Some Christians and some pastors can get really mean, nasty, belligerent and contemptuous when talking theology, more specifically, when talking about how someone’s theology is wrong. 

Sociologists and psychologists are giving more and more focus on the emotion of contempt and it’s effect on those who give it and those who receive it.

Professionals in the field of human behavior tell us that contempt is an emotion felt towards others that puts the other person in an inferior, lower status position. The other person is regarded as being less in some way that the person feeling contempt considers important.

In the latter case, the person is seen as being bad, especially when they have broken specific values held closely by the one who has contempt, in which case the contempt may be associated with disgust and other strong negative emotions such as anger and hate.

It’s not hard to recognize disgust in the words, actions, and expressions of some Christians and some pastors when describing someone who has committed adultery, become addicted to drugs or pornography, or when talking about homosexuality. Many Christians find behavior like this disgusting, it makes them angry, and sometimes, even though they may not recognize it, causes them to hate.

Feeling contempt can also become a way to separate or build a wall between the one feeling contempt and the other person. Because contempt requires a mental position of superiority, the person feeling this may actually experience a certain amount of pleasure in contempt. It feels good to think that you are better than someone else.

Contempt is an emotion that thinks of people, groups or actions as inferior or worthless. People feel contempt when they judge that someone or something else is beneath them. Contempt serves to differentiate acceptable groups from unacceptable groups, and helps individuals to depersonalize others. The depersonalization of others makes it easier for collective violence to occur, as it gives people permission to do unto others what they would normally be restrained from doing. 

For examples of this one has only to log onto Facebook and read the words some Christians and some pastors use when talking about politicians they don’t like or fellow Christians who hold theological perspectives different than theirs. More than once I have asked myself, “How could a pastor talk like that to another human being not to mention another sister or brother in Christ?” Belligerence and contemptuous go hand in hand. Belligerence is always outward (it can be heard, seen, read) while contemptuous can be outward or inward, it can be hidden. We would never admit that we disagree with someone and also think we are better than they are. We don’t want others to think that we are that way and we don’t want to think that way of ourselves. We will either hide our contempt or fail to recognize it.

In research on married couples, contempt towards one’s spouse has been found to be one of the main factors that lead to divorce.

Contempt between Christians (it can go both ways at once but usually contempt is held by one towards another) is what’s causing a divorce in the Body of Christ.

When I was a small boy growing up, my grandparents had a cabin up in the mountains of Santa Cruz, California. Most weekends would find my parents packing up me and my older brother Gary into our car and heading for ‘the cabin.’

To me, our cabin was a mysterious place. Across the street were these people called, “those dirty hippies” by my grandparents. At the end of a long dirt road you would come to a locked gate preventing you from going further. If you looked up the mountain to your left you could see a deserted two-story building partially covered by the forest. More than once my brother took some sadistic joy in telling me that the building used to keep crazy people in it, that some of their ghosts still haunted the place, that if you came out there in the night you could hear their spirits crying out.

I never went out there in the night.

If you took the same road in the opposite direction you would eventually come to the “parrot lady’s” house. That’s what we called her. I don’t remember ever being told her real name. What I did know was that she had three large Macaw parrots. Like Dr. Doolittle, she could talk to these animals and they could talk to her. It was as if I had stepped into a Disney movie. Amazing!

Did you know that parrots don’t have vocal cords? They make noise by releasing air from their trachea. Parrots love to communicate with people and they love to communicate with other parrots. If you put a mirror in a parrot’s cage they will think that another parrot is in their cage. Parrots will actually interact with their own reflection. Parrots are able to talk without being able to understand words. Parrots tend to mimic a lot of things that they do not fully understand.

Hmmm…

The way I see it, we have too many pastors and parishioners who act like parrots.

I am concerned by the number of Christians (and even some pastors) who are more “talking parrots” than they are Bible-informed followers of Jesus. I’m troubled by how many believers don’t think for themselves but merely “parrot” what they’ve been told they’re supposed to believe by their pastors or fellow Christians. I am worried about those poor souls who do not know how to think biblically for themselves.

You see…it is really hard for us to freely and objectively “think.” By this I mean: to be willing to revisit previously accepted ideas, theologies, and convictions, and see if the buckets we hold our opinions in (our ideas about what the Bible says about this or that) really hold water or not?

