You’re doing it wrong

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.



Filed under Encouragement, Gospel, Image of God

19 responses to “You’re doing it wrong

  1. fostymom

    I’m headed there…and suffering 😢has brought me here…🤗😀

  2. Annette

    Thank you, thank you, Sam, for writing this!! What a different perspective for me to ponder, especially because it put into words what I have kind of sensed from people outside the church. I am guilty of this attitude myself, and I have been greatly hurt by others in church, as well. Your words have helped me to start to understand what is going on and why. I am humbled, which is good. Thank you!

  3. Kim

    If don’t tell people they are doing it wrong, it means we don’t love them, or worse, may look as if we approve of their wrongdoings.
    Or some nonsense like that.

    Thank you for saying the hard things.

  4. Jocelyne

    This. Was. So. Good. Thank you for the wake up call. I pray many hear and understand…. chief of sinners, I am.

  5. Bunkababy

    Best freaking article EVER! I have experienced this and wondered this for years.

  6. Annette

    This is another Annette :-). Thank you, Sam. Again you bring clarity to a messy issue and, more importantly, offer peace and hope. One of the more frightening things of questioning a life of faith and belief system is the fear of “getting it wrong” when one has been raised in this thinking. As my faith evolves under my doubts and questions, I have literally been terrified, begging God not to let go of me. It is the fall of faith being so intertwined with fear. And like so many others, Oh I grieve my past as so much of this could have described me at one time. I’m committed to ending better than I started- with Jesus’ help. Thank you for writing this.

  7. FreshGrace

    Thank you, Sam. Once again you have hit the nail on the head.

    This is me right now:

    “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.”

    Indeed, HE will never let me go.

  8. Bill

    Sam you definitely give some food for thought. But I wonder about your comment (why is it that we are mostly known by our contempt and anger against everyone?). On what facts, survey or statistics do you come to this conclusion. Former church members that have left would have reason to dislike the admonition and correction they did not want to hear if they were members of a true body of Christ that loved them. And even there I know that some cannot communicate true love and biblical admonition and or discipline at the same time. However while I do believe the sins you are addressing need to be confronted I struggle to agree with your generalization. I have struggled to be and know many who are, those who love Christ and seek His glory at the same time realizing “but for the grace of God go I”. Who pray like the tax collector and not the pharisee.

  9. wingingit

    I was the Christian with the blessed life, who was being “blessed” by God and had all her crap together……until I wasn’t.

    Suddenly, my holy evangelical life blew apart and all my blessings went in shards in every direction.

    It was during this tragic and deeply painful loss that my children and I got to experience the most vicious attacks and condemnation and blame and shunning of all our evangelical “good Christian” friends.

    In their place have come real people who don’t go to church, but live like the church instead.

    We don’t miss any of it now….the ceremony, the judgment and criticism, the patriarchal garbage we had to bow under.

    It is funny how when you can’t hold up the “image” anymore, the good Christians will flee from you in fear that your problems might be catching. They hate to see how close to calamity they actually are. Fear.

    Good piece, Sam.

    • I’m so sorry for everything you have experienced. It sounds like you were attending an organization that called itself the church but got lost somewhere along the way. I’m glad you found your gathering place!

    • Annette

      ‘When you can’t hold up the “image” anymore…fear that your problems might be catching…how close to calamity they are. Fear.’ 💯 !!! O Lord, keep us from falling into that selfishness ourselves. May we rather mourn with those who mourn and comfort with the same comfort we have received. 🙏

  10. The question you asked “If we are to be known by our love, why is it that we are mostly known by our contempt and anger against everyone?” is a big topic of conversation in Exvangelical communities. People who have left either fundamentalism or Christianity altogether talk about how the love and support they thought they had in their church communities turned out to be painfully false as soon as they didn’t toe the line. They find that their new community of secular or even non-fundamentalist Christian friends possess more compassion, empathy, and authenticity than most of their friends from church ever did.

    There’s a great passage by Rachel Held Evans in her book Faith Unraveled (one of my all time favorites). It’s long, but perfectly describes this problem with compassion in the church and what it looks like to outsiders:

    “It’s always a little embarrassing when you come out swinging and there’s nobody there to fight with you. That’s how a lot of us [Christian millennials] felt when we realized the world wasn’t asking the questions we had learned to answer. Many of us…were under the impression that the greatest threat against Christianity was the rise of secular humanism. But what we found upon entering the real world was that most of our peers were receptive to spiritual things. Most believed in God, were open to the supernatural, and respected religious ideas so long as they were not forced upon them. They weren’t searching for historical evidence in support of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. They were searching for some signs of life among his followers.
    …I may have met one or two people who rejected Christianity because they had difficulties with the deity of Christ, but most rejected Christianity because they thought it meant becoming judgmental, narrow-minded, intolerant, and unkind. People didn’t argue with me about the problem of evil; they argued about why Christians aren’t doing more to alleviate human suffering…Most weren’t looking for a faith that provided all of the answers; they were looking for one in which they were free to ask questions” (Evans, 203- 204).

