One of the common complaints about Christians today (often by other Christians) is that we’re fake. As the indictment goes, no one is being “real.” Words like “honest” and “authentic” are thrown around a lot. We need to be honest about our sins and have authentic community. I’m sure I’ve said stuff along those lines myself.
However, I’ve started to question whether fakeness is the real problem. But let me back up first, and ask you to consider the following scenario: Have you or someone you know left the States to spend time in a developing country, only to return completely disillusioned with American life? It’s like the blinders have been taken off as to how privileged we are and how we take everything for granted. For some of us, an ensuing bitterness towards Americans envelops us. Americans seems so selfish and greedy you can hardly stand it!
What is ironic about this experience is that I, for one, was just like every other American before I went overseas. I loved my comfortable life, and while I knew there was suffering far away I also tithed to the church and I volunteered in my community and that was enough for me. I wasn’t a bleeding-heart activist who cried at night over the dying children in Africa. What opened my eyes to the reality of my privilege was seeing first-hand the want of another. That experience changed me in a way that staying at home could not.
Why then, did I return home with the expectations that others should feel as I do, even though they had not seen what I’d seen? Who was I to judge other Americans when I had been just like them several weeks before? Yes, many Americans are selfish and greedy, but few of them have stared a dying AIDS child in the face, and it’s honestly very hard to conceive of the horror unless you experience it yourself. I cannot fault people for that.
Lack of experience accounts for tremendous naiveté about the world, and this lack of experience is often confused for inauthenticity. Another example of this is teenagers. How many of us were total idiots in high school because we thought we knew everything? Me! Thankfully, my parents were gracious enough to factor in my lack of experience and knowledge about the world in how they responded to me. They knew I would grow up and kick myself for being so foolish, so they responded in grace and love. While they did teach me and discipline me, they weren’t disappointed or disillusioned by what I didn’t yet know.
These two examples illustrate one of the real reasons for so-called “Christian fakeness.” While I don’t doubt that many Christians are pretending to be something they’re not, most people’s intentions are not that sinister. Many Christians genuinely desire to be real with you and to have open, honest, community. Many of us comes across as fake because of our lack of life experience. Many of us who were raised in Christian homes or privileged families have been sheltered from the darkness and suffering of the world. We are limited by our experience, which also limits our understanding of God.
This, of course, is not true of all American Christians. Not all Americans are sheltered and privileged. What’s more, there are some Christians who have incredible wisdom despite their lack of life experience. But speaking from my own life, I have been extremely privileged, which has directly impacted the development of my spiritual maturity. My understanding of suffering and the depth of my sin has been very shallow at times, which meant that my understanding of grace was shallow as well. I didn’t want to be that way, nor was I trying to hide anything. I was simply limited by my experience.
When we think of Christian maturity, it’s helpful to think of it in terms of infancy, adolescence, and adulthood. Spiritual infancy is defined by a consumption of the simple, digestible truths of God. We don’t want to get stuck there, but it’s a necessary step for every Christian. Spiritual adolescence can digest the meaty things of God, but like a human teenager it is also limited by experience. Over time, the combination of solid teaching and experience result in the wisdom defined by spiritual maturity.
To be perfectly honest, I think I am just now beginning to leave my spiritual adolescence. Barely. I’m still in it sometimes. Maybe I’m a spiritual college student.
All of that to say, if you ever find yourself feeling frustrated with other Christians for not being “real,” instead show them grace. Show them patience. We are all on different spiritual timelines so despite having been a Christian for years, many of us are still in our spiritual adolescence. Show the same kind of loving grace that my parents showed me when I was younger, knowing that I was limited by my years. There are much better ways of encouraging one another than slapping people with the label of “fake.”