I’d Rather Go to a Sikh Temple Than Church

August 13, 2012

What are we known for?ss-120805-shooting-tease.photoblog600-300x225

Surely, you know about the shooting at the Sikh (pronounced “seek”) temple in Wisconsin.

In all the articles I read, writers attempted to describe a people and a faith that are relatively unfamiliar to many Americans.

The Sikh men are known for wearing turbans and not cutting their beards (or their hair.)  That’s an obvious one.

But everyone used adjectives like:

peaceful

accepting

humble

loving

generous

In an effort to sum up an entire religion, those are the words that people use.  Those values are what Sikhs are known for embodying.

It makes me wonder…

…what are we as Christians known for?  If pressed for an adjective for Christians, what would be the first one that would come to peoples’ minds?

What They Said Is True

First of all, when I read the articles and all the ways that Sikhs were described, peaceful, accepting, loving, I knew that it was the truth.  I became acquainted with Sikhism as a fourth grader when a strange new kid with a funny foreign name showed up to school with a turban on his head.

And then he showed up at our cub scout meeting.

And then we went to camp together, shared a tent together many times.  I had him over to my house for sleepovers.  We spent all of high school together.  He is one of the most brilliant people I have ever known.  He and his family accepted me and my Christian family.

And I watched as he dealt gracefully with insensitive questions from kids about what he was wearing on his head.  He dealt with being a cultural, racial, and religious minority.  The Sikhs are minorities in their native India, but coming to America, they are minorities of minorities.  The Sikh people are also collateral damage of our suspicion of Muslims in our post-9/11 culture.

Every word that has been used to describe the Sikh people in the last couple of weeks has been absolutely true.

What’s the Word I’m Looking For?

It saddens me because Jesus said that his followers would be known by the fruit they bear.

And I wonder what kind of fruit we are bearing.

There are a lot of words that people use to describe Christians.  I’m not sure if accepting is one of them.  Or loving.  Or peaceful.

Half of us are on a crusade to show the world that not all Christians are like that.  We’re not all hateful, judgmental, or whatever the word is.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Christians could be painted with broad brushes, like Sikhs?  Wouldn’t it be nice if people equated Christians with the fruits that Jesus said we should be bearing?  Wouldn’t it be fantastic if every non-Christian had a positive experience with a Christian, so when positive things were said about Christians, they would know it’s true?

What Kind of Fruit Is This?

You can say all you want about how the Sikhs are wrong because their worldview isn’t biblical.  

But Jesus said that his followers would be known by the fruit they bear (Matt 7;16.)

And Paul said that where people don’t know the truth, they are judged by the law on their hearts (Romans 2:15).

And that tells me that there are some Sikhs bearing a hell of a lot more fruit than Christians.

And they are known for it.  The Sikhs are recognized for the fruit they are bearing.  Even being an extreme minority, easily mixed up with Muslims, people recognize Sikhs for embodying these virtues and bearing these fruits.

How do people recognize us?

Have you known any Sikhs (or Hindus or Buddhists, or take your pick)?  What words do you think come to mind first to non-Christians when they are describing us?

19 responses to I’d Rather Go to a Sikh Temple Than Church

  1. Damn, Matt, You put me on the spot here because I have to translate this into what one word folks might use in describing me!

    Not a pretty thought.

    Lord, grumpy is the first word that springs to my mind.

    John the Grump, fruit of the grumpy tree.

    Matt, you done stopped preaching and gone to meddling!

  2. I’ve only known one Sikh, and I am embarrassed to say she’s much more “Christian” than I. We know each other through a mutual friend who made an . . . unconventional life decision (marriage to a much older man) and it was her who was accepting and loving and actually called me to help me process my feelings about it all and help me repair the relationship with our mutual friend.

  3. In my line of work, I’ve met Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and quite a few others. Actually, on my first overnight call as a senior resident, the first-year resident that was on call with me was a Sikh. (I remember him being incredibly green, but almost intimidating in how fast a learner he was. I was afraid of him finding out that he was probably smarter than me.)

    To this day, I haven’t exactly seen these folks solely as representatives of their various religions, so I don’t think I could describe any of them in one word. They’ve all been loyal, generous, loving, helpful, fun at parties–and occasionally crabby after a bad night :) I remember them more for being my friends and colleagues than poster children for whatever their religion was.

    If I came away with the notion that maybe it’s not such a good idea to think of people of any religion as a stereotype, that was just a bonus.

    As for Christians, I was reminded of this post from Slacktivist–
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2012/08/07/setting-the-world-on-fire-for-jesus/
    —which just made me kind of ill.

    Sometimes it doesn’t seem to matter what kind of “fruit” I might bear–it seems like Christianity is still just going to be characterized by whackjobs that set piles of cereal on fire. I wish that were different.