We all have filters through which we think and reason. Some filters are better than others. Thinking, re-thinking, and thinking for ourselves will never happen if we live in a sheltered environment that protects and defends one view while attacking and ridiculing any views that are different. The willingness to re-think will not happen if one is intimidated by their church or friends or pastoral colleagues. The result can be congregations, and sometimes pulpits, filled with talking parrots.

Ellen’s closet is packed. Mine…not so much, especially during the winter months. I have four flannel shirts that I rotate through each week. Ellen threatens me that she is going to burn them. I threaten her that I will leave her if she does. Of course I’m joking. I’m not sure she is. A man shouldn’t have to put a lock on his closet door. Anyway…

Shirts remind me of the labels we put on people. Everybody has favorite shirts, or pants, or shoes, and everybody, or so it seems to me, has their favorite labels that they like to put on others.

In the church world we have shirts we like to put on people. We’ve got Evangelicals and Liberals, Charismatics and non-Charismatics, Egalitarians and Complementarians, Gay welcoming and affirming and Gay welcoming but not affirming, Calvinists and Arminians, Traditionalists and Progressives, pro-Flannel shirts and anti-Flannel shirts. This is just a partial list of the many labels we like to put on people. As I see it there are four problems with labels.

1. With labels, as with clothing, seldom does one size fit all. For example, many Evangelicals believe some things Progressives believe (politically and theologically) and vice versa. Some Progressives consider themselves Evangelicals. I know some Southern Baptists that are more Charismatic than some Charismatics.

2. It is hard to label a person without there being contempt attached. Just listen to the next person you hear put a label on someone. They might not use these exact words but you can still hear in their voice “Those stupid…” tacked on to the beginning of their sentence, or, “…and I’m better than they are.” added to the end of their sentence.

3. Labels lead to arguing and arguing never works.

Arguing doesn’t work. It is pointless. The only thing an argument does is make someone angry or hurt. The same is true with debating. You might win the debate but in so doing you create a loser. No one wants to be a loser. You’ve won but forced someone else to become something they don’t want to be. Arguing and debating draws a line in the sand and eventually the sides retreat away from each other with the line in between them.

Some pastors seem to enjoy arguing and debating and kicking sand in the eyes of those they disagree with. I want none of that.

Some pastors can be so bold, brave and belligerent on social media. These opportunities to rant or vent or express ones opinion or “get something off ones chest” seldom change anyone’s mind. All this does is reveal who is on their side and who is not. Ultimately no one has grown from either side, no one has learned or changed. Hurt and pain grows, but not much more than that. I don’t want to be that kind of person.

This reminds me of Paul’s advice to Timothy when selecting elders in the church. “Don’t pick anyone who is addicted to wine or pugnacious (loves a good fight, quarrelsome, one who leaves a bruise), but look for one who is gentle and peaceable.” I Tim. 3:3

That’s the type of person I want to be.

4. Finally, when I label a person I fail to see the person as a person and instead see them as a label. Labels limit. Labels limit my ability to love the person as God loves them and see the person as God sees them. The person I label, the person I have contempt for, is dearly loved by the Father we both share.

There are many pastors out there (I know this because I talk to them) who feel caught in the middle. Even though they still believe that (fill in the blank) is wrong they no longer believe that the Bible is entirely clear on the subject. They have come to understand and appreciate those who interpret the Bible differently than they do. And…they are afraid to say so. Some have doubts about what they have always believed. But they are afraid to say so. Some have even changed their position. But they are afraid to say so. Some have told me that they are not exactly sure what God thinks of (fill in the blank) but they are afraid to say so to anyone but me.

We’ve gotten to the place where you can be attacked or get in trouble just for thinking, or re-thinking, or questioning, or respectfully listening to those who think differently than the group you belong. You can be judged and slandered and ‘unfriended’ on Facebook (and in life, I know, it’s happened to me) for revealing that you appreciate certain authors or speakers. 

Whatever denomination you belong to, there is a good chance that there are certain theological distinctions held by your group that if you strayed over to a different position you would get in trouble and possibly defrocked. In some groups you would be attacked if you simply said, “I’m rethinking my position on…

Spiritual gifts
Women in ministry
Ecclesiology
Baptism
Eschatology, to name a few.

