The killing of three innocent people in Chapel Hill reminds me of something I’d rather forget: people are mean. Not all people but enough to make you think twice when making sweeping generalizations on a Sunday morning about the inherent goodness of the human race. Equally tragic is the reality that this meanness isn’t unique to one group of people. There are mean Muslims, atheists, and Christians. Mean people (who we’re often told “suck”- according a bumper sticker I keep seeing) who identify themselves as Muslims or atheists aren’t in my remit. Yes, we often live with the results of their “meanness” but I’m a Christian and a pastor. I have the opportunity to address Christian meanness before someone is forced to live with its tragic results. So I’ll say it, I’m frustrated by the meanness, nastiness, and ugliness running through my own tradition. To paraphrase Vladimir Lenin, “What is to be done?”
I seem to be running into mean Christians on an increasingly regular basis. Often this meanness is cloaked in the guise of something called, “tough love”. At other times, it’s on open display for the world to see. We’ve lost touch with the ability to hear how we sound. The sheer shrillness and meanness underlying our words are lost on us. This means we have no idea how we sound to the very world we’re trying to reach. We forget others are listening to what we say. The idea that others could be forming blanket (and often wrong) impressions about Christianity because of our actions is a foreign notion to many Christians. It seems with many Christians, they enjoy justifying their meanness with selective interpretations of the Bible. How can one best respond in such situations?
1. Don’t meet meanness with meanness. Two means do not make a nice.
2. Remember love isn’t love if it’s not Christ-like. Love that doesn’t affirm the humanity of another person isn’t tough love; it’s a form of condescension. Christian love recognizes Jesus Christ present in all people. All sorts of names and possibilities can be applied and turned into Christian sounding words. True love is Christ centered. For instance, show that same love you embody in Bible study or Sunday School to the waiter who messes up your lunch order. Show that love to your Muslim neighbor, Hindu physician, or person who cuts you off in traffic.
3. Remember that scripture is best understood in context. Memory verses sound impressive to the untrained ear. What’s more important is to filter all scripture through the lens of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It’s impossible to understand God presence in our world without understanding the priorities of Jesus. Scripture used to justify meanness isn’t being examined through a “Jesus” lens.
4. Resist the urge to comment online about every post you read, even if it’s to correct inaccuracies. The seeming anonymity afforded by the internet allows meanness to flow in ways as never before. Mean people aren’t prepared to dialogue. These are arguments which are impossible to win. Embrace the desire to pray for everyone and how we may better respond to controversies in a Christ-like manner.