In early 2012 I flew to Nashville, Tennessee to attend the National Religious Broadcasters Convention and Exposition. An event which is even bigger that its name. The conference is very large and intimidating. – the whole event is held under a massive bio-dome which has 9 acres of indoor gardens and indoor cascading waterfalls! The expo side of it had a wide variety of ‘Christian’ organisations peddling their wares…. some of them a little extreme. I grew up in a town of 4000 people, so this was all a bit of a shock to the system. But eventually when I learned to leverage on my ‘Aussie’ accent and throw around a few ‘G’day mates’, I found that people were lining up to talk with me.
Needing a breath of actual fresh air, I decided to step out of the dome and brave the country music of Nashville. I ended up meeting a Jewish man who was an exhibitor at NRB, who had a business selling beauty products from the Dead Sea. Because we were both outsiders we ended up joking about some of the oddities of the convention and the people at it. Eventually I had to ask the obvious question of why would a Jewish businessman from Israel attend a Christian Media Conference in Nashville? – I mean sure it was pretty obvious that all these American Christians LOVED Israel. There was even an oil company which handed out short books written to the level of an L. Ron Hubbard novel, explaining why it was God’s will for them to mine oil in Israel. – yes really!
The reason for him attending was as simple as a friend suggesting he should go and check it out as a business opportunity. I then asked what was weirdest thing for him as a Jew attending this American Christian broadcasters conference. And that’s when he said something that has stuck with me ever since.
He said, “The thing that surprises me most is that all of these well to do, upper-middle class American Christians, all think that they are a persecuted minority.”
This hit home hard. He was right. We do believe that we are persecuted. We do believe that “the world hates Christians”. Growing up as a Christian in Australia, it was always implied that if someone didn’t like me it was because I was a Christian. If I lost my job, or didn’t get through to the next stage of an interview it was because I was a Christian. If I didn’t get my film selected it was because I was a Christian. If I didn’t get into Project Greenlight it was because I was a Christian. If I didn’t get that audition it was because I was a Christian. …yeah right! Of course it had nothing to with me being uneducated, unqualified, inexperienced, insecure, inept, lazy, or the poor production qualities in my film, or that I knew nothing about screenplay writing.
We grow up hearing about Christians overseas getting raped and murdered or having to flee their country because of their beliefs – and somehow we juxtapose their experience onto us not having any friends or a good job. – how dare we!
A friend of mine who is a local church pastor wanted to do an Easter street parade when he first came to that town. – Something to impact the community. But after discussing it with another church pastor he discovered that last year they did a Stages of The Cross drama through the main street of town. And the feedback they received from the general community was that no one knew what was going on – they didn’t have any idea what they were doing because they didn’t know the basic story of Christianity. In other words – what was presented was not seen as being relevant.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a very creative person with a heart for mission, media and doing things differently. And at NRB Convention I made some excellent contacts and met some very down to earth people. So I’m for street parades and I’m for giant conventions – but what’s the point of any of it if we can’t relate to our local community, our friends or our family? Just like I did in Nashville, we need to step out of our Christian Bio-dome and understand that most people don’t think like us, plus have no idea of the basic Christian story.
We are not a persecuted minority – we’ve simply become an irrelevant oddity.
So my question to you is if we genuinely believe that we do have the most relevant message in the world to share, how do tackle this problem of perception?