You don’t have to say, “I’ve changed my position on (fill in the blank). ” but only, “I’m rethinking my position on (fill in the blank).” That alone is enough to be called into the principle’s office.

How many times have you said, or heard someone else say, “The Bible is clear…” or “The Bible clearly teaches…”? 

When I read my Bible I tend to see more clarity than I do vagueness but there are definitely some things that I see as gray while some of my friends see the same things as black or white. It seems to me that some things some Christians think the Bible is clear about are not as clear as they think. If the Bible were clear then why are there so many denominations and different opinions held by Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians?

There is a small but growing group of Christians who are caught in the middle. They don’t see black or white. They see gray. Not everything is gray to them, it’s not like they don’t believe in absolute truth or the basic tenets of the Christian faith, but some of the other things are gray to them. They have friends or fellow-pastors who see many things as black or white…but they see those same things as gray. This group (gray Christians) doesn’t have as strong an opinion about some things other Christians have strong opinions about. And some in this group are afraid to admit this publicly. Rather than saying, “The Bible is clear about…” or “The Bible clearly teaches…” they would say, “I’m not sure what God thinks about…”

Do you see certain theological topics as gray while those around you see the same subjects as black or white? It’s okay, you’re not alone. Be humble and patient with those who see black and white. Remember…they could be right. I wish I didn’t have to say this but be very selective with whom you share your ambiguity. Ambiguity can get you in trouble.

Do you see certain theological topics as black or white? It’s okay, you’re not alone. Be humble and patient with those who see gray. Remember…they could be right. Work at being a loving, respectful, honoring and safe person for those who see gray. After all, we all are brothers and sisters in Christ. We all love Jesus. We all believe that the Bible is God’s word, it’s just that some of us see things as black or white and others of us see things as gray.

We may never know with certainty who is right and who is wrong until we die and take that required theology exam that will determine who gets into heaven and who stays outside with the rest of us C+ students.

When I see the phrase politically correct, I first focus on the word ‘political.’ Then I think of politics. Then I think of politicians. From there I think of things some politicians do or say in order to get elected. There is a dishonesty associated with it and a manipulation of the electorate.

I asked a group of pastors how they would define ‘politically correct.’ Only one of the 53 responses to my question came close to mine: “Whatever phrasing or actions that will gain you the most (or cost you the least) votes.” Many of the comments were similar to these:

  • To go along with what the masses say instead of what is the truth.
  • The willingness to cast truth aside in order to not offend someone.
  • Not speaking truth
  • Setting aside all personal convictions to appease others.
  • It is a thought control tactic used by the liberal left which on the surface has the express purpose of not offending the disadvantaged and those who oppose Christian values, but which the unexpressed undercurrent is to silence truth and erode religious freedoms.

On the other side there were definitions such as:

  • Being kind and speaking in love.
  • Using language that isn’t offensive.
  • Choosing vocabulary for referring to people that is not based on prejudice nor intended to hurt or demean.
  • Choosing alternate, often unfamiliar language or practice, in an attempt to minimize actual or perceived offense toward a particular group.
  • A term that only people of privilege use to describe with disdain those who think differently about the power of language than they do.

I found it interesting to trace the origins of the phrase ‘political correctness’ or ‘politically correct’. I thought of sharing with you the history of PC and how it has evolved in meaning over the years, but that would digress from my point. When you have the time Google it, I think you will be surprised.

My point is that many Christians today are accusing other Christians of being PC. This indictment is usually accompanied by an air of contempt and belligerence. The claim is that certain believers, churches, and entire denominations have caved in to social pressure and have knowingly walked away from the truth of scriptures in order to better fit in to the non-Christian culture. Are there PCers like that out there? Probably, but I don’t know any of them…and I know a lot of Christians and Pastors and churches.

What I see happening is that there is a growing group of Christians who are trying to walk out their faith as closely to the example of Jesus as they can. As they attempt this they are becoming kinder, more accepting, more tolerant, more loving. They want to avoid offending others as much as possible. They love God. They believe in the Bible. Theirs is a different kind of PC, not ‘politically correct’ but ‘people compassionate.’ Do they get it right in every area of doctrine and practice? Of course not, but neither do those who are on the other side. Nobody gets it completely right.

