Mark Steyn’s and Michael Walsh’s posts below — gleefully and rightfully skewering the New York Times for its religious ignorance — remind me of a rather common liberal, secular critique of Christian conservatives. “If only you were more like Jesus,” they proclaim, “and less concerned with [fill in the hot-button social issue here], then you would reach more people.” I’ve mostly experienced this argument as a weapon wielded against young, idealistic Christians — often on college campuses — who are experiencing rejection and scorn for the first time in their lives.
But here’s the catch: Those delivering the critique are as ignorant of Jesus as the New York Times. To the Biblically illiterate, Christ is simply the ideal man within their own frame of reference; it’s a short-hand way of saying “be more like a better version of me” or “be like the most compassionate person I can imagine” (however they define compassion).
Sadly, eager-to-please young Christians are often vulnerable to this critique. Knowing, of course, they fall far short of Christ’s example in their own lives, the words sting. Being human, they want approval, so they are tempted to try to narrow the gap with Christ while simultaneously narrowing the gap with their fellow man. Thus is often born a new progressive Christian, who rejects his parents’ “intolerance” and suddenly realizes that Christ would be totally into the welfare state and totally unconcerned with what happens in the bedroom (in fact, he’d especially disapprove of anyone’s offering moral judgment on what happens in the bedroom). Yes, the progressive Evangelical is pro-life, but very politely so and never to the point of alienating new friends. His pro-life identity is represented merely by the thoughts in his head when it comes to actual babies, and only translates into actions and activism when it comes to, say, zero-emission vehicles.
In reality, to paraphrase The Princess Bride, “be more like Jesus” does not mean what we think it means. How do we know this? Well, we have the example of Jesus — the guy most “like Jesus” in the history of the world — who wasn’t just crucified by one’s favorite villains (whether they be intolerant religious authorities, intrusive governments, the rich, the poor, whoever), but was crucified after being utterly abandoned and scorned by virtually everyone. Only his mother, a thief who’d never met him before, and a tiny handful of disciples had any faith or loyalty in the end. That doesn’t seem to be what the secular Left has in mind when they tell young Christians to be more “like Jesus.”
It is, however, what Christians should have in mind. Yes, by all means, let’s strive to be more “like Jesus,” but as we do, we should realize that means taking up our cross, not basking in cultural accolades. In other words, barring a miracle of the work of the Holy Spirit, being “like Jesus” means being liked less.