Friday, September 18, 2009

Must I Confront "Bad" Christians?

I spend a lot of time actually discussing religion and politics with folks who are neither political or theological conservatives. This is primarily at a "faith and politics" site called Street Prophets. I have been there long enough that I am a part of the community - at least in the sense that "crazy uncle Ernie" is part of your family; or the pit bull barking at you when you walk by is part of your neighborhood (Just kidding - mostly - I have good friends there as well). Maybe you would be happy if they both disappeared, but it would change your world.

One of the drawbacks of it is that I have to deal with a question like

Where were the shocked and outraged evangelical reactions when Falwell and Robertson both asserted that God made (or permitted--a fine distinction) 9/11 to happen, and that it was the fault of gays, liberals, feminists, pagans and so forth?
This question is not unique to me. Muslims who aren't terrorists have to answer it, atheists complain of having to answer for some of their ilk, (and liberals, and conservatives, and Republicans, and Democrats, and . . .) are all expected to have denounced any nutcases in their particular tribe.

The implication is if droves of Evangelicals do not stand up and bash "our leaders" everytime one of them stands on a stage and makes a fool of themselves - then we are responsible for their buffoonery.

In my opinion, I really am only responsible for:
  • The Bible - and only because I believe in sola scriptura; and its inspiration and inerrancy
  • What I personally draw from and hold as my theology from the Bible and other sources
  • My church and the words of my Pastor that I publish and agree to
Let's talk about this:

  1. Our leaders -- Amy Sullivan said it well:
    the evangelical community (and even the conservative evangelical community) is very diverse and doesn't have one acknowledged leader.
    She went to give a list - but it showed how impossible making a list is. The folks she mentioned are on as broad a theological and political spectrum as can be imagined.

    My leaders have been my pastors - the teachers that work through scripture with me.

  2. Handling those leaders mistakes -- Going to scripture, as I usually will, I can see that if I am going to correct a fellow follower of Christ that I have to:

    • Be humble and do not judge:
      Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive. 3 Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own? 5 You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
      Romans 2:1 Therefore you are without excuse, whoever you are, when you judge someone else. For on whatever grounds you judge another, you condemn yourself, because you who judge practice the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment is in accordance with truth against those who practice such things. 3 And do you think, whoever you are, when you judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you have contempt for the wealth of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, and yet do not know that God’s kindness leads you to repentance?
    • Remember who their boss is:
      Exhortation to Mutual Forbearance
      Romans 14:1 Now receive the one who is weak in the faith, and do not have disputes over differing opinions. 2 One person believes in eating everything, but the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not despise the one who does not, and the one who abstains must not judge the one who eats everything, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on another’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
    • Do it in love:
      1 John 2:9 The one who says he is in the light but still hates his fellow Christian is still in the darkness. 10 The one who loves his fellow Christian resides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his fellow Christian is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
      1 Corinthians 13:2 And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
    • Do it to lift them up:
      Ephesians 4:29 You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear.
    • and, do it in private, in person, and with as few people involved as possible:
      Restoring Christian Relationships
      Matthew 18: 15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector.
That should make it clear how difficult it is for followers of Christ to satisfy their non-Christian critics when it comes to public denunciations of folks within our ranks who sin.

One side issue: we are often accused of saying someone is "not a Christian" when they act badly. If I have given that impression, I wish to go on record (or point to C.S. Lewis's record) with how I view it:
It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men's hearts. We' cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge. It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense. And obviously a word which we can never apply is not going to he a very useful word . . .

We must therefore stick to the original, obvious meaning. The name Christians was first given at Antioch (
Acts xi. 26) to 'the disciples', to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles. There is no question of its being restricted to those who profited by that teaching as much as they should have. There is no question of its being extended to those who in some refined, spiritual, inward fashion were 'far closer to the spirit of Christ' than the less satisfactory of the disciples. The point is not a theological or moral one. It is only a question of using words so that we can all understand what is being said. When a man who accepts the Christian doctrine lives unworthily of it, it is much clearer to say he is a bad Christian than to say he is not a Christian.
Now, this is a very Biblical examination of my responsibilities to my fellow follower of Christ when I think he has done wrong. However, from my experience, the general principles here are easily expanded outside of Christianity, and indeed outside of religion, to relations between folks in general.

Y'all can chat about that too if you wish


  1. Tnx going to preach it to my friends

  2. Part 2

    <p>When you quote CS Lewis, it amuses me that you apply his words so precisely.
    </p><p>It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. <span>We do not see into men's hearts.</span> We' cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge. It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense. And obviously a word which we can never apply is not going to he a very useful word . . .
    </p><p>You found it quite easy to see into my heart, and declare for me I had faith. Eventually, you were careful to define it; but ignored that your definition excluded mine. It was as shameless as redefining "torture" so that one would not be guilty under the definition that everyone else understood.
    </p><p>You simply denied my definition and supplanted yours, and insisted day in and day out that you know all people have faith -
    </p><p>"....otherwise they would likely be suicide victims"
    </p><p>Do you remember writing that, John?
    </p><p>I often wonder what anyone at Street Prophets would have said if the guy you were bantering with, (and with your team ganged up on and excommunicated) just swallowed all the pills that night, or sat in the garage with the door down, or whether he hesitated that night his dogs were killed and let the truck just hit him as he crossed the highway.
    </p><p>All of you, Christian or not alike, would have found absolution by saying,
    </p><p> <span>"He was obviously sick. He should have gotten help"</span>
    </p><p>But if he had gone through with it on the night everyone came down on him like a ton of bricks during the diary that you cite here -
    </p><p>it would have been interesting to see the explanation that nothing you said to him that night led to his actions. He had lived 42 years before that night; 20 of them suffering from that "severe depression" others labeled him with - and yet he had somehow survived. If he had finally collapsed under the weight that he simply could not be the person he wanted to be without others like you correcting him - how would you have answered to your God that night?</p>

