I was doing some research for a sermon series the other day when I stumbled upon a website that automatically linked to a podcast. The purpose of the podcast was a “Christian rant” against Rick Warren, the renowned author and pastor of Saddleback Church. The question at stake was: Is Rick Warren a true Calvinist?
The speaker proceeded to examine Warren’s writing and preaching against the T-U-L-I-P doctrinal acronym (an explanation can be found here). Failing that test, according to the speaker, automatically made Warren a disciple of Pelagius, that ancient heretic. And, as such, it seemingly gave the podcaster permission to rant without limit against his absent opponent, finally condemning him and anyone who agreed with him to eternal damnation. Most troubling was the glee with which he seemed to do it. [In the interest of full disclosure, I am ordained in a tradition whose founder pretty much rejected the “U” and “L” in T-U-L-I-P; so, I may be overly defensive.]
I’ve observed a growing trend toward meanness in Christianity in recent years. It looks/sounds like this: Because I’m right and the Bible, church doctrine and Jesus himself all agree with me (and, rightfully so), I have permission to get as angry, ugly, and judgmental as I can. And, if that’s not off-putting enough, I’ll do so with a great big sarcastic smile on my face.
Talk radio has turned this behavior into a form of entertainment over the past 20 years, but the behavior predates the rise of that genre. Many of us remember the age of “bullhorn guy” – the guy who would stand at busy street corners and spew out words of warning and judgment that sounded more like threats than invitations to discipleship (for more on “bullhorn guy,” see Rob Bell’s classic here). There’s always been this tendency among some to proclaim a Christ-like love for the world as expressed in John 3:16, but to reserve the right to still hate people.
I recently had an up-close-and-personal reminder of what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such mean Christianity. While waiting in a church hallway to take a visiting ecclesial dignitary to the airport, a member of that church decided to aim their disappointment in particular clergypersons at me. Now, I’ve been a pastor for nearly 30 years and have heard words of disappointment before, but they’re always from people who are members of the churches I’ve served. But, this vitriol was from a person who doesn’t even attend the churches I currently serve. In her mind, the correctness of her opinion gave her permission to spray her words on anyone even close to the category of person with whom she was upset.
Just what is the Christ-like response to such behavior? Debating the issue just throws gas on the fire. Becoming defensive merely confirms what the mean Christian already believes to be true about “those people” – of which you are now one. A holistic reading of Jesus’ life reminds us that He wasn’t always in the “forgive-them-for-they-know-not-what-they-do” mode. Especially when dealing with those within the faith, Jesus would also question motive of those who used their faith as a weapon.
Maybe the more productive response is to ask why they are so passionate; what event was it that led them to discern this particular opinion? On one level, I know this is a preferred response; but, on another, I know that doing so runs the risk of actually entering into conversation and potential relationship with this person who has triggered my “fight or flee” mechanism.
So, what do I do? Isn’t the answer obvious? I blog.