Some days, I love what I do. Other days, I could walk away without a single regret in doing so.
On the days that I want to walk away, it’s often because of the realization that well, Christians can be really, really mean to each other.
In fairness, I think people in general have a propensity to be mean to each other. But Christians? We’re the ones who are supposed to be known by our love. Yet, visit the comment section of almost any Christian blog post- mine or otherwise- and it is quick to see that we often become people not known by love, but by our ability to eat our own young.
I think yesterday that struck home for me a bit. On my first real day back at work I was told I should “go boil my head” that I’m “everything that’s wrong with Christianity”, and had several other nasty emails that I stopped reading and deleted the moment I realized where they were headed.
It’s just all so exhausting some days.
Last night as I sat and processed the day (I’m an introvert and an internal processor) I started to ask myself why Christians can be this way so much of the time. From my processing, I’ve come up with a few reasons that I hope can help us develop a little more self-awareness and enable us to begin moving things in a different direction.
Why are we so quick to be mean to each other? Here’s what I think:
1. Many of us grow up in groups where we’re led to believe that “our group” has right what every other group has wrong.
I believe that Jesus is the “truth” as he claimed. The problem is, followers of Jesus have broken off into literally thousands of different sub-tribes and expressions of what it looks like to follow him. For many of us, we grow up in tribes who either directly teach or subtly lead us to believe that we’re the ones who got it right. It doesn’t seem that very many of these tribes teach holding theology with humility and an open hand (though some do). As a result, we go into discussions about God– whether on the internet or in an actual, interpersonal relationship– with a conscious or subconscious attitude that assumes we’re right. Whether this belief or attitude is intended or not, it doesn’t actually bode well for discussions with people who are different than ourselves, and often leads to nastiness before an introduction even occurs.
2. We’ve been taught that we need to police the boundaries.
If being taught that “we’ve got it right and everyone else is way off base” isn’t damaging enough, many of us had upbringings that went a step further in teaching us that we need to police the boundaries the tribe has made. Ironically, every tribe tends to have different boundaries, which means we now have thousands of tribes trying to police different standards and different beliefs in other people. But, we don’t call it policing– we dress it up nicely so it feels a bit more noble by calling it things like “defending the faith”, and “rebuking a brother”.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t boundaries in Christianity– Jesus made some pretty exclusive claims that are rather black and white. However, we’ve allowed this tribalism to draw all sorts of lines that even Jesus himself did not draw. This need to police our man-drawn lines often leads us to be people with nasty attitudes policing the boundaries, instead of being a loving people who are busy removing barriers.
3. We’ve been taught that dissenting thinkers in the tribe are putting all of us at risk.
Ever found yourself unsure if you agree with some of the boundaries your tribe has drawn and made the mistake of actually saying that out loud? In many tribes, you’ll be quickly isolated and ushered to the margins of the group– if even allowed to stay in the group at all.
I remember being on a missions trip with Word of Life Bible Institute (a fundamentalist indoctrination center) when I was a teenager. On the trip, the 70 different kids were divided into different groups that had different leaders over each group. Eventually, I realized that my group was treated differently than the rest. When I eventually asked about this, I was told that we were the kids who had been identified as potentially rebellious and that they needed to have us in a special group so that we didn’t spread our rebellion to the others. The funny thing was, I wasn’t rebellious at all and being treated as a threat needing to be isolated, crushed my spirit. Ironically, that was one of the defining moments in my life where I decided to start bucking the fundamentalist system because I hated the way they made me feel by segregating me. They were afraid of me, and I had no idea why. (But now they obviously have good reason)
Those who openly admit they’re not okay with the boundaries the tribe is drawing– or who even dare to innocently question the boundaries the tribe is drawing– create panic within the rest of the group and become a threat that must be quickly neutralized, isolated, or dispatched if necessary.
4. The invention of the internet.
While I love the internet and make a living writing on it, the invention of the internet hasn’t help reduce levels of Christian nastiness. Instead, the “information super highway” has given us access to all kinds of information our tribes often wouldn’t tell us about (like the fact the rapture is completely made up), and places us in situations where we interact with people we might not in our day-to-day lives actually interact with. This, obviously, creates tension that must be released in one way or another.
Combine this with the anonymity of the internet, and we see a new level of Christian nastiness. It’s much easier to tell someone you don’t know in real life to “go boil their head” over the internet than it is to say so while sharing a meal together. I am convinced that the internet has created an explosion of Christian nastiness, because I simply cannot believe that people would say some of these things to each other if we were all sitting at a table together. Maybe I’m wrong, but I sure hope not.
5. Diversity of Christian belief often scares us, even if we can’t admit it.
I think many of us on this journey have move passed this one, but the root of most Christian nastiness is still something fear based. When you grow up in a tribe who thinks they have a monopoly on rightness but encounter people outside the tribe who see things differently and can express them in a reasonable and articulate way, it can create fear. Encountering such diversity causes one to ask questions such as: “What if they’re right? What else might I potentially be wrong about?“
When these questions come up, it is much easier to attack the other person than it is to sit with the tension of wrestling with matters of faith. Living in tension isn’t fun, it isn’t easy, and learning to be okay with it takes a lot of work Yet, I believe Jesus calls us to exactly this. When we encounter people who intentionally or unintentionally invite us into the tension, it’s simply easier to attack and dismiss them than it is to actually engage with them on a healthy, reasonable level.
I lament the level of Christian nastiness in the world today– something that I think we all get sucked into, myself included. My prayer is that perhaps we might humbly consider some of the reasons why we tend to behave so hateful towards one another and that this self awareness, combined with the love of Jesus, will help guide us to a path of peace– even when we disagree.