  4. While I absolutely get what you’re saying, I think there’s a slightly unfair advantage here. When people talk about “all the Sikhs I’ve known,” they’re usually talking about one person, maybe a family. Very few have even a handful of representatives. And as far as I know, there is only one type of Sikhism. So it’s easy for that sample to be a consistent and positive one. Also, people have very little knowledge about Sikhism, so they have no preconceived notions that “Sikhs are all…”

    Compare that to “Christians” which are most of the population of the US and you’ve got a MUCH broader sample to choose from, with MANY brands of “Christianity.” Also, the rest of the population all has experience with some form of “Christianity” or another, so they go into interactions with “Christians” with preconceived notions about what they stand for, how they act, and what kind of people they are.

    It’d be AWESOME if when people thought of the term “Christian” they thought “kind, loving, moral, consistent, etc.,” but I think you’re comparing apples to oranges here a bit. There are just too many other factors that get in the way for this to be an accurate comparison.

    But the one word people would use to describe me would probably be “tired.” I know that’s the word I’d use to describe myself!

    • You make an excellent point, Melissa. I guess the best thing we can do is approach non-Christians as if we will be the only Christian they will ever meet.

    • Great point, Melissa. “Christian” is such a broad term used to describe all kinds of beliefs. On the other hand, one would hope that a random sampling from such a large pool might produce a general impression that’s at least marginally favorable. But apparently that’s not the case. A couple of reasons come to mind: 1) the media can be hard on Christians, of any flavor 2) if you’re had a bad religious experience, chances are it was some form of Christianity, if only because “Christianity” covers so much ground.

  5. Funny, I just preached a sermon on this very topic a couple weeks back. One of the things we Christians are known for is constantly being upset about stuff (Hello Lifeway Books!). It’s maddening. But rather than trying to tell the world “Whoa, whoa whoa, I’m not one of THEM,” I think it’s better to just act like Jesus. I’ve seen too many people throw their parents and their churches under the bus because of these stereotypes without ever catching the irony that they have become every bit the judgmental Pharisee they despise.

  6. I look at your question as a query on the whole, not to me specifically. I believe that is where you were going..and I am afraid that here in Alabama, the word to describe “Christians” is probably JUDGMENTAL. Perhaps INTOLERANT…either one is damning and not a perception appealing to others.

  7. Matt,

    The timing on this post is perfect.

    In my personal life there are people who I connect with who are Non-Christian and their feelings on Christianity is pretty blatant disapproval. Yet, they respect me and what I believe. They may not agree with me, but they don’t argue with or judge me.

    And all I’ve seen lately in our Christian community is arguing and judging (ie: Chik-Fil A)

    I think it’s important as Christians to be ‘fruit inspectors’. Some obvious signs are there, others aren’t. I think what separates ‘good’ fruit and ‘bad’ fruit is our ability to see past the BS and call someone out on it. Not judging them or putting them in their own ‘Heaven or Hell’ but knowing what a person is doing wrong and facing the problem head on. The truth hurts, but sometimes we need to face it to be set free. (John 8:32)

    Question is, why are we so afraid?

  8. thanks for this blog, very interesting

  9. Matt,
    I like this and it certainly has me thinking. Before knowing Jesus, I thought Christians were weird, judgmental, bossy, nosy, and goodie-goodies.

    I think a lot of believers really are this way, but thankfully God has brought me people who are not. For me, it always comes down to being known by our love for one another.

    Love is the greatest fruit. The other fruit of the Spirit mean nothing without love. Love trumps all.

  10. I agree that non-Christians can act not just morally, but also generously and lovingly because we are all made in the image of God who is righteous, kind and loving. The beginning of Romans stresses this point, along with the fact that God has put His law in our hearts. But Sikh’s can’t “out-Christian” us any more than Mormons can because the tenet of Christian faith is that Jesus makes us right with God, not our works. Now, we should be bearing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, helping us to be more like Him so that people see Jesus in us. However, Jesus DID speak harshly to people, He DID throw around some merchants, or at least their tables and money, and He DID confront sin, though my own experience with Jesus calling me out is that he is relentless and kind. Most people today, would not be comfortable with a relentless but kind Jesus, or with a Jesus who would call out our sin and tell us to change.

    And I would like to add that Paul was stoned, beaten and imprisoned for preaching the Good News! So sometimes, it doesn’t matter how Christ-like we are, people are going to criticize us and call us cruel and judgemental because we don’t agree with them AND because we quote Jesus who says “I am THE way, THE truth and THE life” (emphasis is mine).

    • I think I might be Jesus, because I’m always pointing out the sins of others and helping them transmute them. How exactly does Christianity work by the way?

  11. My husband and I recently re-connected with an old high school friend and her husband. They invited us to their home. There was smoking, cursing, references to bars and gambling — very different from what we’re used to. Before we left, they invited us to go on vacation with them. Now I’m particular about who I’m willing to vacation with — a week could make or break a friendship. But I was more than ready to say yes! They are just great people. I left their house thinking, More Christians — I — should be more like this. I tried to think about what they did and said that made me feel so accepted, so important, so welcome — because I wanted to be like that. I want people to feel that way when they come to my home, when they’re around me. I think that’s how Jesus was/is.