cross-58376_640It’s hard to be a Christian at UCSB.

Before you write me off as just another hyper-religious and spiritually delusional snob, I ask for you to hear me out. The statement above is not intended as a backhanded diss to those who drink, smoke or have sex, nor is it the tagline to the following pamphlet on why you should follow Jesus Christ (or go to hell).

In fact, quite the contrary. Yes, I am a Christian … and yes, I have drank, smoked and had sex during my time here in Santa Barbara. Is that a controversial juxtaposition? Just being honest.

It’s shocking to see how quickly Christians, including myself, condemn those who admit to caving in to these temptations. Christianity is a lifelong journey marked by the redemption of one’s sinfulness through the grace of Jesus Messiah, yet so many believers today are adamant on hiding these crevices of their lives in fear of being shamed. We Christians spend so much of our time destroying all evidence of the messes we make that we forget that God’s power is best highlighted in His ability and willingness to provide us a clean slate. Instead, all attention is devoted to presenting an external righteousness that masks our shortcomings and shunning those who live ‘dark’ lives of self-indulgence.

When did this need to conceal our true selves and judge others overtake the spirit of love and mercy in Christian culture?

I grew up in a household of believers, being taught to pray daily, read my Bible and try my best not to sin. If I did these things, my teachers assured me, I could reserve my first-class ticket to heaven and avoid being thrown in a blazing fire for the rest of eternity with no chance of parole. Not a bad deal.

What I was not taught was the fact that it is ridiculously hard to live this way. I remember as a young child using prayer time at church to take a quick nap. The Bible, when read out of context, is either a compilation of motivational one-liners or a boring list of weird names that no one cares about. And to not sin, not just for one day but my entire life? It’s like God didn’t want anyone to make it to heaven at all.

It was during this time when I realized Christianity wasn’t all that easy that I started to disparage others who were even further from hitting the mark. Why? It made me feel better about myself. When I felt guilty about calling my friend a ‘dick,’ I’d point to the kid who called his mom a ‘fucking bitch’ to eradicate my shame. And when I got older and started masturbating to hardcore porn alone at night, I’d sleep well in the confidence that, well, at least I wasn’t the one making the videos. (It’s okay, I’m laughing too. How ridiculous.)

This is how my identity as a Christian changed: from an innocent child who loved God simply for loving me, to an insecure man using Him as a crutch to hide the truth of my internal wretchedness and seem like a good person. I started pointing out others who needed Jesus so as to sweep my own need for Him under the rug.

UCSB provides the perfect environment for Christians to play this horribly pretentious game of calculated self-glorification. It’s easy to look in any direction in I.V. on a Friday night and point out all the sin around me. It’s oddly comforting to look at a freshman vomiting his brains out and know that I’m ‘more mature’ than he is. It reassures me when I hear of girls sleeping with multiple guys of the same friend group on the same night. At least I’m not that bad. And surely I’m a better man than those douches (sorry, frat bros) who work out just to have a better shot at getting laid that night.

But am I? Am I a better person for not doing these things (anymore), even if in my deepest of thoughts I really freaking love women? And even if I am ‘cleaner’ from an objective standpoint, should that be what I live for? After all, Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to ‘love,’ not to ‘abstain from sin and criticize those who don’t.’

Now, don’t get me wrong — Christians are called to live righteously as a sign of obedience and reverence toward God and His ways — but that’s the point. Christians can’t be holy just for the sake of being holy. Instead, we should naturally be inclined to stay away from drinking and sex not because these things in and of themselves are bad, but because we love God so much that we wouldn’t dare shelve that relationship for one night of temporary indulgence.

Gandhi once famously said, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Could it be that the unbelievers of our generation aren’t opposed to Jesus himself, but those who claim to love him yet carry out lives of arrogant self-righteousness? Could it be that the grace-less lives that Christians live today discredit the gracious God we say we believe in?

It’s hard to be a Christian at UCSB. Not because I’d rather be at a school where no one parties, and definitely not because I detest everything that happens on the weekends. I’ve been there. I’ve loved being part of it. It’s hard because I am challenged everyday to stay humble enough to know that the only thing that differentiates me from the nightly partygoer is the external manifestation of our internal brokenness. I need God just as much as anyone else at this school does.

I can boast all I want about my salvation, but it means nothing if I use this freedom to oppress others with hateful judgment. Christian or not, may our campus be quick to love and slow to hate.

“It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbors face, and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own.” {Matthew 7:3 MSG}

Joshua Kim has stopped using prayer time and is instead using lecture time for hardcore napping.