  11. Bill

    I love the discussions that your thoughts stir up..

    And the way your thoughts always come back to God and hope and ‘My Only Comfort”.

    So what are we dong wrong, Sam?

    (yeah, I know… but that’s the point, right?).

    Another Bill or
    Bill Everson (guess that I can’t just use my first name).

  12. Bill

    two other posts were at the bottom of this comment. The first was from 2018, and the 58 comments are one of the clearest discussions I’ve ever seen about ‘anger’.

    when Anger rises in me, it’s really helpful; it is a God given emotion that arises because God designed us to actually care about ‘justice’; anger arises when we or others (or both-which is likely universal when there’s an abuser) are treated badly… and the intensity of the anger is proportional to the depth of the ‘hurt’ we have experienced but cannot ‘feel’ without further finding life becoming more and more colorless.

    I think about anger as an emotion that is RED And ‘full of ENERGY’-kind of like FIRE…

    Fire-is ESSENTIAL when you are ‘frozen’ as many abuse survivors were and continue to be-unable to figure out how to get OUT of the trap the abuser forced us into-that vicious cycle of ‘self shame’ and FALSE guilt HE (or she) trapped us in, that WE became good at directing at ourselves..

    Often ANGER is problematic since we were the target of the UNRIGHTEOUS anger of others-so we OFTEN associate it with UNRIGHTEOUSNESS; but GOD’s WRATH was expended in FULL not against US, but against the God-Man who came to redeem us…

    So ANGER is NOT wrong.

    it brings COLOR (RED) and ENERGY (FIRE) to us when we are feeling MOST colorless and lifeless… because of HURTS that often are too intense for us to actually SURFACE.. takes a LONG TIME to surface (and SLOWLY deal with without being OVERWHELMED or HURT AGAIN-which HAPPENS too often to us)…

    I think about Anger as both things-a means of ‘giving us ENERGY when we are trapped in that circle of LIFE SAPPING COLORLESSNESS, and it gives us LIFE-centered around JUSTICE.

    When we think about anger as RESTORING COLOR where we’ve found life empty and colorless-all life sapped out of us–and anger as ENERGY, FIRE, when we’ve become ‘cold’ and again, lifeless-then the PURPOSE OF GOD in giving us this GODLY emotion-ANGER-becomes very DIFFERENT than the DESTRUCTIVE FIRE OUR ABUSERS WIELDED.

    It brings back COLOR and ENERGY to our LIVES…

    But since it is RED and FIRE-we can recognize that unchecked and allowed to ‘drive us’, it can burn us up and be like a ‘bucket of red paint’ covering us over entirely, if we let it…

    The LAST thing any one who has been a target of an abuser’s UNCHECKED RAGE, is be LIKE THEM. so often, ANGER when it begins to surface, is something we FIGHT HARD TO SUPRESS.

    but it’s really there to give us the ENERGY to RETURN to LIFE and regain life’s VIBRANT COLORS again…

    But life is MORE than ‘fire’ and ‘red’… so as life RETURNS, we can channel the energy and determine where to balance our ‘anger’.. without dampening the purpose for which GOD gave it to us.

    Anger arises when our HURTS awaken–hurts too hard to face again; anger can be ‘triggered’ when something awakens a memory of our hurts-and because of its real ENERGY, can be the FIRST THING we sense-and quite OVERPOWERING to anything else we might feel-including the hurts themselves.

    Anger is SO MUCH BETTER than that DEADNESS that abuse has caused us to feel; that sense of powerlessness, hopelessness, helplessness that the abuser has trapped us in, that GOD WANTS US FREED FROM…

    In the comments from 2018, bunkaby writes MUCH about her experiences with anger awaking; in 2020, she writes about her experiences of feeling the HURTS…

    That’s encouraging to see, both as her words resonate and help ME realize that ‘we are NOT ALONE’; and I’m encouraged to see real progression in her life-as God continues to work to deal with the severe hurts she was subjected to… that are sadly ongoing…

    Bunkababy….wow. What you write in comments on this site, is SO VERY HELPFUL…

    Thank you, beloved friend I hope to meet in heaven, for giving voice to your experiences and reflections… as God works in and through you, in ways that bring real encouragement to others…

    And sam, thanks again for fostering a dialogue that helps us all know that God really does care.

    Bill Everson

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