The first question we have to ask ourselves, when the world wants us to quickly jump in and condemn our Christianity, is whether or not it's actually Christians who are behind the image. Is the name of Jesus being used by the faithful...or is it just part of the messaging of an antagonistic world?
If the answer is that the name of Jesus is being used by Christians, then the second question we have to ask ourselves is how His name is being used. This includes a couple of ideas.
First, is the name of Jesus being used widespread in a certain event? When we look at things like protest rallies or similar gatherings, we see a ton of signs being held up by those in attendance. This question asks - is the name of Jesus on every sign? Or even most of them? Or has the world singled out a very small representation and nitpicked one particular thing in order to push its antagonism toward Christianity?
A similar question asks whether all of the messaging about Jesus on all of the signs is generally the same or if it is a number of individual expressions. Is there one, solid, consistent message about Jesus being pushed or are there a bunch of individuals who happen to have thoughts about Jesus and wanted to share them, independent of one another?
To that end, we could also ask if the signs were homemade or if they were mass produced. Did someone have signs with Jesus's name on them printed for this event or is the use of His name more organic and less propagandized? (Assumedly, of course. It's possible for a bunch of persons to get together in a garage and make similar signs with the purpose of pushing a certain agenda. This would also be less organic and more organized toward a propaganda, but we're just addressing big ideas here.)
All of these things matter, and they lead to the second big question for today: is this, then, a "Christian" event? Do those in attendance consider this event an act of their faithfulness, an opportunity broadcast their beliefs? Is their main purpose in being there to express a religious point of view or perspective on the issue at hand?
There is quite a big difference - and this is something that the world doesn't seem to understand or at least, pretends not to - between a group of persons with agreement on a particular interest (even a political one), who also happen to be Christians, getting together and a group of Christians getting together for the purpose of pushing an interest they believe to be directly Christian.
It's the difference between a group of persons who happen to be Christians showing up to serve at a soup kitchen because they have a vested interested in addressing the problem of homelessness...and a Christian mission team showing up to serve at a soup kitchen because they believe that Jesus has called them to serve the less fortunate.
In some cases, it can absolutely feel like splitting hairs, but it's extremely important. If the world is upset at something that bears Jesus's name, but the truth is that a bunch of Christians just happened to show up to it and not that it is a deliberately Christian event, then our response to the world's criticism has to be different. We cannot condemn the church for something she hasn't done, just because her name was on it somewhere, even by implication. At the same time, we cannot ignore something that has Jesus's name on it just because we think individual Christians, and not the church, are doing it.
It's about knowing what we're responding to. Jesus's name has been attached to this - do we have a systemic problem in the church or are we dealing with a group of rogues? Do we have to condemn our entire Christianity because of what's happening or is it possible that what's happening isn't even meant to be an expression of our entire Christianity? We have to ask this question.
And if it's just a bunch of rogues, well, the church has always had those. (Tune in tomorrow.)
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