****

Few would argue that the apostle Paul was not afraid to speak the truth, confront sin and doctrinal error. His letters are filled with examples. Recently while reading through I Corinthians I came across two passages that made me see how balanced Paul really was.

I Cor. 9:20 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.  (NASB)

I Cor. 10:32 Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.. (NASB)

They say, “You can’t please everybody.” but is seems that Paul tried. Paul didn’t want to offend if he didn’t need to. Paul was trying to build bridges rather than walls in order that he might win people to Christ. I could imagine that if I said the same things Paul said in the above scriptures that some would accuse me of being too PC, a people-pleaser, that I’ve caved in to societal pressure.

I don’t want to call someone PC too flippantly, especially if my words accompanied by contempt and belligerence. I don’t want to accuse someone of being PC without talking to them and seeing their heart, their motives, their convictions. And if I happen to actually take the time to get to know the person I’m concerned about and end up not liking their motives, convictions and heart, if I still strongly disagree with them…I don’t want to attack or be offensive, I don’t want to be belligerent.

I think there is more PC out there among Christians than we imagine but it is not political correctness, it is people-compassion.

When I read the words of Jesus and the authors of the New Testament, I find myself challenged to evaluate my reactions to those who I disagree with. For example:

Because Jesus, in the ‘High Priestly Prayer’ of John 17, prayed three times to the Father that his followers “may be one”, I ask myself, “Are my words, attitudes and actions creating oneness or two-ness? By ‘two-ness’ I mean a division, my group versus their group.

One theme from the book of Hebrews is that Jesus is a different kind of priest than those under the old covenant. Did you know that the Latin word for ‘priest’ means ‘bridge-builder’?

Peter calls us a ‘royal priesthood’ (I Pet. 2:9), I must ask myself, “Are my words building bridges or building walls?

Three times Jesus told us to ‘love one another’ (Jn. 13:34, Jn. 15:12,17). Do my attitudes towards those I disagree with reflect love…or something less than love, or even contempt and judgment?

Paul added to Jesus’ reminder to ‘love’ by saying in I Cor. 13 that love is patient. I must ask myself if my words and actions and attitudes towards those I disagree with reflect patience or impatience? Do I rush to correct, judge, or label someone who is different than me?

Paul said in Gal. 5 that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I must ask myself if my words or actions or attitudes towards those I disagree with are filled with that type of fruit? I fear that sometimes I have fruit but it is rotten, worm-filled fruit.

Peter said (I Pet. 2: 17to show honor all people. Does my life reflect showing honor to those I disagree with?

Because Paul told Timothy, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth…” (II Tim. 2:24-25), I must ask myself if my words or actions or attitudes towards those I disagree with are quarrelsome in nature, unkind, impatient, lacking in gentleness?

YEAH, BUT…

There’s always a ‘YEAH BUT.’

Yeah, but what about orthodoxy?
Yeah, but what about heresy?
Yeah, but what about bringing correction?
Yeah, but what about loving the sinner but hating the sin?
Yeah, but what about defending the truth?
Yeah, but what about Jesus turning over the tables in the temple?
Yeah, but what about holiness?
Yeah, but what about obedience?
Yeah, but what about speaking the truth in love?
Yeah, but what about balance?

What about it?

I believe there is a place for all the ‘YEAH BUTS’ but I also believe that we’ve been giving too much of a place to them.

Believe me, if I choose to not correct others or act belligerently towards those I think are in error there will still be enough correction and belligerence out there to get the job done. The ‘YEAH BUTS’ are alive and well, they aren’t going anyplace. Those who feel an obligation to fight are alive and well, they aren’t going anyplace. I’m not worried about a lack of the ‘YEAH BUTS’, correction, or belligerence. I want to be part of something different.

In 2020 I decided to limit my reading to female authors, writers of color, and authors of people-groups other than my own. This was such a great experience even though I caught some heat from a few Christians who felt I should not even be reading certain books…I’ll leave it up to you to guess which books these were.

I’m certain I’ve missed a couple, but here they are and not in the order in which I read them. Let me know if you have read any of them or if you think I’m a heretic for having done so.

