If you want to discern my faith, don’t look around my neck for a cross. Look at my Facebook page. I love a good Jesus meme.
One favorite features a classic painting of villagers staring heavenward. “Jesus is coming,” says the caption. “Look busy.” Another fave? Jesus doing a face-palm with the caption, “Guys, I said I hate figs.” These may seem like jokes from the darkest side of sacrilege, but they get a good laugh, a click of the “Like” button, and an approving prayer-hands emoji from progressive Christians like me.
In light of the anti-gay “religious freedom” bills recently signed into law in Mississippi and Tennessee, sharing a meme that substitutes “figs” for a pejorative the Los Angeles Times won’t publish may not seem like much, but it’s a protest nonetheless. The same with posting the meme that says: “Just once, the world would like to see Christians claim ‘religious liberty’ compelling us to feed children or curb gun violence or combat cancer or anything remotely life affirming. Instead we use it to withhold wedding cakes…” It’s a way of communicating that I refuse to fall for the right-wing con. “Religious liberty” legislation is not the stuff of protecting faith, but of pointing fingers.
The old hippie folk hymn paraphrasing John 13:35 says: “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Not based on my news feed.
You have to understand: I work, socialize and post in circles where the only Sunday sacrament is brunch. I move mostly in the world of “nones,” otherwise known as the “spiritual-but-not-religious. “ Many of them don’t look kindly on Christians; they don’t even think they know any.
According to the Pew Research Center, “none” is “the single most common religious identity among those born between 1980 and 2000.” In the United States, the study projects, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, while nones will increase from 17.1% to 25.6% in the same time period.
So I sometimes feel I’m on the wrong side of history, and that makes me self-conscious about opening conversations about faith. But sharing posts, memes and tweets makes me feel like I might be able to, at the very least, let the nones know that Christianity isn’t what they may think it is.
The schism in Christianity these days runs far deeper than arguing over the pros and cons of accepting offerings online, or whether or not playing Christian rock during services constitutes pandering to millennials. The Ku Klux Klan, it has been reported, wants you to start thinking of it as a Christian group. A recent Washington Post/ABC poll revealed that American Christians, more than the non-religious, are likely to support torture. And then there’s good old Parson Donald Trump, bungling a Corinthians reference in one breath and condemning immigrants in the next. The old hippie folk hymn paraphrasing John 13:35 says: “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Not based on my news feed.
Moderate and progressive Christian activism doesn’t make headlines and it’s certainly not clickbait. The basic goodness in my corner of Christianity garners pretty much no mainstream media attention. Crazy gets more clicks, so the extremists get all the airplay. The progressive message needs a signal boost.
Once I started posting Jesus memes, I realized I wasn’t facing anti-Christian bias on the part of my friends, but rather cluelessness. They had formulated their ideas about modern Christianity from what the media was telling them. To them, “Christian” equaled global-warming denier and homophobe. Was I one of those people, they wondered? They needed assurances that I didn’t see faith and science as mutually exclusive, or even faith and common sense. It was up to me to inform them that I was down with Bill Nye, not Lou Sheldon.
Then things got interesting. They’d quiz me: Those Christian business-owners who refused, on religious grounds, to make wedding cakes or pizzas for same-sex couples, What Would Jesus Do? My answer: He’d start baking. (Could we have foreseen the culture wars being waged on a battlefield of carbs?) So, yes, social media can be a useless time suck, but it can also be a crucible for creating understanding.
If we want something to change, we start where we are, and where I am so often is online. The Bible says “Judge not lest ye be judged.” It doesn’t say, “Let Bible-justified cruelty, prejudice or downright nuttiness go unchallenged.”
If I were to select just one social media message to communicate the outrage and sorrow I feel about the coopting of Christianity, which hashtag, meme or emoji would I choose?
Lily Burana is a novelist and memoirist. She is at work on a book about her journey back to faith.