As a new graduate student at University of Michigan, I am learning much more about the culture of the unchurched and the formerly churched and angry. The school that I am a part of is filled with students who have a very negative view of Christianity, seeing many Christians as narrow-minded, judgmental, racist, homophobic and the symbol of power and status quo in the United States. Often times, this attitude stems from deep pain caused from interactions with Christians that have been a poor reflection of the love of Christ and the transformational power of the Good News.
Now that I have experienced a small glimpse into campus culture as a student, I understand why many students are so surprised by our Encouragement Café outreaches. When students say with genuine shock “Wow, this is the most positive interaction that I have ever had with a Christian,” I’m less taken aback.
The prevalence of this perspective of Christianity requires me to wonder at church culture and the hearts and actions of Christians. Is this negative outlook of Christianity simply the perverted thought process of unsanctified individuals, or are their deeper issues at foot that Christians should reflect upon more deeply?
Jason spoke about taking risks as Christians. As Christians, he said, we are God’s Plan A for the world as those entrusted with really good news: that no one is too far from God’s grace. The flip side is that when Christians fail to take risks, fail to look beyond the walls of their own church community, the world loses an important force to combat evil. As the Bible says in Ephesians 6:12 “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We, as Christ followers, were not meant to be bound up in the safety of people who think, act, and look similarly to us, but to go and preach the good news near and far, to heal people, love people, and see people break free from the bondage of sin and darkness.
I have been reading a book on rest days called Eternity in their Hearts by Don Richardson. It depicts missionary work in places around the globe among many minority ethnic groups, and describes how within folk religions is knowledge of the unseen God who created everything. Many have an oral tradition that tells the story of how people once followed a Creator God, but just like the Israelites in the Old Testament, went astray. However, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). With patience, humility, deep observation and study, missionaries discovered the Eternal God story woven into the culture of many different peoples, and when those people found the way in which to know that God, revival happened.
As missionaries in this field of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, we are the ones discovering the God story embedded in the culture of the people that we live among. Eternity is written in the hearts of man, and no man is too far from the grace of God. One bridge that I’ve found in my field of study was through one of my readings in a diversity class on social theory. George W. Allport developed a theory called Contact Theory, regarding what contact must occur between rival groups to overcome prejudice and stereotypes. The theory fascinated me because as I read the five criteria for contact that breaks down walls of prejudice and discrimination, I was immediately reminded of the Church. The descriptors are as follows:
- sustained contact between people who are different from one another,
- individuals interacting with each other must be of equal status,
- individuals need to be working toward common goals,
- there must be sufficient resources to prevent competition for these resources and
- there must be institutional support to implement the other four conditions
(Marsiglia & Kulis 92)
Based on Contact Theory, the Church can be a mechanism for social change to break down the walls in our society that divide people, such as race, socioeconomic status, gender, physical ability, sexuality and even religion. The Church as a body of believers can be a means for people who are different from one another to interact on equal footing, where individuals can work toward common goals, supporting each other by meeting each other’s needs, within an institution that supports these conditions. That is the ideal, and while the reality can be far from that ideal, when I see Church at its best, all of these criteria are met and far more.
I believe in the Church, and our own church body. As those who are followers of Christ, we persevere through challenges and face the odds, because we know that our reward surpasses momentary troubles. When we risk in Christ, as Jason said, there is great reward. We just need to keep looking towards the Kingdom of God.
“Do not grow weary of doing good, for at the proper time you will reap a harvest if you do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
About the Author: Gabby hails from Waco, Tx, but she calls herself a Michigander and a Wolverine, now, as she pursues her Masters in Social Work at U of M. Geography is her favorite subject, and as the American daughter of Filipino immigrants, she is no stranger to a diversity of food, culture and travel. You can often find her at the local rock wall, hitting the pavement around Ypsi/A2 or, her favorite, getting quality time with good friends.