There is a disturbing trend among a segment of evangelical Christians - a tendency to publicly (or privately) demonize people with whom we disagree theologically, politically and in various other ways.
A recent case in point would be the Rev. Jerry Falwell's statement about Hillary Clinton in which Rev. Falwell made an indirect comparison between Sen. Clinton and Satan. To be fair, I think the context in which these comments were made was purely tongue-in-cheek and therefore not intended to be taken literally. Specifically, Rev. Falwell, while addressing the Values Voter Summit in Washington D.C. said, "I certainly hope that Hillary is the candidate, I hope she's the candidate, because nothing will energize my (constituency) like Hillary Clinton," he then followed with, "If Lucifer ran, he wouldn't." Despite the fact that his statements were ultimately misrepresented, they still harm the cause of Christ.
Or recall Pat Robertson's public call for the assassination of Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez. These are but two of the comments made by prominent Christians that most would agree really don't present the best possible (or true) representation of Christ.
However, my present concern is not so much these occasional careless statements made by prominent Christians. I am sure that if each of us were given such a public platform where our words were subject to constant scrutiny we too would utter an occasional statement we wish we could take back. We all fail at times to bear true and loving witness to Christ. I know that I regrettably fail often on this point. My concern stems from what I encounter almost daily through this ministry.
I regularly encounter Christians who speak with such hostility and venom about those with whom they disagree, who are primarily non-Christians (though occasionally - and it seems more and more - they're other Christians).
For example, I recently wrote an article in which I praised Katie Couric, who, when asked by reporters if she would travel to Iraq, said she would not, "because a single mother of two had no business taking such risks in a chaotic war zone." I simply pointed out that I shared the reporter's praise of Ms. Couric who "put the well-being of her two daughters above her career."
I was surprised by some of the reactions to this article which seemed to run right past the point I was making and instead expressed anger at me that I would dare acknowledge any good done by a "left-wing liberal feminist" like Katie Couric. This attitude conveys the idea that unbelievers are somehow incapable of doing any good, or if they do, they should not receive any praise. This is nonsense, lacking in grace, and for Christians not to acknowledge these goods makes us look petty and hateful.
All people still reflect the image of God and thus even the lost are capable of doing some moral good. Granted, these acts are not free from sinful motives or prideful self-gratification, but such good should be acknowledged because to do so acknowledges the Creator in whose image we are made. Francis Schaeffer described this well when he said that mankind is a "glorious ruin."
Similarly, I have been confronted by numerous Christians who, upset by Rosie O'Donnell's anti-Christian rant, wanted to rake her over the coals, or fire off a nasty letter letting her know that "we were tired of her lunatic liberalism." I can't count how many times I have heard derogatory characterizations by Christians of Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy or countless other liberal politicians and public figures. I confess that, on occasion, I too have been guilty of similarly thoughtless statements.
However, as a follower of Christ I am to put aside the sinful inclinations of my flesh and imitate the person and character of Christ. We are to "Be imitators of God... and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." Don't you think that we, too, are offensive to a Holy God? And yet despite our offense, God gave Himself up for us so that we could be reconciled to Him. This passage in Ephesians 5 continues by saying, "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking , which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving."
All of these people are made by God in His image; He loves them and therefore we are to love them. Is this sometimes difficult, especially when they ridicule and attack all that we hold dear? Yes! In fact, it would be impossible were it not for the Holy Spirit who is able to transform sinful flesh.
I think a contributing factor to our unchristian attitudes towards those with whom we disagree is the politicization of the Church coupled with a simplistic theology of salvation. In other words, "I had the good sense to choose Jesus." As a result, many Christians think only in terms of Conservative vs. Liberal, Right vs. Left, and ultimately "us" (believers) vs. "them" (unbelievers). We may not see ourselves "on mission" in the world to reach the lost, but rather only on opposite sides politically and ideologically. Where is the motivation to reach across ideological lines in that scenario?
That is not to say that we should avoid confronting false and hostile ideas; certainly not, and 2 Corinthians 10:5 confirms it. After all, doing so is the essence of my own work and ministry. Rather, it is to say that we must direct our arguments to the ideologies in question and not the person who is held captive by them. Our motivation is love! We love because Christ first loved us, and Christ-like love is:
"...patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres!" (1 Cor 13:4-7)
As followers of Christ we should welcome, and eagerly seek, any and every opportunity for relationships with those who hold opposing world views. I would love to have dinner with Katie Couric or Rosie O'Donnell, or have them as my neighbors. If we are constantly retreating to opposite poles to "be with our own kind," we may console ourselves by thinking "we are not of the world," but I would add, we are no longer even "in the world" where we can bear witness to the life changing power of Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, if all the unbelieving world sees or hears from Christians are verbal assaults and self-righteous condemnation; why on earth would they listen to anything we have to say much less take Christianity seriously?!
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S. Michael Craven is the Founding Director of the Center for Christ & Culture, a ministry of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families. The Center for Christ & Culture is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to recapture and demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, additional resources and other works by S. Michael Craven visit: www.battlefortruth.org
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.