If you start typing the words “Why are Christian …” into the Google search field, the first autocomplete suggestion—created by an algorithm that attempts to guess what you are going to type based on the volume of past searches—is pretty depressing:
It thinks you are going to ask, “Why are Christians so mean”
(If you’re curious, the other two top suggestions are “Why are Christian movies so cheesy” and “Why are Christian guys so shy.” The autocomplete game is always an enlightening exercise.)
For members of a faith that is supposed to be known for loving one another, these do not seem like promising indications that culture has a great view of us.
Sure, using Google autocomplete to gauge widespread cultural opinions is somewhat anecdotal, but modern Christians have developed an unfortunate reputation for being easily offended, defensive and just plain mean.
Sometimes, we’re just not that great at taking a joke.
Research from Barna throughout the last decade has confirmed the sentiments: “91% of the nation’s evangelicals believe that ‘Americans are becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity.’” Half of the senior pastors they spoke to in 2007 said, “ministry is more difficult than ever before because people are increasingly hostile and negative toward Christianity.” Words like “old-fashioned” and “judgmental” are terms largely associated with modern Christianity.
There’s seems to be a disconnect between the Good News of the New Testament, and the increasingly hostile relationship between culture and the Church.
Sure, there are a lot of underlying factors at play, but part of it may boil down to a simple idea: Some Christians need to lighten up a little.
Obviously, this doesn’t apply to all Christians. And some things, we just can’t lighten up about. But it should serve as a reminder to all followers of Christ that we can each help shape the perception others have of the Church.
Turning the Other Cheek
At the core of the Gospel is a deeply profound idea: Being a Christian is about dying to oneself to allow Christ to become more evident. As John says, “He must become greater; I must become less.”
The act of “becoming less” is both literally and symbolically significant. By doing so, we trade our flawed human nature for the spirit of God and the fruit of His spirit. Paul draws a direct parallel to the cross, saying, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.”
So what exactly are we “crucifying” in ourselves order to become more like Christ? Sure, there are “desires of the flesh” that lead to sinful, self-destructive behavior. But alongside the “deadly sins” mentioned in Galatians like “sexual immorality,” “debauchery” and “drunkenness” are acts that may be less outwardly apparent, but no less dangerous to our souls: “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, faction.”
James explains, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
Much of western culture has a dichotomous relationship with the idea of “freedom.” Yes, we are free to say and believe whatever we want, but are not free from hearing what others think and believe—even if we find these ideas to be “offensive.”
That sometimes awkward cross section should be a place where Christians can show what the act of “becoming less” can actually look like.
There are plenty of things to be angry about the in world: Systematic injustice, violence, powerful people taking advantage of the disenfranchised. But, there are also things that we should be humble enough and patient enough to just let go.
Our skin should be thick enough that a joke on South Park, a Starbucks cup, an R-rated movie or an Internet comment shouldn’t warrant an angry, vengeful reaction, but our hearts should be tender enough to know when true injustice should spark righteous anger.
Most Christians believe that the nature of the Gospel is both inclusive (His grace is available to everyone) but also exclusive (Christ is the only way to salvation). It shouldn’t be a surprise if there are people who disagree with us and use humor or satire to express their differing opinion. Why should this be offensive to us? The Bible already says that we will face opposition.
The culture of hot takes and instant Facebook statuses isn’t exactly conducive to the idea of being “slow to speak and slow to become angry,” but it does provide an opportunity to show grace, humility and kindness. We can demonstrate that the way of the Gospel is different than the way of the world by not being quick to respond with biting takedowns every time something happens that “offends” us.
Jesus promised His followers, “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” But standing firm doesn’t mean countering insults with insults, disagreements with boycotts or idealogical disputes with grandstanding.
It means standing firm in the way of Christ—a way that is supposed to be different than the way of the world.
The Other Cheek
Jesus didn’t want His followers to be so defensive, so easily offended and so vindictive that they isolated themselves from the very people he wanted them to reach. He wanted “enemies” treated the same why we treat those that are “your own people.”
Do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.
If we can all do this, maybe we won’t be known for being so mean. If we can be slower to respond in anger every time a controversy unfolds, culture war battle is being fought or a joke gets made at our expense, we can actually be recognized for how we love.
Even if it means lightning up a little.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.