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🚨 URGENT: Mere Orthodoxy Needs YOUR Help

Christianity’s Image Problem(?)

October 5th, 2007 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

The new book “UnChristian” is getting a lot of play in the Christian ‘sphere right now, partly because of this article in Time highlighting the storyline of the book:  Chrisitanity has an “image problem.”  Young adults, ages 16-29, think badly of Christianity, we’re told.


Too anti-homosexual, too political, too judgmental, etc.

We’ve covered the fact that young people stop going to church once they leave high school.  There is solid evidence to think that all is not well within Christendom.  But I’m initially skeptical at the conclusions drawn from this book, for several reasons:

1)  While they polled 440 Christians and 440 non-Christians, there is no indication whether those Christians were frequent attenders of Church or the demographic make-up of those 440 non-Christians.
2)  In the past, the Barna Research Group has made headlines for diagnosing the ailments of Christianity, ailments which upon closer inspection may not actually be there.

3)  Most importantly, it’s not at all clear to me that Christianity has this image problem because actual Christians–people attending Church week in and week out–suffer from the problems “UnChristian” identifies.  We could tell an alternative story: people in influence keep talking about how Christians suffer from those problems, which sways minds susceptible to media influence (as every twenty-first century mind is!) to think that Christians actually do have such problems, regardless of whether they have actually met people with them.
Having lived among those dreaded “religious right” who push for defense of marriage amendments, I am inclined to say that while many of us freely and happily confess that conservative Christianity suffers from anti-homosexuality biases or is too political, almost no conservative Christian I have met (especially in the 18-29 demographic!) actually suffers from those sins as they are often described.  Yes, they are politically engaged, but no one I meet thinks they are bringing heaven to earth or is trying to institute a “theocracy.”  Yes, they are for “defense of marriage amendments” and think homosexuality is illicit, but when they meet homosexuals and interact with them, they are nothing but accommodating and charitable, if not inquisitive and eager to shed the “image” that they are hostile and judgmental.
In other words, I can’t help but wonder if religious conservatives are being made to carry a collective guilt which they have not earned except by working very hard politically to preserve what they see as the truth (which I presumed was at the heart of American democracy).

But all of this, as I mentioned, is too late.  The narrative has been set, regardless of whether or not it’s true.  Nevermind whether or not it’s a problem.  The universe, as Lewis said, seems to be sharpening to a point–as Christians hold more closely to the truth of the Gospel, the divide between those “inside” and “outside” (a divide Jesus makes in the Gospels) will become more clear.  As long as that divide remains, I find it likely that Christianity will continue to have an ‘image problem.’

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.