The world’s most popular search engine is a marvel of mathematics and algorithms. Type just about anything into the search box on Google and the system will start providing type ahead options for what it thinks you are about to ask. These options are based on the millions of searches that have been performed previously on the system and are there to help you refine what you are looking for and save you a few key strokes along the way.
When it comes to researching social stereotypes and societal perceptions nothing is more accurate that the Google search engine. That’s why this article in Christianity Today was so interesting to me as a Christ-Follower.
The number of times negative impressions of various Christian denominations came up is both sad and not surprising to me. The terms “wrong”, “judgmental” and “cult” keep coming up time and time again. I venture to say that it’s not just the atheists and agnostics that are driving these searches. In fact I doubt it quite strongly. I am willing to bet that the driving force behind most of these negative stereotypes is actually coming from competing Christian churches. It’s a far cry from what John wrote would be the mark of Christians that’s for sure.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. [John 13:35]
In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed for the unity of the church that would follow. When Christians search out other denominations with questions like “Why are Anglicans so wrong” it grieves out savior and gives a black mark to us all.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. [John 17:20-23]
Dr. Greg Boyd of Woodland Hills Church in Saint Paul Minnesota and the author of several best-selling books including “Myth of a Christian Nation” and “The Benefit of the Doubt” said it best in a sermon not too long ago. “The only opinion we are allowed to have about our fellow human beings is that God considers them valuable enough to die for.”
When so called Christians portray a contrary attitude is it any wonder that the church is struggling for relevance today? David Kinnamen president of the research firm Barna Group put it this way in this book “unChristian; What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters”
When outsiders claim that we are unChrisitian, it is a reflection of this jumbled (and predominantly negative) set of perceptions. When they see Christians not acting like Jesus, they quickly conclude that the group deserves an unchristian label. Like a corrupted computer file or a bad photocopy, Christianity, they say, is no longer in pure form, and so they reject it.
Just for fun I tested the Google algorithm by typing “they will know we are Christians by our love”. I got 12 characters in before Google completed the phrase for me. At least people are searching the right things, or maybe it’s because that’s the title of a popular hymn. Who knows?