If you have been following this series from the beginning you already know that my job puts me in contact with a wide range of Christians and Christian thought. My coaching practice allows me to talk to pastors from every denomination you could imagine. I also moderate a large Facebook group page made up of pastors and church leaders from all the various streams of Christianity. I stay on top of what’s going on in the church/Christian world by subscribing and reading the major, and some minor, Christian and ministry periodicals and newsletters. I think I’ve got my finger on the pulse of something going on in a portion of the church in North America.
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. In pt. 12 of Belligerent I want to focus on The Contemptuous Pastor.
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 and 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.
Have you ever noticed how hard it is for us to describe how we are different from another Christian group without contempt or sounding like we are putting the other group down?
A Charismatic might describe themselves as “Spirit led”, implying that non-Charismatics are not “Spirit-led.” Non-Charismatics might say that they are led only by the Word of God instead of emotional experiences, implying that Charismatics are not led by the Bible or that they place emotional experience before the Bible. Ask a conservative to explain the difference between themselves and progressives and you might hear, “We stand on the clear teaching of scripture rather than watering down the Bible in order to be politically correct.”
All of this is contempt accompanied by feelings of superiority which results in separation and divorce between Christians, pastors, and denominations.
What would it look like for someone to describe the differences between themselves and someone else and it not sound contemptuous or like a put down? Let me make up a conversation between Chip (a new believer) and Dale (an older believer).
Chip: Hey Dale, the other night after Bible study I overhead Cindy and Denise talking about Egalitarians and Complementarians. What’s that?
Dale: Yeah, those are two different thoughts on the role of women in the home and in the church.
Chip: Which are you?
Dale: I’m a Complementarian.
Chip: What’s the difference between the two?
Dale: That’s a pretty complex question. Whole books have been written on the subject but let me give it a try. Complementarians and Egalitarians both look at the same scriptures but come to different conclusions pertaining to the role of women in the home and in the church. Egalitarians sincerely believe that the bible teaches that men and women are equal, equal in the home and equal in the church. Egalitarians would be okay with women pastors. Complementarians sincerely believe that the bible teaches that the role of women and men in the home and in the church is different and that these differences complement each other. Complementarians usually believe that women should not be pastors and women are under the spiritual authority of their husbands. Complementarians might say things like, “The husband is the head of the home.”, while Egalitarians would probably not say that.
Chip: And you say you are a Complementarian?
Dale: Well Chip, Egalitarians have some good arguments in their favor. Some of my best friends are Egalitarians and they love Jesus and love the word of God just like I do. It’s just that after listening to both sides and studying the Bible on my own I concluded that the Complementarian position made more sense to me.
Chip: Well if it’s good enough for you it’s good enough for me. I’m gonna be a Complementarian.
Dale: Well I appreciate that Chip but you can’t believe something as important as the role of women in the church and in the home simply based on what I believe. You need to look into the subject for yourself. Buy a couple books from both camps. Study what the Bible has to say and then you’ll be in a position to come to your own conclusion.
Chip: That’s too much work. I’ll just believe what you believe.
Ellen and I have a game we play, it’s called Contempt. Here’s how it goes. Whenever we are driving around or talking at home and one of us is talking negatively about someone else (we like to call it “talking negatively” rather than use the words gossip or slander) and it begins to sound like contempt, one of us will say to the other,
“So what you’re basically saying is that you think you are better than they are?”
“Yes, apparently I do.”
We’ll laugh and then whoever stops the contempt first is the winner.
It’s time for those of us who call ourselves Christians, and or pastors, to stop the contempt. Our position on an important topic could be the right one but if it is held with contempt that makes us the one who is wrong.