention what Islam itself teaches about non-Muslims. He is also appalled at some Christians labeling gay activists as “intolerant, hateful, vile, spiteful” and accusing them of “having an agenda that will destroy our society” but does not mention, let alone express disapproval, gay activists speaking the exact same words about Christians.
He continues by saying that “good” Christians need to start “speaking up.” He doesn’t consider whether society (via the media) really cares about what the “good” Christians have to say. Would the media even bother to give such people any spotlight? “Good” Christians don’t make the news unless they are of the extreme liberal, “anything goes” variety—whom most Christians would not particularly consider “good.” He also seems to assume that whatever engagement Christians have in their local communities isn’t enough, that it all must be nationally-focused or else is worthless. However, his admonition for Christians to “speak up” is essentially a call specific to his pet issues, since whenever other issues such as contraception, abortion, or legalizing same-sex marriage are raised, the preference is for Christians to “shut up.”
He posits a question Christians may ask: “Why should we have to denounce these people who are so radical that we don’t even think of them as sharing our faith?” The reason he gives is that “65% of American college-aged voters view Christianity as ‘anti-gay,’” and we don’t want them to think worse about us. I wonder though, what would these “American college-aged voters” think if they encountered true Christianity in Orthodoxy? Embrace it or deny it as not “good”? Hate speech is one thing, but young people tend to be leaving Western Christianity in droves (and staying away) not because of a few extremists and their views, but because they either weren’t taught or disagree with the fundamentals of Christianity as they perceive them.
Obeidallah continues: “Letting radicals air their views can have a serious effect on how people view you.” In a country where numerous Christian groups have polar opposite beliefs, who gets to defines “radical”? American college-aged voters? It also seems he has shifted from everyone knowing the “good/bad” Christian line to “we better hurry up and establish a line before everyone gets confused.”
He ends with “Isn’t it time to stand up to those who give your religion a bad name?” Well, I guess that depends on how you look at it. If we’re honest with ourselves about our own sin, then that includes pretty much every Christian on the planet.
Unsurprisingly, Obediallah doesn’t see that he is simply part of an ongoing effort to tame Christianity by attempting to redefine it according to worldly standards. It’s perhaps most blatant in his case, since he is not a Christian. Many Christians who are paying attention perceive that forces in the world are trying either to eliminate Christianity or to shape it to its own standards. “Good” Christians will be either welcomed into the world’s arms or just left alone, while the “bad” Christians will face persecutions. As such it will become more and more tempting for Christians (and at the same time more difficult) to conform to the world’s standard of “good” and thereby reject what Christ ultimately calls us to be—one with Him in His image.
But we’ve known since the beginning that Church Militant will always be the “bad” Christians: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18).
Megan Leathers is a researcher at Penn State University where she received a dual degree in Psychology and Crime, Law, and Justice. She and her husband are members of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in State College, PA.