February 20, 2018

Why are Christians so Mean?

Gary Thomas — 


Dallas Willard was once asked, “Why are Christians so mean?”

His answer was up to the task. He said that Christians are mean in proportion to when they value being “right” over being “like Christ.”

It’s not enough to simply believe correct doctrine; as God’s chosen people, we are asked to behave a certain way, particularly as it relates to others: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Col. 3:12-14).

The book of Romans also sets up a high standard for believers, telling us to “be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (12:10), “never be wise in your own sight” (12:16) and keep in mind that “love does no harm to its neighbor” (13:10).  No harm. To anyone. So, in our relations with anyone we are to be devoted to their overall welfare, to not be overly confident in our opinion, and to never do anyone any harm. There’s no room here for any “Bible believing” Christian to be mean.

What a different world this would be if, indeed, we were “devoted” to everyone’s welfare, if we were humble in our own opinions, and committed to not do anyone harm—no gossip, no mean-spirited denunciation, no slander. Doesn’t that sound like a nice world to live in?

The new life of believers envisioned by Paul in Colossians 3 basically prohibits three things: sexual immorality, greed, and being mean. Sexual immorality is denounced in many ways and greed with one word: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed…” (v. 5)

This denunciation of sexual misconduct is perhaps what the modern church is known for. But in Paul’s way of thinking, we should also be known for not being mean. Being mean is denounced as extensively and vigorously as sexual sin: “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips” (v. 8).

Put all this together, and Christians aren’t to be involved in any form of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, or sexual immorality of any kind, but we are also to shun any aspect of being “mean”: domestic violence, emotional abuse, bosses mistreating subordinates, bullying or ridiculing gays, violent rioting, and social media trolling. Just as the #metoo movement is challenging the notion that “authority” gives someone the right to be predatory, so the Bible teaches us that “right theology” doesn’t give us the right to mistreat others even when we think we are in the “right” and they are in the wrong.

Consider the life Paul calls us to in 1 Corinthians 13, a life of love. Love is patient when others mess up. Love is kind. Love isn’t rude or easily angered and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love always protects. There’s no attack in love.

If you are arrogant, harsh, impatient, unkind, and judgmental instead of compassionate, patient and gentle, you are not acting as one of “God’s chosen people” regardless of how many graduate degrees you have, how many Bible verses you know, how many books you have published, how big your church, organization, or social media impact is or even how well you control yourself sexually. It doesn’t even matter if you are “right” on the issue if you are acting in a wrong manner. You’re adding to the overall problem rather than being part of the solution.

One of the greatest temptations to be mean, of course, is when we catch someone else in a sin. We’ve all read of the Pharisees who caught a woman in the act of adultery (obviously and discriminatorily letting the man go!) and demanded she be publicly shamed, which Jesus refused to do. The Pharisees were right in thinking adultery is wrong; they were wrong in that they were acting in a mean instead of a redemptive way. This mob mentality currently has the Internet on its side, so public shaming can now be national and even international.

Anger over a sin is appropriate. A group of believers saying “Enough is enough, this kind of behavior can’t be tolerated anymore” is doing the Lord’s work. That’s what societal change is all about! God hates sin, and so should we. There’s a time and place to repudiate evil acts. But the way we talk about individual sinners, especially when we don’t know the full story, is the portal to us being lured into sin by adopting a mean-spirited response to sin.

There’s a fascinating reality about the way Jesus touched lepers. People were astonished that he could touch them without becoming leprous himself. Can we touch hateful people without becoming hate-filled? Can we stand against abuse without becoming abusive? We never feel more justified doing evil than when we are self-righteously confronting evil. Remember, it’s not just about being “right.” It’s about responding like Christ.

There is a group of people I would love to work with, support, and publicize because I believe in their cause. But their bullying behavior makes it impossible for me to join them. They carry the right message—a minority message, unfortunately, that needs to be heard—but simply changing who you bully doesn’t mean you’re not a bully, and I can’t join that. Methods matter.

This aversion to the growing meanness I see all around me (from both liberals and conservatives) explains why, if you look through my Twitter and Facebook feed, I doubt you’ll find me denouncing a single person (I’m leaving a tiny door open in case I’ve forgotten something from years ago). For starters, I usually don’t know the people I’m called to denounce and I don’t know the facts. And secondly, the people I do know who are caught in a sin I will treat according to Galatians 6:1: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.

Arrogance moves us to want to be heard rather than to be helpful. Pride makes us want to feel like we are on the “right side” while humility wants us to serve as God’s voice of healing to those who are on the wrong side. Self-righteousness gathers around common hatred and judgement of the fallen; grace gathers sinners together around the foot of the cross. Does what I say publically or privately help bring someone back, or does it push them further down? I’m grateful that God has and still does win me over with the kindness that leads me to repentance (Romans 2:4) and figure I should have the same attitude toward others.

