Several months ago, a friend who is very near to me asked me this question, “Why are unbelievers generally so much kinder and friendlier than Christians?”
And I thought about it. I gave her a pretty standard mumbling about “common grace”, and I do believe that is true.
I also believe that all humans are created in God’s image and have an understanding of kindness and friendship and love. We should be thankful for that.
But I thought about it.
I know this friend. I know that he was raised in the church, quite similar to my own circles and so his concerns echoed with me. I also have found that in general the people who treated me with the most contempt, rage, anger, and dismissal have been fellow professors of Christ. I have never had an unbeliever treat me as badly as one who broke bread with me at the Lord’s Table.
Why is that? If we are to be known by our love, why is it that we are mostly known by our contempt and anger against everyone?
And once again, you can deny it. I have had many believers try to prove that they aren’t bullies by threatening me, slandering me and cutting off all contact with me for saying that they were bullies.
You know what I am talking about. If you don’t, then maybe it would help you to learn to listen to those who have left the church. So many souls have been trampled on and abused by conservative evangelicals!
So I thought about it.
I think that there are two things that are deeply engrained in our evangelical culture.
First, fear is deeply engrained. We were raised firmly in the belief that coming into contact with the “world” would destroy us. We were taught throughout the 70s and 80s and beyond that “secular humanists” were out to take away all of our rights, persecute us, change our way of life, and destroy churches. “Left Behind”, Youth Camps, Bill Gothard – all of them painted quite the horrifying apocalypse if the unbelievers ever get power. If “these people” get their way, we will lose everything this country stands for! We will lose our place and our nation.
It actually was for this very reason that the leaders of the Jews delivered Jesus to be crucified. They thought that if he continued, the Romans would destroy their way of life and their positions of power (John 11:47-48).
So we react with the world through fear. We are terrified of everything. Rock music, Hollywood, Disney, ABC, Starbuck coffee, Harry Potter, women getting out of control! We need to be continually steadfast and vigilant!
We act as if God is just waiting for us to let our guards down and then punish us for not being vigilant enough.
(On a side note, this is why the teaching that Adam sinned by not guarding the garden from the invasion of the serpent bothers me so much. Not only is that nowhere in the text, but it puts an impossible standard on people that no one can meet. How could Adam have been everywhere at once? Should he have built a wall? Trained his sons to be armed border patrol?)
But I digress.
God has not called us to fear. We are complete in Christ and safe in him. God is not waiting for us to mess up so he can gleefully punish us. He delights in us as dear children and nothing can ever take us out of his hand.
2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
So quit being afraid of everything. If your gay neighbors get married, it won’t damage you or your relationship with God at all. Put the pickets down. Learn to delight in people and stop being afraid of them.
So that’s the first thing.
The second problem is this one – we cannot resist the opportunity to inform someone that they are doing something wrong.
Are you grieving loss? You’re doing it wrong.
Are you trying to come to terms with your childhood? You’re doing it wrong.
Are you living in terror? You’re doing it wrong.
Are you ready to report your sexual assault? You’re doing it wrong.
Are you happy about a promotion? You’re doing it wrong.
Are you having a party to celebrate an accomplishment? You’re doing it wrong.
Are you proud of your family? Raising your children? Pregnant? Breastfeeding? Bottle feeding? educating your children? Disciplining your children?
You’re doing it wrong.
I can’t speak for everyone, but in my circles I know where this tendency comes from.
We have a long, long history of being told that only Christians are knowledgeable on every single subject. Only Christians have the TRUTH and so only Christians can rightly teach history, child-rearing, marriage and family, math, economics, healthcare – and we have found bible verses to prove it all.
We are the experts in trauma, depression, anxiety, discipline, raising children, marriage, ADHD, ADD, gender roles, constitutional law, statute law, common law, race, economics – and it is our sworn duty to explain to the whole world that YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG!
Don’t you know that “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” (Kuyper). And this, of course, gives me the right as a Christian to explain to you again in all Christian love that YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG!!
If we do not explain carefully how everything you are doing is wrong, how on earth can you possibly repent from doing it wrong? And if you don’t repent from doing it wrong, how can you expect God to bless you.
Just quit doing it wrong, do it the other way, and then you will know God’s blessing in your life and all of your problems will disappear.
And then it follows – if you don’t stop doing it wrong, we are going to have to force you somehow.
Whew. And if we miss one opportunity, then the devil gets in the garden, our wife goes out wandering, and next thing you know all hell breaks loose again.
It’s exhausting, isn’t it?
And then we discover that what we thought was right and good wasn’t Christianity at all. In fact, it wasn’t much different than any other autocratic religion.
I wonder what would happen if we just stopped…
What if we just assumed that people who are truly doing it wrong probably already know that and those that don’t are probably just different than you are and that is OK.
Or maybe it’s not OK and they really are doing it wrong.
I’m probably doing it wrong too.
I grieve wrong. I get anxious over things. I forget things. I grumble when I shouldn’t. I don’t love as I ought.
What I am doing is simply trying to make it from one day to the next day the best I can, walking in God’s love and limping along towards the heavenly city.
Or maybe Jesus is carrying me the whole way. Or maybe I’m limping.
What I know for certain is this – he won’t ever let me go, even when I do everything wrong. And he will lead me by his Spirit and gently guide me exactly where I need to go and so I can just stop.
I wonder what would happen if we just sat with the grieving?
I wonder what would happen if we just listened to the one trying to process trauma?
I wonder what would happen if we just rejoiced when our neighbor got married?
I wonder what would happen if we were proud that our friend was proud of their work and cracked a cold one with him in his garage?
I wonder what would happen if we just stopped that impulse to tell everyone that everything that they are doing is wrong?
Maybe then people wouldn’t ask, “Why are unbelievers so much kinder and gentler than believers?”
Maybe we should listen.