Stop Calling Your Critics “Haters”

It’s a Christian culture internet phenomenon that has reached viral status many times over, especially among well-known Christian leaders.

Calling your critics “haters.”

It’s the perfect deflection for any and all critique, really. If you are a famous Christian leader, what better way to demonize your detractors than to accuse them of hate – especially in the popular sense of hating on your success because, you know, they’re just JEALOUS. Steven Furtick famously minted this phenomenon in the form of a Nooma-esque video called “Hey Haters!” presented now for evidence:

Now, it’s not that there isn’t legitimate hating out there. It exists. There are trolls and fundamentalists and petty critics who seem to exist for the sole purpose of finding something wrong with everything. But allow me to let you in on a secret – those kinds of critics are pretty rare, and they are certainly not the kind of critics who are typically being shrugged off by defensive online leaders. No, many of those critics are actually something else, something successful leaders have always found problematic – they are prophets.

And prophets – who, by definition, are often engaged in the discipline of critique, empowered by the Spirit – are not haters, but wrestlers. They are called to spar with the powers that be, and not only the powers outside the church but those within the church. This is where judgment begins, after all. Their call is particularly to wrestle the Christian community into a community that gives witness to the kingdom of God, not the empire. And the empire and its ways are what they are particularly angsty about tearing down.

As such, prophets might err on the side of being too harsh at times. They may slip on the banana peel of speaking the truth outside of perfect love, out of anger or passion for justice. And you know what, famous Christian leader? You’re gonna have to deal with that. You’re gonna have to understand that a prophet might show up who calls the rich Christian women “cows of Bashan” and says of so many megachurch services, “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.”

Amos, I guess, was a “hater” in the proper, prophetic sense.

But this is not just a call for leaders to deal with it. I think something more is possible here. Sure, there are gonna be some cases where the leaders really are so corrupt that they are covering up their unrighteous wealth and ungodly abuses. But I believe there are far more cases where famous leaders who find themselves the subject of critique can actually listen, receive, and make friends of their critics.

Perhaps even inviting the prophets to speak the truth in their courts. 

That would be a beautiful thing. 

Hey, haters and famous people alike – what do you think about this? Is it possible to invite prophetic critique into the church conversation instead of simply dismissing it? 

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About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is a writer and missional minister from notoriously non-religious New England. He blogs here at Patheos and HuffPost Religion. His book, Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter, released in 2012. Most importantly he binge-watches TV dramas and plays in the snow with his family.

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  • Micah J. Murray

    I haven’t read this post yet, but I’m sincerely hoping that all it says is “… because you’re not in 8th grade anymore.”

  • Micah J. Murray

    You know, what really creates so much dissonance for me watching that video from Furtick is that about 90% of what he says in that video (except for the word “haters”) is actually really solid, I think. But his delivery is so cocky and defensive and arrogant that it completely contradicts the message. Which is just weird.

    • zhoag

      Yeah, I think Furtick does speak of some genuine “hating”, divisiveness, gossip, etc. But it seems to be an application of those things to anyone who would dare to criticize. Constructive critique and destructive divisiveness need to be distinguished clearly I think.

    • Sarah

      I feel pretty confident that was on purpose. If you mix enough legitimate sounding material in, the red flags won’t be quite so obvious.

  • Chris Morris

    Man, this sounds a lot like what I’ve seen from so many people. People who are afraid to recognize that perhaps the critique they are receiving is legitimate criticism, or needed correction. The arrogance that comes from calling everyone who disagrees a “hater” has always bothered me, even though it’s been popularized by men I have a lot of respect for, such as Furtick and Jon Acuff.

  • Brandon Eloy

    Push back is constructive critique when it allows for both the “critic” and the “criticized” to wrestle with a concept that could bring more lost people to the knowledge of Salvation in Christ. It becomes petty when we start talking about how “so and so doesn’t dress in a suit and tie so there’s no way he’s preaching the Gospel,” or how “I’m a Calvinist and you’re Arminian, so there’s no way you truly understand the Gospel.” I look towards dialogue that builds up and challenges rather than debate that picks at issues that, often times, are pretty irrelevant in the big-picture of Jesus’ restoration and redemption for all. Revival happened in the early Church through unity in the Body (Acts 5:16), not division.

  • Charissa Bowar

    “And the empire and its ways are what they are particularly angsty about tearing down.” This is unbelievably true. I’ve been wrestling for some time with being a prophet–an immature prophet at that (very difficult–lots of mistakes). In general I don’t think people really care hearing what I have to say. I think they believe that it doesn’t matter…They believe that God can use the empire to save people too so why bring it down? you don’t know how God wants to use it. “Don’t put God in a box” so to speak. I, of course, disagree. And I’m wrestling with all of these thoughts and ideas about the truth, about pursuing effective ways of ministry, really living the kingdom and what that means for me and others who aren’t living it. But one thing still rings true in my heart: The empire, the empire of men built around western christian thought and political ideal, must fall. It is standing in the way of a Godly kingdom that sets people free from their sin. And I know that not everyone can see the empire the way that I do (or you do). But isn’t that more reason to speak out? It makes what you said about leaders engaging us to speak truth so important. And, hey, we’re sometimes a difficult bunch in need of a lot of grace, but labeling and dismissing us without engaging the truth of what we say leads only to dangerous ignorance.

    • zhoag

      Thanks Charissa, keep pressing in and pressing on in prophetic presence :). (Lotsa p’s.)

  • Rob Grayson

    Good piece, Zach. If polarisation is the scourge of the internet, this kind of labelling is certainly one of the forces that fuels it. Unfortunately, the soils is ripe – the modern evangelical community is sadly not known for its embrace of critical thinking…

  • Curt Day

    I think that there are plenty of other banana peels besides hate that prophets can slip on. When at Occupy Wall Street, I saw various and sundry faux-pas committed by the prophets down there. And yet they were acting as prophets, to an extent, not just to Wall Street and its abuses, but to the American people about its negligence in participating in the democratic system.

    Thought you would like this quote from Cornel West. Regarding what he calls the crisis in American religious life including all religions with followers in America:

    “American religious life is losing its prophetic fervor. There is an undeniable decline in the clarity of vision, complexity of understanding and quality of moral action among religious Americans.”

    • zhoag

      Curt – LOVE that quote! Thanks brother! Sorry I missed it 10 days ago :).

  • Zach

    Good stuff. Do you think prophetic critique might also be a precursor to revival because it calls for a kingdom kind of unity, not a least common denominator unity?

  • Zach

    Great thoughts Charissa. Keep pressing into the message God has given you to speak/write :).