What holds me back from commenting about individuals on Twitter, Facebook, and this blog is the awareness that I may be wrong. I may not have all the facts. When I don’t know the particular individual or situation or wasn’t there, I’m more likely to be wrong than right. And my uninformed opinion really shouldn’t matter to anyone, least of all myself.

This isn’t to challenge the courage of someone like Rachel Denhollander whose courageous speaking up finally brought an end to gross, evil abuse. Her testimony wasn’t mean—it was necessary and beautiful. I understand the concern some have that “silence is complicity” and if speaking up stops evil rather than just piles onto the evildoer, it’s a holy charge. The challenge today is that, with social media awareness, if I denounced every evil act in politics and the church, that’s all I’d be doing. And why some people get singled out and others don’t is a mystery to me.

John the Baptist righteously called out Herod. But he’s not writing this blog and you usually won’t find such a message here. You won’t find me addressing the “scandal of the week” as it pertains to Christian leaders or politicians. This blog will urge each of us to individually examine our own hearts. 

Remember: the same Bible that discounts sexual immorality also discounts meanness. Let’s be consistent. No hateful speech toward anyone, Christian or non-Christian, the “pure” or the fallen. Challenge misbehavior, but realize that God specializes in redeeming people who have misbehaved.

The people of God are to be different, in every way. Not just in our sexuality, but in our speech, in our temperament and manner, and in our love of grace and mercy. Let us be truly devoted to each other’s welfare, not overly wise in our own sight, and committed to doing no harm to anyone.

Let’s be different. Let’s not be mean.

[Note: I owe a big debt to a fellow writer/blogger who graciously gave much time to help me hone this message. I don’t want to mention her name because I’m not entirely sure she fully agrees with everything I say here and thus don’t want to embarrass her, but S., before God, thank you for being such a precious sister in Christ and courageous leader in God’s church.]

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33 responses to Why are Christians so Mean?

  1. This blog post began by quoting Dallas Willard who spent decades working on the idea that spiritual formation in Christ is currently NOT the normative outcome of the shrunken understanding of salvation that prevails in the seminaries right on down the line to lay people.

    We would all do well to pay attention to this topic in the following link by Wheaton and ask God to give us His grace to move forward:


  2. I hear you Gary! Awesome message….one thing to keep in prayer for those of us who are your brothers and sisters
    In Christ that are not of the majority culture is that we don’t always get to choose not to respond. I am neither liberal nor conservative (Because I dont think Jesus was either one :)…yet I often have to face and cannot ignore issues my children deal with in school or in the community…Of course I choose how I respond but sometimes it would be a nice option to just “not join the conversations” like many of my majority brothers and sister can.
    Pray for me…this time we live in is not easy for some of us peacemakers who have no choice but to respond for our children’s sake!

  3. Great and important message but you failed to adequately address why Christians are so mean. It’s becaue Christians aren’t followers of Jesus Christ. They merely claim belief as a means to their own ends (self righteousness) not as humble submission to God as an act of self denial as a demonstration of love for God.

  4. What a wonderful post. Thank you Gary. I have grown to realize that most Christians are judge mental towards others. At we behave as if we are holier than thou and that’s what drives people from Christianity.I believe we should be the light and our actions should testify for us than lip service.Christ ate with sinners which shows us that we have to come closer to the souls to win them to the Kindom of God than to act as though we are flawless

  5. Excellent and timely reminder. Thank you!

  6. Gary this is excellent! One of the best you have written. Convicting yet sobering. Truth usually is!

  7. Thanks Gary.
    Your writings here are a good reminder to me to keep the main thing the main thing – (to let Christ develop in me) to be more like Christ. I struggle the most when my anger (over time) deals with the elders in the church over sins – including omission – that effect so many people negatively in the long-term, but in the short term keeps them coming in or just drinking “milk”.
    I so appreciate that there are times when one is led to say “Enough is enough, this kind of behavior can’t be tolerated anymore” so that we, in the Lord’s timing, can actually be a part of doing the Lord’s work.
    My wife often “helpmates” me in this area !
    Thanks for the reminder that “There’s no room here for any “Bible believing” Christian to be mean.” The true spiritual gift of encouragement is unfortunately viewed by some as being mean until they understand what God is trying to do through it. God’s desire, timing, and specific use of someone to help develop something in someone else (when presented in love) is actually a blessing to us. Having someone say to someone else (in love) what they “need” to hear, when they need to hear it – even if it isn’t what the person wants to hear, is a gift to that person. Unfortunately, people sometimes view this spiritual encouragement as less like Christ, even though Christ himself gave this type of encouragement multiple times throughout scripture as a gift. Maybe we as Christians need more study of Christ through His Word and more practice (in our marriages/small groups/etc) to become more like Christ in this area.
    The further wisdom is to listen to God, to know when. God is very clear on the how, of which you have graciously reminded us.
    We appreciate the gentle way that your boldness on this subject can reach out to all of us. Be encouraged today!

