They’ll Know We AREN’T Christians…

It was the simplest and first lesson I learned in Sunday school. We even had a song we sang to learn it:

“They’ll know we are Christians by our love,
By our love.
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

The concept and cheesy hymn come from this week’s Gospel (so, some of you may have found yourself echoing the words above at the close of this week’s liturgy). Jesus says clearly,

“This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have one for one another.” (John 13:35)

It follows the great commandment of love that Jesus gives: Love one another as I have loved you. This commandment is so foundational to Jesus’ teaching that the entire world should be able to identify a Christian simply by the way they love each other.

And that is the hang up for us, especially in the Church world, isn’t it? It may be easy to love the broken teenager, the fallen away parent, the young adult that lost his or her way in college. Jesus covers well the love that we should have for God and our neighbor, but this is something slightly elevated. Jesus wants us to love other people under our same banner – other Christians –because that is how we are going to identify disciples in the world. It is what will make us different.

Yet, I am finding it harder and harder for us as people in ministry to live this command.

They’ll know we aren’t Christians by the way we treat the parish secretary.

They’ll know we aren’t Christians by the way we gossip about each other.

They’ll know we aren’t Christians once they venture into the comment box on a popular Catholic blog.

They’ll know we aren’t Christians once they see how we treat each other on social media.

Losing Our Way

Our community, the community of people in youth ministry, has forgotten our identity. Loving each other doesn’t mean agreeing with each other all the time. Loving each other doesn’t mean recognizing that sometimes big theological or philosophical differences separate us. Loving each other doesn’t mean that we let it go when our brother or sister is sinning.

It does mean thinking twice about the passive aggressive post online. It does mean that we give people the benefit of the doubt and try to see their heart before we judge them on what we perceive as (or know out rightly) is errant theology. It means that our snark, cynicism, sass, passive-aggression, and anger with one another distorts our identity as Christians.

They’ll know we aren’t Christians by our (lack of) love.

And then we wonder why our big campaign to “bring people home” didn’t work at our parish. Because they walked in the doors and were shushed by an usher, heard two people gossiping about the pregnant teenager after Mass, and went online to follow the parish youth minister and see him engaged in some big theological fight over whether or not black was still a suppressed liturgical vestment. Then we have a staff meeting to ask ourselves, “Why didn’t people come back?”

Broken but Striving

I’m not advocating for perfection. The Church is full of broken people. We are going to fail and treat each other poorly from time to time. I’m advocating that we at least start making an effort. I think we do this in our parishes with the people closest to us – especially the people we struggle to love. I also believe we need to really start living this online. The Catholic Social Media Sphere is a beautiful place where ideas are shared. It can also be an angry, vitriol filled place where any minor disagreement of method, theology, or even personal testimony is torn apart.

Social media is far too public a place for us to be cruel to each other. Someone on the outside has got to ask themselves when they see your angry, passive-aggressive post, “Wow if they treat each other like that, how will they treat me?” Our posts and words should never evoke that response. So let’s set to changing the climate of cynicism, anger, and backbiting that has become more prevalent in our world.

Let’s try out empathy for people on the other side of the political or theological divide before we declare them “anathema” in the public forum of social media justice with a 50 tweet argument about some obscure theological nuance.

We can think twice about that angry diatribe on the blog about how hard it is to have kids at Mass where we extol how children “don’t belong in worship and are distracting, and you are a horrible person and parent for even suggesting that they remotely have any place there.”

And conversely, stop to think before we flame that comment with, “Oh really? Let’s relegate my children to the outer temple because you lack the concentration to pay attention in Mass? My son or daughter is less worthy than you to be a part of the Body of Christ? Either the Church is crying, or it’s dying – maybe you should consider the latter.”

Maybe save the snarky jokes only our Catholic friends get for the times we sit down over coffee privately? They may be funny to us, even tragically true, but the public doesn’t get the humor. They get the sass.

And friends, what if we committed to stop trolling each other online? We’re on the same team. If you have an issue, let’s bring it out into the open through a face-to-face or phone conversation. It isn’t making people want to break down our doors; it is making them want to board us all up inside.

As youth ministers, we aren’t the only people involved in the above – but we constitute a larger part of it than I think we realize. Let’s lead the way in changing things.

We are broken and beautiful, Church. We aren’t always going to get along. We are going to disagree, sharply, even. But we can love each other beyond that. We can treat each other with more dignity than we do. Love one another.


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About the Author

Joel Stepanek

I spent most of my 8th grade year in detention because there wasn’t a dare I wouldn’t accept. But in high school, my youth minister dared me to follow Christ and I haven’t looked back. I love all things Wisconsin, especially the Green Bay Packers. I can probably eat more cheese than you. (Please don’t dare me to prove it.) Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @ChasingHumility.

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