  3. <p>You often did this at SP, you assailed anyone for using George Carlins' line "more people have been killed in the name of God than for any other reason" - but you attributed all the wars of the twentieth century to Atheists - Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot.
    </p><p>That's pretty shameless.
    </p><p>The Crusades were acted out in the name of God; Torquemada tortured people because he said such pain and agony was insignificant to the suffering they would face in Hell, so if he could convert them with his pain he was saving them. And lets be realistic, if the Crusades had been carried out with the same mechanization available in the twentieth century - the numbers would have been much different indeed.
    </p><p>But you still ignore the religious wars that we face at this very moment: Al Queda and the Taliban surely aren't reading from the Turner Diaries; Bin Laden openly thanked Allah on 9/11.
    </p><p>The Israeli/Palestine conflict surely is over land - but why is the land sacred in the first place? When the Allied Powers picked a place for the Jews after WWII, was it some coincidence that they picked land that had Biblical significance? Those Christians you distance yourself from who are "Jesus for Jerusalem" only want to see Palestinians driven from the West Bank and Gaza so that Jerusalem can have border that match the OT requirements necessary for Jesus to have the second coming.
    </p><p>Otherwise, we could have set up a haven for Jews anywhere in the world - maybe even somewhere far away from the Arabs/Muslims like Ahmadinejad who want to see Israel wiped off the map. He doesn't want to wipe the LAND off the map, John, for that would give the Palestinians no place left to call home - he wants to get rid of the people IN Israel.
    </p><p>But you write day in and day out that religion is not the reason bad things happen; bad things happen because of bad people.
    </p><p>except of course, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot - they were Atheists. Your logic is absent, John.
    </p><p>So you can "take responsibility" for only your own components, (although at times you have not)  but you know as well as any of us, in the end, if you wear the team jersey, when the rest of the world sees you wearing it they see you as a member of the team. And they see you against the background of the rest of the team - just like in the team photos when everyone shows off their rings. But whether you claim the glory of the championship or a first-round playoff loss, the outside world doesn't care that it was the field goal kicker who lost the game in the last second, or the quarterback who threw three interceptions and made it a one-point game that needed a 65 yard field goal to win.
    </p><p>Sadly, I now judge other Christians based on your interaction with me, and you've now become the fourth trauma in my life about religion that will be in my collection of stories in front of my cousin Mary, the summer camp story, and others.</p>

  4. <p>I'm pretty sure you'll pull the next four posts, but they're for you, John. Nobody else would get it anyway.
    </p><p>The problem with your logic is that you sacrifice two things:
    </p><p>First, the people who you are sure are doing it "wrong" (in your opinion) are doing it quite "right" in thier own mind, as they get (like you) to decide for themselves what they think "G"od is trying to tell them.
    </p><p>Meanwhile, they interact with the world independently of you, for sure. But the people who they effect are being influenced or attacked or condemned by them, and that builds a perception of your religion. We who don't know your religion, surely don't know what "right" Christianity looks like as practiced by the "good" Christians ONLY, we get to see the whole picture - the good and the bad.
    </p><p>The same thing is happening in America now - not all Muslims are terrorists, but there are an inordinate amount of people (many of them, strangely claiming to be Christians - see TEA party) who therefore treat all Muslims (and lately Democrats) as if they were terrorists.
    </p><p>But maybe you should ask yourself a better question: If those Christians are doing it "wrong" are having an adverse effect on<span> your</span> experience as a Christian because you're taking heat that you don't feel you deserve,<span> who is going to have the best chance to talk to those Christians who are doing it "wrong"?</span>
    </p><p>The atheists? The other religions?
    </p><p>No, they see us as the enemy to start with, so they dismiss us or attack us.
    </p><p>So if there are Christians out there who are giving Christianity a bad name by practicing it in ways you're not approving, you're the one in the best position to correct them or to condemn them or at least tell them that they're making your walk as a Christian more troublesome.
    </p><p>Apologists are a strange bunch; you defend your faith stalwartly to justify all that is good and noble and sublime about it; yet you disavow yourself from anyone else who preaches under the auspices of your faith as if somehow you're not related. You explain (apologize) all the other things that go wrong as being attributed to something other than the religion.</p>

  5. It is good that you reached out here after all this time.

    The bottom line in life is that I both make my living (as a salesperson) and interact in my life to influence people. The folks who "get it wrong" (in my opinion) also live their life by influencing folks.

    It is far easier to be a positive influence on others by being putting forward what I believe, and only indirectly by rebuking what others believe. Religion is not about belief in something - it is about like-thinkers exercising that belief together in community. In a very real sense, I do not share a "religion" with those who not view God the way I do - nor can those who give Christianity a bad name have any impact on either my faith, or those who share it with me in common worship and belief - my religion. They are giving their Christianity a bad name - not mine.

    On a side note, I never attributed all war to atheists - at least in saying it is an outgrowth of atheism per se. I have quoted John Conyers quite a bit; and agree that war is an outgrowth of the modern age's focus on self and the competition to fulfill our individual desires at the expense of community both local and global.


How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly