Warning: The World is Watching How We Christians Treat One Another

“If Christians cannot extend grace through faithful presence within the body of believers, they will not be able to extend grace to those outside.”

~ James Davison Hunter

Recently, someone asked me the following question.

“Frank, if I had to summarize your ministry, it would be that Jesus is more than we ever imagined and we can learn to live by His life which is evidenced by treating others the same way we want to be treated. Would you say that this is accurate?”

My answer: “Yes, that sums it up well.” These two themes are underscored in many of my books and blog posts.

Not long ago I wrote a piece for a periodical explaining why I am a Christian (which I’ll republish here in the future). I ended the piece by asking why those who aren’t Christians have decided not to follow Jesus (yet, at least). Here’s what one person wrote:

“I’m not a Christian because of how most of the Christians I’ve known treat each other. Not loving like their founder taught but just the opposite. I like that your list wasn’t apologetic or combative but personal and I respect that. Rare but nice to see.”

This harkens back to Gandhi’s famous line,

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ” . . . “If it weren’t for Christians, I’d be a Christian.”

Take a look at this graphic which shows how people search for “Christians” on Google in comparison to “Muslims” and “Jews.” (Credit goes to my friend John Saddington for this analysis).

This graphic shows some of the serious stereotypes that we Christians are up against. Unfortunately, the stereotypes are often painfully true.

It’s not uncommon for some Christians to throw verbal assaults at one another on Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and other Internet venues. As a result, the world sees people who profess to follow Jesus - the Prince of Peace – fighting, misrepresenting one another, and even “blocking” one another.

“But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you don’t consume one another” (Galatians 5:13).

There once were two cats of Kilkenny

Each thought there was one cat too many

So they fought and they fit

And they scratched and they bit

Til excepting their nails

And the tips of their tails

Instead of two cats there weren’t any.

Civil disagreement and even debate, when done in the spirit of Christ, are healthy and helpful.

But when disagreements descend into second-guessing motives, distortions of one another’s words, mischaracterizations of one another’s views, and personal attacks, then we’ve moved into the flesh.

The net is that the name of Jesus gets tarnished in no small way.

So how do we change that?

Here are 7 points to consider the next time you think you have a possible disagreement with another Christian:

1. Go to them privately and ask them what they meant by what they said, did, or wrote or what they allegedly said, did, or wrote. Jesus said to go to your brother/sister in private if we have an issue with them. Since we don’t want to misrepresent others in public, going to them directly helps prevent this. And you would want the same treatment if the shoe happened to be on your foot.

About six months ago, I was reading someone’s Facebook wall where they quoted a friend of mine who came out with a new book on evangelism. The entire thread was about what my friend may have meant or didn’t mean. People got angry at one another. Some began blocking others. (These are Christians, mind you.)

Finally, a woman jumped in and said, “Excuse me .  . .  but instead of questioning what he may have meant or didn’t mean, why don’t you who just write him a message and ask him? He’s on Facebook, you know.”

Her remark arrested everyone and you could smell the embarrassment. Amazingly, no one ever thought to even try to contact my friend and ask. If they had done so in the beginning, the whole issue would have been resolved and the carnage wouldn’t have even begun.

2. When you go to another believer privately, ask them questions. Don’t make accusations. Again, put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself, “How would I want to be treated if this person was me and I had concerns or possible problems with them?” In my experience, I’ve found that accusations based on second or third-hand information are usually inaccurate.  And they are often rooted in misunderstandings.

One time Jesus made a statement about one of His followers saying, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this remark, a rumor spread among the disciples that the disciple Jesus was referring to would never die. But Jesus never said that this disciple would not die; He only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” (John 21:22-23)

If Jesus — the perfect Teacher — was misunderstood by those who were in His corner, how much more does it happen with us?

3. Never, ever, evah, nevah judge the motives or intentions of another human being. To do so is to sin against them and against God. You and I cannot read someone else’s heart. While it’s fine to question someone’s judgment, it’s wrong to judge their motives. “Love thinks no evil,” Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, but it always believes the best of others. Again, this is covered under Jesus’ gold-plated “do unto others” commandment.

4. Never entertain gossip or slander about another sister or brother in Christ. Again, treat others the same way you want them to treat you. Jesus not only commanded this, He said this commandment fulfills the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 7:12). By the way, I’ve found that many Christians don’t know what slander or gossip is (unless it’s happening to them). They mistakenly think that if something is true or half-true, it’s not gossip or slander. Not so. Jon Zens’ remarkable article on this subject is the best I’ve ever read. Every Christian should read it.

5. Seek peace with all you have. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone,” Paul said in Romans 12:18. We aren’t going to agree on everything. In fact, I am unaware of any book that exists where all Christians agree with every word or understand every word the same way. That includes the Bible itself.

None of us can claim immaculate perception. So we should be open for correction. But how you approach someone is incredibly important. How we treat one another while we disagree is just as important as the nature of our disagreement.

6. Remember that the world is watching how we Christians treat one another and talk about one another. You can be the greatest evangelist on planet Earth in terms of being able to boldly witness to non Christians about Jesus. And you can blow the loudest trumpet about mission and discipleship. But if you treat your fellow sisters and brothers in Christ in ways that you would never want to be treated yourself, then you nullify your evangelistic efforts. In addition, how you treat your fellow brothers and sisters is monumentally important to our Lord.

7. Remember Jesus’ last prayer on earth before He gave His life for us. It gives us a peek into what’s foremost in His heart. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:20-21).

May the Lord have mercy on us all . . .

About Frank Viola

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  • http://maximizingmarriage.com/ Sebs | MaximizingMarriage.com

    Amen! May God help us Christians!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/priceofdiscernment David M

    Thanks for this, Frank, and for turning me onto your Patheos blog. I had no idea you were writing here, as well; shows you how much attention I pay. I shared this on my page, hoping that some of my friends who are involved with ministries will check this. Sometimes I think it’s interesting that the ones who are in ministries that know how it feels to be slandered and talked against are the ones who are more vocal publicly, and while they may have good points, it generally goes unheeded, especially with the rabid fans that tear them up and the admins that post for them. The fact that you take to respond to the comments that you do means a lot. I’ve never been offended when you haven’t responded, only blessed when you have.

  • Frank Viola

    Cylon: this blog is written *primarily* for a Christian audience and that blog post is *specifically* for Christians. If you want to read a post that’s similar but broader in the audience, see my “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People Online” post.

  • Cylon

    I know this is a slightly older post, so I don’t know if anyone is still following these comments, but here goes.

    This list seems like good, sensible advice for interpersonal relations. So why the emphasis on applying it to fellow Christians? That makes it seem like one doesn’t necessarily need to follow the same standards of behavior with those who don’t share your faith. I’m not sure if that’s what you meant to imply, but if you didn’t I don’t know why this post wasn’t just titled “The World is Watching How We Christians Treat Others.” I guess it is more noteworthy when people attack members of their own tribe, but I don’t think it would really win Christians many points if they all decided to apply these rules to their interactions with other Christians while mistreating non-Christians. Anyway, hope you can clarify the emphasis of this blog post.

  • Julie

    This blog entry really hits home. That is especially true for #4. I had a rumor passed around about me within my own family and as a result, someone else in the family was hurt as well as myself. I also read the reccommended article. It made me realize that while I try to avoid passing rumours, I could be doing more to discourage others from passing them and that I do sometimes pass them around as well.

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  • Tracy Schlotterback

    Hello Frank,
    Thank you for this article. It is a message that needs to be shouted from the rooftops instead of most of what is out there; I posted it on my Facebook wall to share with those in my little world. At the leading of the Holy Spirit, I recently quit following many bloggers and shut down my own blog. Holy Spirit impresesd upon me that I need to be very grounded in the Word of God before sending words out into the world that can never be retrieved. Yours was one of the few blogs I was impressed to continue to follow. You are obviously grounded in the Word of God, and also understand that Jesus = love. The words of 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 that haunt me are as follows: “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
    Blessings,
    Tracy

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  • David

    Peace and blessings to you, Frank, for this powerful reminder that we are the body of Christ.

    One of the things I dislike about the unholy marriage of religion and politics is that politics represents the worst of the world. It is a lust for power that embraces a “say anything to get ahead” mentality. I often see email chains and Facebook posts from fellow Christians that circulate untruths in their attempt to persuade others to a political position. I have tried gentle requests not to be included in these email blasts, but never respected. My temptation is to simply turn away and wash my hands of them. I am not sure that is the best response, but the mean-spiritedness of what I see causes me to see these people in a different light. Many are people I have encountered in social situations, often friends of friends or family members.

  • http://www.kellyjyoungblood.com Kelly J Youngblood

    Yeah, what great insight. I am (coming to be) fine with saying there are things I just don’t understand and maybe I am wrong about stuff (ugh…that is really, really hard for me to say!), and I’ve just learned to chill out over the last few years when I find someone, someone’s idea(s) regarding Jesus or the Bible or Christianity with which I disagree. It’s how I managed to attend a church for a couple of years that I would never have been able to attend in the past.

  • H

    Interesting article. When I was in the camp, I was blocked by a few Christians on Facebook and I’ve been also viciously attacked by some on Yahoo Answers. Now, I’m no longer a part of this tribal warfare, I don’t even know what goes on among themselves.
    It’s good to be free from this madness.-:)

  • Frank Viola

    Thx. for the comment. There were no rules listed in the post. As for guidelines, suggestions, “proverbs,” exhortations, teachings, etc. I don’t see that as being a problem at all and I affirm those mentioned in the NT. They have been helpful to me and to others. To my mind, Jesus Christ is the real Human and only living by His indwelling life makes us human. Exhortations which are rooted in His life and echo it can be helpful in teaching us how to recognize that life also. So I welcome such.

  • Joshua C

    Frank, I can see you are well intentioned with the guidelines you have set forth, but isn’t that how we got in this mess to begin with, with all the Christian rules about how to behave and all of the well intentioned rules that get twisted and turned on their head in a way that we use for self-justification and condemnation to those who don’t keep them?
    I would like to suggest something else – that we throw all such rules out. That we find a fairly kind/decent nonchristian and ask them to teach us how to be human again. That we learn how they do it, without any Christian rules or Biblical guidance, and try to be half the real feeling, thinking, human that they are. That we allow ourselves to be outraged the way they get outraged to get back in touch with nonreligious humanity, and our own hearts… and then, after we’ve become rehumanized, we read the Bible with fresh eyes and our new friend and ask them to help us see what they see as they read it. Perhaps we’d find a new kind of faith in Jesus that would actually end up looking more like Him. He was much more human than we are.

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  • Summer Smith

    Brilliant as usual friend. My favorite part : “3. Never, ever, evah, nevah judge the motives or intentions of another human being. To do so is to sin against them and against God. You and I cannot read someone else’s heart. While it’s fine to question someone’s judgment, it’s wrong to judge their motives. “Love thinks no evil,” Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, but it always believes the best of others. Again, this is covered under Jesus’ golden, “do unto others” commandment.”
    I have been studying judgement and often feel I can’t explain it well to others though I know in my heart how to refrain from judgement… discernment and fruit inspection seem to be key phrases. I’ve even recently encountered ‘judgement starts in the House of God.” I just can’t seem to get my point across about love. I’m certainly getting used to being misunderstood these days.

    I will still always believe the best of others.

  • Frank Viola

    Wow. That’s a profound statement. Thanks! Don’t be a stranger here.

  • http://chicagomama-brenna.blogspot.com/ Brenna D (@chicagomama)

    Today was a sad day in the Christian blogosphere, at least from my perspective. I’ve been heavy hearted and actually closed the browser on my computer that had my Twitter feed open (sad to say that it is a rare occurrence). This article could not have come at a better time. (I came to it through Kelly’s blog).

    It’s as if we are so busy “defending” Jesus (really, our interpretation of Him) that we forget to actually FOLLOW Jesus.

    Thanks for the gentle guidance!

  • http://www.kellyjyoungblood.com Kelly J Youngblood

    And ones like I have scheduled for tomorrow :)

  • Frank Viola

    That’s part of the problem. Hopefully posts like this will help turn the sod on that idea.

  • http://www.kellyjyoungblood.com Kelly J Youngblood

    I think even if people ARE accessible, for some reason, nobody actually thinks of asking the person. Partly, I think it is because we think of that person as a name on a book and not a real person.

  • http://www.kellyjyoungblood.com Kelly J Youngblood

    I think I link to you more than anyone!

  • Frank Viola

    Countless authors are accessible, more than people imagine. Though there are certainly some who have chosen to be incompletely accessible and that’s sad to me. When comments aren’t open on their blogs and they have Facebook “fan pages” that aren’t run by them but by someone else, they’ve made themselves unreachable. And this just feeds the celebrity culture and gives them an air of prestige that isn’t rooted in reality. I commend those who refuse to cave into the pressure to be inaccessible.

  • Frank Viola

    Thx. Always appreciate the linkage. Especially on a new blog like this.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock Adrian Warnock

    Great post, Frank. I do think that your first point is not always practical, possible (nor sometimes necessary), although if more authors were as responsive to email, comments, etc as you are then I am sure we could head off a lot of nasty controversy.

  • http://www.kellyjyoungblood.com Kelly J Youngblood

    Great thoughts…especially in this time of election season! I’ll probably link to this in a post I’m planning to do (hopefully) today.


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