As followers of Jesus we are to be different from others. We are to be, as a biblically derived phrase puts it, in the world but not of the world (John 15:19; 17:14). Our perspective and actions are supposed to reflect something heavenly. It is not that we are to be so heavenly minded that were no earthly good. But we are committed, as we say in the Lords Prayer, to Gods will being done on earth as it is in heaven. So if we are not a bit odd in some ways, we are probably not doing discipleship right.
To put it in another way, following Jesus requires that we be nonconformists. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your minds that you know what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2). But not all nonconformity is equal. As Christians we are not to be different as an end in itself. Unfortunately, too often Christians have been different in ugly, unredemptive ways.
Sometimes Christians and churches get known above all for what they are against. The most publicized small church in the country is the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. It made its reputation through the crass, over-the-top anti-homosexual protests the church members have staged around the country. They have even picketed military funerals and trampled on American flags, while waving crude signs claiming God hates one group of people or another. They even created a song called God Hates the World, an adaptation of We Are the World. While the Westboro bunch is the most visibly extreme, they certainly , far from it.
We who follow Jesus are called to be nonconformists but not because we judge, condemn and hate more than others. The nonconformity we have been called to embody is a sort that is about healing not wounding, including not excluding, loving not despising, peacemaking not war mongering. It is a redemptive nonconformity to which we have been called. Ours is a life-affirming, hope-filled, gracious nonconformity. This is not to suggest there is nothing we should oppose. We oppose those things that promote hate, callousness and self-centeredness. We oppose attitudes that excuse violence and ignore suffering. We must do so because such things undermine the broad and generous love shown to us in Jesus.
Jesus never threw his support to the best positioned, best armed or most wealthy people of his time. When he spoke words of judgment, these were the ones on the receiving end. The poor, persecuted or marginalized were not; instead, these were bestowed with the word blessed and Jesus called his followers to welcome them (Luke 6:20-22; 14:12-14). But those who cast their lot with outcasts often share their fate. It was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “I choose to identify with the underprivileged, I choose to identify with the poor, I choose to give my life for the hungry, I choose to give my life for those who have been left out of the sunlight of opportunity.” And we know his fate.
It is not easy to be gracious nonconformists. Tremendous pressure- something subtle, sometimes overt- is placed on us so that we will align ourselves with the powers-that-be. Fear of rejection and reprisal, on the one hand, and hopes of reward, on the other, keep us in line. Self-deception allows us to plead ignorance even when we should know better than to go along with those whose interests are too narrow and whose methods are too harsh.
Conforming to the standards of those who are at the center of power and privilege surely has its rewards. But the One we claim to follow was not an advocate of self-interest but a model of self-sacrifice. He reached out to the rejected and reached down to the fallen to the displeasure of the powerful. This One we believe to be God incarnate calls us to follow him. “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
Craig M. Watts is the minister of (Disciples of Christ) in Coral Springs, Florida and Co-Moderator of Disciples Peace Fellowship. He authored the book Disciple of Peace: Alexander Campbell on Pacifism, Violence and the State (Doulos Christou Press: Indianapolis, 2005) and his essays have appeared in many journals such as Cross Currents, Encounter, the Otherside, DisciplesWorld and more. Craig blogs on the