The difficulty of having Christian friends

Mar 12, 2014 by

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I’m not going to lie: even though I’m a Christian, I’m learning that having Christian friends is a stressful endeavor.

Not long ago my wife and I reflected on our life one year after moving back to our home state and we both lamented how few dependable, Christian relationships we had to show for it. This realization was a hard reality for us to accept, but one that we had predicted may come to pass as a result of moving to an area where Christianity is … well, let’s just say, different.

While it shouldn’t be this way, I think the reality for many of us is that having Christian friends is … hard.

This isn’t because our Christian siblings aren’t nice people or incapable of being good friends. Rather, this is because somewhere along the line you and I were taught a horrible lie:

We were taught that we have to agree on everything in order to be in relationship with one another.

For the last 2,000 years, instead of following the one who came to reconcile “all things” back into one body, we’ve been dividing up into so many sub-tribes that it’s impossible to keep track of all of them. As kids, many of us went to “Christian” summer camps where a common message was that our friends would all leave us when we got back home from camp. Now as adults we’ve refused to worship with people who worship the same Jesus differently than ourselves, created our own subcultures, and even within those we’ve told people “you can’t be a part of this community unless you are in ‘full harmony’ with every line of this 28-page Statement of Faith.”

We’ve looked at a finger and called it “the body,” when really it was just a finger off doing its own thing.

We’ve become people who functionally believe, by demonstration of our cultural norms, that we must be in total agreement on nearly every issue in order to be in relationship together.

How destructive. How anti-Christ.

The prevailing norms in this area are making it harder and harder to live the Christian life as it was intended — many parts of one body in community with each other. In addition, it’s keeping us from experiencing the “abundant” life that Jesus promised in the here and now.

Instead, I find myself with beads of sweat pouring down my head each time I get ready to push the publish button for a new post. Will I lose any friends over this? If I take a theological stance on this issue or in this direction, will it be “too much” for some people to be in relationship with me?

Several months ago I was getting ready to do an interview when my wife wished me luck and gently asked me: Are you willing to accept the consequences for this?

And, I knew what she meant. She meant: Are you prepared to have very few Christian friends?

It’s actually heartbreaking that we even have to ask these questions. We shouldn’t have to agree on all of our theology or politics to be in relationship with each other.

That being said — I do think there’s a time to draw lines. For example, I recently deleted some Christians from Facebook for posting racist content. As a transracial family and a decent human being, I’m not willing to be in relationship with people who are racist. That’s one of my lines. However, I don’t think we are as hesitant to draw these lines as we should be. We should resist it at all cost, reserve it for rarest of cases, and wherever possible find ways to actually erase the lines we too quickly drew.

We must reject the lie that we have to agree on everything to be in relationships with each other, because it is simply untrue. We don’t.

Yet, Christian culture has become so “tribe exclusive” that my favorite, most trustworthy friends … are atheists. Why? Well, because they love me for me, want to be in a relationship simply for the relationship, and they’re not going to stop being my friend if my theology shifts. Truth be told, I’d love to feel the same relational safety with my Christian friends.

I long to live in a world where someone says, “I really need a good friend” and the first response that comes to mind is “you should go find some Christians,“ but that’s unfortunately not where we’re at now. Facing such a truth should cause us to realize the need for old-fashioned repentance.

I don’t know about you, but I want to live out a Christianity that’s worth living. I want to help contribute to a reformation of American Christian culture and build a new culture where Christian friendships say:

“Oh, you disagree on that theological issue? Fine by me as long as we’re still playing tennis together on Saturday.“

Ben Corey is an author, writer, speaker and minister from Auburn, Maine. This first appeared on his blog, Formerly Fundie, where he discusses the intersection of faith and culture from a progressive/emergent/neo-anabaptist vantage point.

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