****

Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations by Chua, Amy

Angela Davis: An Autobiography

Does the Bible Condemn Gay People?: A Close Look at What Scripture Says About Homosexuality by Grant Andrews

The Shift: Surviving and Thriving after Moving from Conservative to Progressive Christianity by Colby Martin

Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture by Angela Y. Davis

Soul Care in African American Practice by Barbara L. Peacock

The Bible, Christianity, & Homosexuality by Justin R. Cannon

Sermon on the Mount: A Beginner’s Guide to the Kingdom of Heaven by Amy-Jill Levine

The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton: An Investigation by Hugh Turley

Seeing Jesus in East Harlem: What Happens When Churches Show Up and Stay Put by José Humphreys

After Evangelicalism: The Path to a New Christianity by David P. Gushee

The Making of Asian America: A History by Erika Lee

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity by Soong-Chan Rah

Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism by Deborah Jian Lee

“All the Real Indians Died Off”: And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans (Myths Made in America) by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker 

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God by Kaitlin B. Curtice

Becoming by Michelle Obama

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Womanist Midrash: a reintroduction to the women of the Torah and the Throne. by Wilda C. Gagne

Does Jesus really love me? by Jeff Chu

Strength to love by Martin Luther King Jr.

And indigenous peoples history of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

Failing is different than being a failure.

“John, you’re so good at trying.” – Moira Rose

To fail is the inevitable and reoccurring result of being human. There is an important difference between failing and being a failure. 

Thinking of oneself as a failure is the embracing of a false narrative that ignores or misses one’s true identity in God.

“I can’t do anything right.” = false narrative

“I’m so stupid.” = false narrative

“I screw up everything I set out to do.” = false narrative

“I’m a failure.” = false narrative

I have to push back against this false narrative in my life. I’ve failed in so many ways and so many times that it is easy for me to identify as a looser, poor excuse of a Christian, a failure. However, my friend Henri Nouwen, (Life of the Beloved) has helped me see my true identity as being “The Beloved of God.”

Do yourself a favor sometime. Get out a concordance, or find one online, and search for all the times the word “beloved” comes up. You will discover two things. First, Bible authors often referred to their readers as “beloved.” And, Bible authors often reminded their readers that they were the beloved of God.

You may have failed as a parent, but you are the beloved of God.

You may have failed as a wife or husband, but you are the beloved of God.

You may have failed in some area of addiction, but you are the beloved of God.

You may be a pastor and have failed to grow your church, despite having tried all the things the “experts” have told you, but you are the beloved of God.

You may have failed in developing a consistent devotional life, but you are the beloved of God.

You may have failed at imitating Jesus to the people around you, but you are the beloved of God.

Stop the false narrative. You are not a failure, you are the beloved of God. And even if you fail at stopping the false narrative, you are still the beloved of God.

TOO MUCH, TOO LITTLE
by dave jacobs
 
 
There is too much violence.
There is too little peace.
 
There is too much argument.
There is too little communication.
 
There are too many strong opinions.
There is too little openness.
 
There is too much hate.
There is too little love.
 
There is too much talking.
There is too little listening.
 
There is too much pride.
There is too little humility.
 
There’s too much noise.
There is too little quiet.
 
There are too many sides.
There is too little unity.
 
There is too much black and white.
There is too little gray.
 
There is too much rejection.
There is too little acceptance.
 
There is too much Bible-quoting.
There is too little Bible-living.
 
There is too much bias.
There is too little objectivity.
 
There is too much fear.
There is too little faith.
 
There is too much suspicion.
There is too little proof.
 
There is too much judgment.
There is too little grace.
 
There is too much Bible-knowledge.
There is too little Jesus-imitating.
 
There is too much preying.
There is too little praying.
 
There is too much turbulence.
There is too little still water.

Rather than Simon & Garfunkel…imagine Jesus singing this over you today.

When you’re weary, feeling small.
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all.
I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough.
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.

When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street.
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you.
I’ll take your part, oh, when darkness comes.
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.

Sail on silver girl
Sail on by.
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way.
See how they shine
Oh, if you need a friend.
I’m sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind.

« Older entries