When Did Christians Get So Mean?

It takes courage to stand up for what's right. It takes even more to do it in love.

Few things embolden us to say unkind things more than a computer keyboard. Many men and women type mean, slanderous emails and comments. They come out so fast their fingers can barely keep up with the toxic words that appear before them on the screen.

We’ve all seen these nasty messages. They seem to be everywhere we look online and often show up on our Facebook wall or email inboxes.

A couple of weeks ago I spoke to several pastors and asked them, “How many of you have received a nasty email in the last six months?” Every single person in the room raised their hand—including me.

Let me be clear; I believe the majority of people are civil and respectful in their online dialogue. However, there remains a vocal minority who insist on remaining unpleasant both in tone and word. And these unkind words come from many who self-identify as Christians, who somehow believe that malice is an acceptable form of communication.

Which raises a question: Why do so many Christians persist in being mean?

The Cost of Grace

The people of God have been instructed for thousands of years to be kind with their words.

I don’t suppose I can answer that question for all who post mean-spirited comments. However, I do believe we can make some observations about our world, which may lead to greater clarity, and, more importantly, may lead to greater love, peace, kindness and gentleness when we use our words.

We should begin by recognizing this is nothing new. The people of God have been instructed for thousands of years to be kind with their words. Nearly 2,000 years ago Paul instructed the Colossian church, “Let your conversation be always full of grace” (Colossians 4:6). Now there’s that word, “grace.”

Perhaps the reason we have such a hard time honoring others with our words is because the idea of grace is something far too many of us have heard about, but few have truly experienced. That’s because grace cannot be earned, bought or taken by force. Grace is a gift. Which means it can only be given and received.

If our words are to be filled with grace it demands we give a gift to others every time we speak or write words. And too many of us are not crazy about giving grace to others, because something in each of us knows grace is expensive. If we are to speak words full of grace it costs us something.

Giving the gift of grace invites us to think outside of and beyond our agenda, our opinion and ourselves. And this is where the real difficulty comes in.

Expanding Our Worlds

Grace is expensive. If we are to speak words full of grace it costs us something.

Many of us have the luxury of not having to look beyond the small world we create for ourselves. We attend churches, listen to talk radio and watch news programs that only serve to affirm our previously held beliefs. We have fallen asleep in the insulated comfort of accepted, collective thinking. We live among those who think like us, look like us, talk like us, and we assure ourselves we are right and others are wrong.

It may do us well to break out of these enclaves we create for ourselves. Consider Jesus. He always hung out with those who made the religious—those who insisted on being right and defending their religion—uncomfortable. Whether it was prostitutes, tax collectors or “sinners” Jesus was often in their midst.

Not us. We stay away from them too often. And whenever something or someone from the “outside” comes into our space, we attack in the name of defending our faith, our ideas and our way of life—by any means necessary. These attacks are commonplace on the Internet and email. We launch explosive words caring little about the spiritual shrapnel that harms others.

We forget that every venomous word we speak or write to others is an assault on the heart of a man or a woman made in the image and likeness of the Almighty.

Some, no doubt, believe they need to stand up for truth. A few believe standing up for truth demands they attack those who seek to distort the truth. But this is not the case. If the truth is spoken without grace it is not true at all. It turns out we can be right about a lot of things, but if we do not have love we are dead wrong.

Learning to Listen

For those of us who are passionate about God’s truth, it may do us well to ask: “Are we more concerned about the truth being known or about us being right?” I say this because if we are committed to what’s true, there is a good chance our attitude and approach will change. We will experience the move from being mean to being kind.

What would happen if, even in the moments when it feels like we are being attacked, we spoke words of grace, hope and forgiveness?

If our deepest desire is to know the truth, then we will be open to listening—not just speaking—because there is a good chance someone else may share a thought, insight or wisdom we have yet to learn. And when our desire for the truth surpasses our desire to be right, then we will be open and always seek first to listen and learn.

This does not mean we cannot share our thoughts and opinions. But if truth is the highest goal, we will speak for the benefit of others, and not just for the benefit of ourselves. Sure there are times when we feel like we are being crucified for what we believe. But what would happen if, even in the moments when it feels like we are being attacked, we spoke words of grace, hope and forgiveness?

That’s where real courage lies. It does not lie in the confines of our offices and living rooms sitting behind a keyboard and typing anonymous messages. Real courage is full of grace. It is gentle and kind and constructive and honors others. Perhaps this kind of courage should be the very thing that emboldens us to speak, far more than a computer keyboard ever could.