  8. Thank you for the clear and concise way you express truths that are often minimized. I really appreciated this reminder/challenge to live according to what I say I believe and who I want to be as a follower of Christ. This challenge did bring up a question I’ve had for some time though. How is it possible to “keep no record of wrongs” when seeking to address patterns of emotional abuse and behaviors that repeatedly wound? In other words, what does it look like to be a healthy person with godly boundaries who behaves in a way that honors Christ and invites change in marriages where there are long histories of repeated injuries and no significant movement toward future change (except promises that it won’t happen again). Even christian counselors tend to suggest it is a form of “co-dependent” compliance with unhealthy behavior to keep no record of wrongs. Also, spouses who doesn’t seem motivated to change use this verse to pressure an injured spouse into dismissing long histories of repeated injuries. O when an injured spouse genuinely wants to respond like Christ and desires a healthy marriage, how can they live in acknowledgment of emotionally abusive patterns, and give themselves permission to protect their heart from further harm (via healthy boundaries) while, at the same time, keep no record of the past?

  9. Thank you for this timely post. It is so needed in our marriages, families, churches, schools, business, and government. I am sickened by the “I’m right and you are wrong” mentality that plagues so many discussions and relationships, specifically when it is totally void of agape love and filled with arrogance and vitriol. I hope this post gets shared and assimilated by thousands.

  10. Cassandra Benefield February 20, 2018 at 10:06 am

    Yes. Thank you so much. The verse that changed my walked incredibly (coming out of an independent fundamental baptist mentality of separation from even fellow Christians) was John 13:34-35 in which Jesus is telling His disciples to love one another as He loved us so that the world will know we are His disciples. It didn’t say the world will know you are His by how much correct doctrine … or how much Bible you know. It changed my life. And I hope and pray the message of what you wrote in here gets into the minds of many of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Again thank you.

  11. Right on! “Speak the truth in love”. Humiliation doesn’t make us humble. It usually makes one hurt, angry, and polarized. Christ was both truth and grace at the same time.

  12. Thank you for preaching truth Gary. Well spoken and well taken. God have mercy and grant us all a spirit of repentance and humility.

  13. Thanks Gary! This is something I have to work on as well…getting rid of malice and stop being so harsh especially with my loved ones.

  14. Pastor James MacDonald has so wonderfully said, “If you’re wrong in the way you’re right, you’re wrong even if you’re right.’

  15. I have been so bothered in recently years by how many Christians practice “the end justifies the means.” Some seem to think we can treat people however we want, or take actions we’d consider unthinkable in different circumstances, as long as we desire a righteous outcome. This from your post especially struck me: “Just as the #metoo movement is challenging the notion that ‘authority’ gives someone the right to be predatory, so the Bible teaches us that ‘right theology’ doesn’t give us the right to mistreat others even when we think we are in the ‘right’ and they are in the wrong.” Amen.

    I always think then of Matthew 23:23, where Jesus said: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Yes, we should do what God wants us to do, but never forget who God wants us to be.

  16. Wow, an incredible word and truth. This blog made me think of Andy Savage and the social media people who are regularly attacking him yet have never met him. Great word on being like Chris vs. being mean!

  17. I believe we should all wake up and see Christ first before we begin our day. We need to live in Christ,
    walk in Christ,and talk in Christ. We need to be
    real instead of SUPERFICIAL!
    We need to always walk in LOVE!
    The Bible clearly tells us how to live…!

    Blessings always,

  18. Very well said and convicting! I have loved being right about how wrong someone is – rather than being gentle with restoration as my goal… pride runs deep, but God can help me root it out – Thank you for this illuminating mirror!

  19. Thank you Gary for confronting the realization that we all fall in to from time to time, being mean. We allow our circumstances and our emotions to control our words and action when we see sin our evil, quickly forgetting how we have sinned maybe hours before. We need to be more Christ-like in our responses and actions; being slow to speak and patient with fellow sinners.
    Great thought to start the day!

  20. Gary, yours is a voice that needs to be heard. Somehow the ability to talk face to face with someone with different ideas or beliefs has turned into a shouting down contest. May we find God’s grace to only confront is love.