This week in my What If… series I want to agitate the waters of judgmentalism and mean spirited doctrine police. Read on and then let me know what you think the church would look like if Christians were nice to each other even when we disagree.
Yesterday I read a scathing review of a new book out on the Christian market. The blogger not only didn’t like the book, but didn’t like the writer. The flurry of comments that flooded his post were also unkind. The author’s motives were questioned, her beliefs scrutinized. The doctrine police came out with guns blazing as they took aim at their sister in Christ and shot her down.
Christians are famous for shooting at one another. Our reputation for being judgmental has been long established and it seems that there remains conclaves that are intent on preserving that reputation. It disheartens me how mean we can become when someone doesn’t believe the way that we do.
A few years ago I mentioned in an email to an old friend I knew from my Hong Kong YWAM days that my daughter and I would be attending a same-sex ceremony. Her response startled me. She questioned my salvation and likened my attendance to such an event on par with drinking blood at a satanic ritual. I wish I were kidding.
I attempted dialog with her. Why did this rouse her so much? I wasn’t demanding that she accept my view of same-sex unions, why did she reduce it to a Bible war with me as an infidel in need of repentance or shunning?
Dialog could not happen. This became apparent as her next flurry of emails sliced and diced me with a litany of Bible verses that kept a real conversation between friends from developing. That is how a friendship that spanned two decades abruptly came to an end. My side of the street is clean with this breakup, but what has troubled me ever since is how this kindhearted woman I knew who is full of compassion for the poor and a champion for children could have this mean streak when it came to someone close to her having a different point of view.
My run-in with the mean spirit of beliefism (as my friend Jim Henderson calls it) is nothing compared to what many others over the corridors of time have had to endure. Anybody remember a little era known as the Inquisition? And they used to burn heretics at the stake, too. Shunning is also an age-old reaction to dealing with those who believe differently than we do.
Which makes me wonder :
Who did Jesus shun?
How different the history of Christendom would be if Christ followers were radically kind to one another in the face of disagreement and differences. Imagine! It reminds me of the last prayer of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel. Remember that one? What did he pray for as he considered the followers of The Way? He prayed for unity, and for love. May they be one even as we are one, cried out Jesus on the night before his execution. The last recorded prayer of the Son of God was for you and me to get along.
I know I risk sounding idealist here, but it is ingrained in my bones, this desire to see the people of God treat one another justly and with respect. I disagree with complementarianism with all my heart and mind, yet I try hard to not be mean about it. There is a difference in defending your conviction and attacking those you disagree with. I don’t want to spend my energy being mean and ugly to those who interpret the Bible from a different perspective than I do. I try to take that last prayer of Jesus to heart.
The last recorded prayer of the Son of God was for you and me to get along.
What would the church look like if we got along? What kind of reputation would the church have if we were kind to each other in the midst of doctrinal tension? Imagine if we were known for our commitment to unity and fellowship? What a mind blower that would be to the world. As it is right now, we are as fractured as every other world religion and system. We are not living set apart. Jesus said If you love your friends so what? Even the pagans do that, but I say to you Love your enemies.
An enemy is someone who is in opposition to our way of life, our point of view, our beliefs. In the household of faith, our enemy sits a pew away. We do not love our enemies. We hurl insults and slander just like everybody else. Where then is Jesus in all of our doctrines and creeds?
I’m a dreamer. I imagine a church where kindness is not just a virtue but a distinctive. That’s the kind of unity I think Jesus was praying for. Unity does not mean we all agree on everything at the same time. Unity is a uniting of heart and mind despite our differences. Unity is a paradox, of opposing ideas living in harmony. I hope for the day when followers of Jesus are more famous for our absurd kindness to one another than our mean spirited doctrinal inspections.