30 Comments

Scott Korin

4

Scott Korin commented…

I don't see this as being an issue only for Christians, or for that matter, only online. It seems to me that everybody can be mean, be it online, in meetings, on the highway, etc.

Grizzly Bear Mom

8

Grizzly Bear Mom commented…

I don't believe that Christians project meanness. I believe they project trivia and irrelevancy. For example there is a movie out where a teacher tells the students they must write "God is dead" on their papers. Of course, our hero has to "Stand up for Gee-sus!" and looks like a ignorant, out of touch hayseed that can be easily rebuffed which encourages more of the same. If the student insisted that the college respect his freedom of religion; and that they discipline the professor he would have won just as easily as any other group challenging what happens at the school. There is another story where a professor says "If God exists he will knock this chalk out of my hand." Of course there a former Marine in the classroom who knocks the chalk holding professor off the lecturn. Committing violent acts to stand up for Gee-Sus! appear to be a contradiction in terms. Finally people send me films of their numerous dogs praying before they eat. Do we really want people to think that Christians spend their time forcing ignorant beasts to imitate them?

Joe Bonacci

68

Joe Bonacci commented…

Great article. What is really sad is many times we are lashing out at each other. As you said, all one needs to do is go to various sites message boards and it is a free for all. Just my opinion but I think the problem lies in 2 places.
First, many of us are afraid,,yes afraid to stand up for our faith to no believers and the as a result Second, we take it out on other believers because after all your a believer and you are not interpreting the word of God correctly,,or you are not living the way you should. This is a tremendous amount of discourse within the church. Our ignorance, lack of maturity, frustration , you name it, manifests itself when we post our comments. Now, for those who disagree, please be nice. :)
Joe
Identityfulfilled.com

Daved Crouder

43

Daved Crouder replied to Joe Bonacci's comment

Here's a thought: The word of God only has whatever meaning you choose to give it.

Fortunately (or unfortunately if you are a pastor), the bible contradicts itself on so many points, that it leaves itself open to extreme scrutiny and pretty much whatever interpretation people feel it should have.

Charles Wallis

1

Charles Wallis replied to Daved Crouder's comment

Daved Crouder (?) and Grizzly Bear Mom (?) The most amazing part of this story are the comments made by people who are not Christians but are reading Christian articles and talking mean about Christians. If you are a not a Christian and just living life to its fullest then why are you in this discussion? Why don't you just let Christians be miserable and mean as you stated they are? Or, are you trying to evangelize them into your new way of thinking and living? How ironic your name is so close to a well known Christian singer David Crowder. If Christians are trivial and irrelevant why are you posting comments here? Anyway we should all try to be nice (except in cases when we don't agree with someone's opinion then be rude and mock their way of life - right?)

lynda t

69

lynda t replied to Charles Wallis's comment

Charles, I understand your frustration, I feel it too. If you read daved other comments, it may give you some insight. I may be wrong, but he seems to epitomize the phrase "the lady doth protest too much" from Shakespeare regarding his 'waking up and truly living life'. He repeats numerous times about the years (27) he spent in church. However, the fact he is here, and reading the articles says he is drawn in some way. He protests the time he wasted in church, yet by that very definition, he should be considering his time here wasted. Although I know he can read this, and may be offended, the fact that he has not turned his back totally on Christ (again, he wouldn't be here), leads me to pray for the Holy Spirit to deal with him, because right now, he will not listen to man. It is a spirit issue.

Yulin Ng

1

Yulin Ng commented…

Luxury or limitation? ;)

Mary

11

Mary commented…

There's no mystery to meanness. The root of it is shame--and shame is the feeling of being unworthy of love and belonging. What's unfortunate is that so many Christians are so riddled with shame that the only way they can handle their inner lives is by outwardly shaming others. The message given in many churches is not one of love and acceptance and grace. It's a message of judgement, stepping and shuffling to prove you're really a "Christian," and constant comparison. In other words, it's a gospel of works.

If Christians truly believe that all humans are made in the image of God, and that all humans are worthy of love and belonging, it makes sense that they would teach this from the pulpit, demonstrate it in ministry, and internalize it individually.

And if an individual has truly experienced the magnificent grace offered through Jesus's life, death, and resurrection, then he would be quick to offer that same grace to others.

Please log in or register to comment

Log In