Do Christians Deserve Their Bad Reputation?

Maybe I should be used to it by now but I still get exasperated by the negative coverage that, by and large, Christianity gets in the media. The perception is that Christians are hate filled bigots devoted to gaining and using political power. While there are enough examples of that to confirm a person’s biases, it’s never fit the majority of Christians I know.

The Christians I personally know, while far from angelic, are pretty committed to their family, vocation, and community. On top of that they go above and beyond to serve not only in church but outside of it too. In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam, the famed sociologist, writes that “half of all personal philanthropy is religious in character, and half of all volunteering occurs in a religious context.” Even though his category is broader than mine (religion vs. Christianity), it’s not too big of a jump to say that in America a massive amount of the good that’s done on a volunteer basis is done by Christians.

So that brings us to When Religious Groups Do What The Government Won’t by Alana Semuels in The Atlantic. Ms. Semuels focus is on what Christians are doing in Arkansas to help those that no one else (including the state government) cares about or at least doesn’t care enough to go the extra mile to help. Arkansas Baptist College sponsors The Exodus Project that teaches inmates “how to live when they get out according to Christian values.”

Exodus Project participants are often envied by other cellmates, who’ve spent the day working rather than learning, Timothy Duval, a 37-year-old participant, told me.

“When I come back to the unit every day from the Exodus Project, people see that glow, they see that change in me,” he told me, wearing a bright yellow jumpsuit in a meeting room at the Correction Center. “I have guys that are so excited, [asking] ‘what did you learn today?’ And I’ll pull my books out and teach them stuff that I’m learning and they’re excited. They just see the change in me and they’re wanting the change as well.”

The article explains how The Exodus Project can only accept a relatively small number of inmates because it is dependent on volunteers (those crazy Christians) who teach, mentor, help them find jobs, provide counseling both inside and outside prison, and so much more.

Prison wardens love the program because….wait for it…it works! While it’s still new and more data needs to be collected, the recidivism rate of those involved in The Exodus Project is far lower than the general prison population. The Arkansas governor turned to the churches and asked for more help with prisoner re-entry along with help in the foster care system. See it’s not just prisoners that are forgotten but also kids many of whom have significant challenges.

One foster parent, Amy Smith, told me she couldn’t have fostered 25 children without faith. It’s a heart-wrenching experience, to foster children for a few months and then see them go back to tough living situations or unstable homes, she said.

“I could not have survived that without knowing that God called me to do this,” said Smith, who runs Thrive Orphan Ministry, a support group for foster care families at Fellowship Bible Church. “The loss and grief is too much.”
But it doesn’t stop with prisoners and kids that need foster care.
In Arkansas, faith-based groups have stepped up to provide all kinds of services to the poor, with or without government funding. There are after-school programs that gave kids a place to go off the streets and offer fees as low as $10 a week for families that agree to have dinner with church members. There are mentors from churches who go into schools and help kids with reading and math. There are homeless shelters that provide food and medical care to the homeless, often offering up a prayer before food is served. There’s a chess club that teaches inner-city kids chess, the minister in charge told me that project leaders were brainstorming what “spiritual truths” could be said about every piece on the board, Harry Li, the senior pastor of Mosaic, a church that operates in a low-income neighborhood of Little Rock, told me.
You know what’s coming don’t you? Yep, you’re right. The state isn’t helping the marginalized and is asking the churches (read: Christians) to step in to serve and volunteer but some groups are saying that the volunteers can’t talk about their faith. So let me get this straight: You’re asking Christians, at great personal cost to themselves, to serve those no one else will help but you’re telling them that they can’t talk about their faith…the very thing that motivates them? Uh…really?
If you think that’s crazy, you’ll love this. The faith based option is often the only option available. In other words, if it weren’t for the Christians doing their thing, there would be NOTHING to help prisoners or many of the other marginalized and forgotten people.
When told that some think that they should not be able to talk about God, one volunteer said sarcastically that they should let people go to the atheist recovery programs. Ms. Semuels informs the reader that there aren’t any atheist programs.
But let’s get back to the main point. One of the key ways that Christians demonstrate their faith and show the world that Christianity is true is by their loving self sacrifice. And I see Christians all around me serving and giving generously. It’s good to see a well written article in a major magazine like The Atlantic give national attention to the significant service churches are doing.

One Comment

  1. Cl B said:

    Was there that loving self sacrifice when you persecute gays, a womans right over her own body and people of other faiths?

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