Over the holidays we spent time with some close family friends, and one of the topics that came up during our conversation was a seemingly growing distaste for Christians and Christianity in general.
Through our discussion, it was obvious that the reasons for this perception are legion. However, one of the examples given during the talk shined a stark light on the issue.
A Tale of Two Speakers
One of the individuals participating in our discussion had attended a series of talks at Harvard University several years ago. Two of the featured speakers there were Rev. Jerry Falwell as well as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu better known as Mother Teresa.
Rev. Falwell had spoken to various Ivy League groups dozens of times, but on this particular night he was roundly booed and hissed throughout his speech which lasted about 20 minutes. Our friend couldn’t even remember what Falwell was trying to talk about through the catcalls and disruptive behavior.
Conversely, an aged Mother Teresa shuffled to the podium. A step stool was brought out to assist the diminutive nun in reaching the microphone. According to our friend, the hostile audience gave the Nobel Peace Prize winner a respectable deference of silence before she spoke. Mother Teresa’s opening question to the auditorium was, “Have you no fear of God?”
She then went on for nearly an hour challenging the listeners about what they were doing individually to help the poor around the world and around the corner. She criticized the cash and comfort that kept the audience complacent. She chastised the attendees for willingly wearing blinders to the needs of the neediest.
The room was silent for the entire duration of her speech until she finished, when she was then met with a thunderous ovation.
Practice What You Preach – Literally
I’ve been thinking a lot about that anecdote, and I think the difference between the response to both speakers is due to how each practiced their faith while they were alive.
Prior to Falwell’s death in 2007, when he was found collapsed on the floor of his office at the university he founded, Falwell had received dozens of death threats daily for years.
This animosity was fueled by a variety of reasons including allegations against his ministry of financial fraud in the 1970s; legal battles that Falwell engaged with Penthouse and Hustler magazines; his blurring of religion and politics with the creation of the Moral Majority; his self-promotion and willingness to be a talking head on any controversial issue that was televised; as well as head-scratching assertions he made that one of the Tele-Tubbies was gay or that US pagans and atheists should be blamed for the 9/11 attacks.
By contrast, prior to her death in 1997, Mother Teresa and the nuns at the “Missionaries of Charity” she founded in Calcutta, India served the poorest of the poor. Everyday she and the sisters got up before 5am, prayed and ate together then they took to the streets and slums providing food, education, comfort and help to everyone they could. It didn’t matter if the person was an orphan or leper – they mattered to Mother Teresa. She lived that way for decades.
Lip Service is Not the Same as Real Service
With all due respect to Rev. Falwell and his legacy, his life was imprinted and remembered by the things he said. The difference with Mother Teresa is that she’s remembered for the things she did – but that makes all the difference.
I’m not talking about earning your faith, I’m talking about living it. I’m first to admit that I’m guilty of putting my words over my works. Having said that, if Christians hope to have any relevancy in the future they might consider trading less lip service and a pointing finger, for actual service and a helping hand.
Question: What’s your general impression of Christians?
[Note: This is a re-post of an original article I published January 7, 2012]