There’s a word experiencing a meteoric rise on the cultural scene: “haters.” It’s certainly not a new word, but it’s found a new use. A “hater” is an outspoken and active critic, an antagonist who harbors hostility, animosity and ill-will toward a public person. 

Their usual method of expression? The tweet and the blog. 

When LeBron James and his Miami Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks for the NBA Championship, he had a message for his “haters” who may have been relishing his loss: “All the people that was rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today.”

You could translate that as “it’s just a game – get on with your life.”

Or you could take it the way most did: “Screw you. My life is better than yours.”

I like Stephen Colbert’s translation best:

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you disparage the pathetic lives of the little people who make it possible for you to have a career bouncing an inflatable ball.”

Haters and the thin-skinned “hated” are not confined to the sports world. It seems to be sweeping through the church world as well. In the past, most church leaders have had a “patiently endure” approach to such things, writing it off as “coming with the territory.” But lately, an increasing number have taken to pulpits and blogs, videos and tweets, to denounce and dismiss their detractors. Denominational leaders have also begun condemning those who unduly criticize ministers. 

But rather than diffusing a situation, it seems to be heating it up. The internet is now full of bitter blogs that seemingly exist for no other reason than to attack and demonize a particular Christian leader, church, or ministry. The goal? Causing as much dissension, disunity and disaffection as possible.

I’m not sure what can be done with the “haters.” They don’t seem to be blushing at their vitriol, so trying to admonish them does not seem to offer much promise. Most are fueled by a self-righteous indignation that prevents them from contemplating their own misconduct. Some even claim to be victims of some wrongdoing, so they often have the added fuel of revenge.

As Francis Schaeffer presciently observed toward the end of his life, being a “hater” has almost become a matter of personal privilege:

“We rush in, being very, very pleased, it would seem at times, to find other men’s mistakes. We build ourselves up by tearing other men down...we love the smell of blood, the smell of the arena, the smell of the bullfight...”

We may be pleased, but we are not being Christian.

Lest there be any doubt, spewing hate and dissension, slander and innuendo, is sin. Being openly divisive is sin. Tearing down rather than building up is sin. Refusing to practice Matthew 18:15 is sin. Refusing to properly honor leadership in the church is sin.

And it’s doing enormous damage to the cause of Christ. An editorial in Christianity Today discussed how no attribute of civilized life seems more under attack than civility. The author, David Aikman, noted the extent to which certain Christians have turned themselves into the

“self appointed attack dogs of Christendom. They seem determined to savage not only opponents of Christianity, but also fellow believers of whose doctrinal positions they disapprove. A troll through the Internet reveals websites so drenched in sarcasm and animosity than an agnostic, or a follower of another faith tradition interested in what it means to become a Christian, might be permanently disillusioned.”

So while I’m not sure about reaching the “haters,” I do think some ground might be gained among the “hated.”

LeBron James invited a cacophony of ill-will in the way he left the Cleveland Cavaliers. Not that he left Cleveland, mind you, but how he left. First came the hour-long special on ESPN simply titled “The Decision.” Then came the rising stage and pyrotechnics flanked by new teammates Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. It didn’t help that he also predicted multiple championships before they even had a single practice.

LeBron’s mistake? Ego.

This is an important lesson.

Whether its sports or business, politics or the church, you can invite haters by setting yourself up through ego and self-promotion, vanity and pride. Nothing justifies a hater, but our egos can certainly invite that particular sin to manifest itself toward our ministries.

I am particularly concerned about a new generation of pastors who do not even seem to be aware of how unchecked their egos are. They are genuinely puzzled by the negative reaction they are receiving by large portions of the community, not to mention other church leaders.

Open to some advice? I offer it hesitatingly because I do not consider myself a humble person. I am as riddled with pride as anyone else. Even more. So let’s just say that this advice about “ego and haters” comes not from a position of strength, but from a lifetime of failure:

If you arrive in a city as, say, a church planter or new pastor, and talk as if Jesus and His cause have now arrived (despite the hard and faithful work of thousands before you in that very city), you are inviting “haters.”

If you publicly insinuate that other churches are not as good as you are, or are just “playing” church while you’re actually doing it, or that no one is as committed and wonderful as your church, you are inviting “haters.”

If you boast and strut, pose and posture as an individual – making the church and its ministry more about your fame than Jesus’ - you are inviting “haters.”

If you respond to every criticism with “prophets are always persecuted” or “they crucified Jesus, too” or “it’s just the devil because we’re doing God’s work” statements, you are inviting “haters.”

If you respond to haters with your own publicly offered “hate” – no matter how much you dress it up with spiritual wrappings - you are not simply inviting more haters, but inflaming the ones you had.

Again, there’s no excuse for a hater. There are times when it needs to be forcefully confronted for the sake of the witness of the church. But since so many of the “haters” in our world - whether in sports or politics, business or ministry - seem tied to “ego”, let’s at least try to meet the hate with humility.

If that had been the posture of LeBron, you might have still rooted for Dallas – but you would have liked to have seen him score 40 in the loss.

James Emery White

Sources

“Stephen Colbert Thanks LeBron James for Being So Classy and Modest.” Read online.

David Aikman, “Attack Dogs of Christendom,” Christianity Today, August 2007, p. 52.

Related Interest: When People Criticize Church Leadership, Thom Rainer, Baptist Press. Read online.

Related Interest: “Of Bitter Blogs,” James Emery White, churchandculture.org. Read online.

Francis A. Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian