Do American Christians Behave Badly?

Do American Christians Behave Badly? July 19, 2023

The dark side of Christianity in America (Courtesy of Pixaby / Engin_Akyurt)

Sadly, We Do & We’re Killing Our Religion Because of It

Why Are Christians So Mean?…. The headline on a post by Christian author, teacher and blogger Jeremy Myers recently caught my attention. Myers says that Christians behave badly.

Are we as mean and badly behaved as he believes? We can be and often are, and therein lies the problem.

“Christians are notorious for bad behavior,” according to Myers. “In some recent surveys (reported in books like Unchristian and They Like Jesus but Not the Church), it appears that most people in our culture believe that Christians are about as trustworthy as car salesmen and lawyers.”

Ouch! That’s almost as bad as calling us “politicians.”

Myers’ post includes 10 excuses that he says Christians use to explain why we behave badly, and he’s spot-on with some of his comments. (You can read Myers’ entire post here.)

Rather than rehash his thoughtful article, I want to look at some of the bad behaviors that non-Christians see in Christians on the grounds that we cannot change anything if we don’t admit to our faults.

Newsworthy “News”

But before we delve into the specifics of Christians behaving badly, I want to point out that there are good and decent Christians who love God and try to obey him.

They aren’t perfect, but they are kind and compassionate, forgiving and humble. That’s who they are or strive to be because of their Christian faith. I know because my inner circle includes some wonderful people who quietly live their lives for Christ.

Yet, being a godly person isn’t newsworthy.

One of my journalism professors once said that “good news” isn’t “news,” and those words have stayed with me. Years ago, a newspaper – whose name I cannot recall – tried to prove that point of view wrong by printing only good news. It quickly went out of business.

Consequently, “Christians” who garner the most attention are those who behave badly and capture headlines for all the wrong reasons. That’s what people want to read. However, this fact doesn’t excuse bad behavior. It’s simply an observation about human nature.

Christians Behaving Badly

All humans are guilty of bad behavior at some point in their lives, but Christians probably receive more criticism than other people because we make such a fuss about being good. Again, I’m not excusing anyone’s bad conduct.

All this said, Christians have gained a reputation for being entitled, judgmental hypocrites. Are we really that bad? Yes, and at times, we’re worse.

Entitled Christians

In his post, Why Are Christians So Mean?…., Myers says many Christians feel entitled because they see themselves as the “chosen ones” of God. “We feel this gives us the right to look down upon others who are not one of us,” he explains.

These Christians apparently have forgotten that God loves every human being.

“Entitlement is growing like stage four cancer these days,” notes Daniel Henderson, a Christian author, senior pastor and leadership coach in his article, The Growing Danger a Spirit of Entitlement. He says it’s widespread in our society and is “creeping into the church as the consumer culture infects the minds and hearts of everyday Christ-followers.”

It’s an ugly trait that leads people to focus so totally on themselves that they become – in their own minds, at least — the center of the known universe. Their wants and needs are all that matter in a world that focuses on me, myself and I.

“Christian Karens”

So-called “Christian Karens” fuel the public’s negative attitudes about Christians and have helped give us a bad name.

Several sources recently shared a story about a “Christian Karen” who insisted that her grocer move a transgender employee from the produce department to “somewhere where we don’t have to look at he she…. I should not be subjected to my grandchildren having to see that abomination as wr (sic) trying to get groceries,” the woman wrote in the store’s online comments section.

This “Christian Karen” seems to have forgotten that the so-called “abomination” is a child of God according to the Christian faith. And it probably never occurred to the woman that someone else may see her as an abomination because she forgets that fact.

Another Karen was recently offended by a bumper sticker that encouraged religious freedom and tolerance. Claiming to speak “for the Christian community,” he or she left a note on the offending car saying that the cross on the bumper sticker was being “misused.”

The person’s attitude and note were the only things I found offensive in the story. I also find it sad that many non-Christians who hear this story will associate that person’s entitled attitude with all Christians.

Still another “Christian Karen” made internet news a couple of years ago when she entered a store and refused to abide by its strict mask policy. The woman caused such a commotion that the store called the police. As this Karen was handcuffed and led away, she screamed, “I’m a Christian! You can’t do this to me! I’m a Christian!”

So what!

Daniel Henderson has this to say about entitlement: “When we truly cherish the gospel, we are humbled and overwhelmed daily by God’s undeserved favor and our deserved judgement forgiven at the cross by the amazing love of God in Christ.”

A sense of entitlement isn’t Christian.

Christians as Hypocrites

Our world is filled with hypocrisy it seems, but it’s nothing new. Remember the Pharisees? They felt entitled to the attention and praise they received. When they prayed, they wanted the people around them to see and hear them praying. Outward appearances mattered more to them than their inner selves. They were hypocrites of the first order.

Jesus had some harsh words for them, saying, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matthew 23: 25-26).

Christ condemned hypocrites seven times in Matthew 23. He also pointed out, “Every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit” in in Matthew 7:17.

Marring Christ’s Credibility

Christians for Social Action (CSA) says, “Many folks don’t perceive Christian individuals, churches, institutions, and organizations in the United States as being loving, patient or kind – and with good reason….

“Christians are often viewed as being the exact opposite: envious, boastful, arrogant and rude. The credibility of Jesus has been marred by the hypocrisy of his namesake’s religion.” (As its name implies, CSA works toward a more just society.)

The organization points out these major examples of Christian hypocrisy:

  • American Christians send missionaries to other countries to spread the gospel, but refuse “to accept those same ‘foreigners’ to their homeland.” This attitude was evident last year when three GOP governors — Greg Abbott of Texas, Doug Ducey of Arizona and Ron DeSantis of Florida — sent an estimated 13,000 migrants north. The governors were criticized for “using desperate migrants as political tools.”
  • American Christians have destabilized many parts of the world through military action and “devious” foreign policies. In doing so, they have left behind poverty, violence, and cultural ruin. “This pattern doesn’t glorify God, and it became a form of colonization disguised as religious charity,” CSA says.
  • All too many American Christians claim that the U.S. is a “Christian nation” while continuing to vilify and oppose certain civil rights for the LGBTQ community, oppressing people of color, deporting immigrants, denying refugees, abusing children, and assaulting women. They see these groups as less than human and undeserving of Christian compassion. So much for Christian love.

CSA harshly concludes – and rightly so — that the U.S. was not founded on Christianity. It “was founded upon the genocide of indigenous nations” and – I might add – the backs of black slaves. Christians who proudly point to this country’s foundation in the Christian faith need to go back to school.

“The patriotism American Christianity often exudes within its houses of worship is a revisionist lie that celebrates generations of white supremacy and the brutal suppression of others,” the CSA says.

You may read what I’ve had to say about America’s racist history here and growing antisemitism in the U.S. here.

Judgmental Christians

Finally, Christian author, pastor and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof points out that Christians’ judgmental attitudes are killing Christianity in America. (See my views on attracting millennials in the face of declining church membership here and the He Get Us media campaign to attract new members here.)

Nieuwhof says that being judgmental “is the basis of racism, sexism and almost every other ‘ism’ you can think of. It’s also fundamentally incompatible with authentic Christian faith.”

The author explains that Jesus tells us that Christians should be known by our love, yet many non-Christians know us for “how deeply we judge, not for how deeply we love….

“The problem in many cases is not that unchurched people don’t know any Christians,” Nieuwhof says. “The problem is that they do. And they don’t like us – for good reason.”

He believes that judgmental attitudes are killing the Christian church because people who judge:

  • Almost always lack love
  • Almost never help others
  • Are grounded in arrogance rather than humility
  • Can pray about those they judge but not for them
  • Kill evangelism in their churches

Read Nieuwhof’s post here.

People Like That

Who in their right minds would want to become involved with people like those described by Nieuwhof? I have sometimes wondered whether I would have become Christian were I not a born into the faith.

I left the church tradition into which I was born as soon as I entered college, and I have never looked back. The things that drove me away were the hypocrisy and judgmental attitudes I encountered in my childhood church. Those traits simply did not seem Christian to my way of thinking.

Yet, I missed something about church and began searching for a new and better way of being Christian. Thankfully, I found what I sought.

Killing Christianity in America

Admittedly, I’m being extremely judgmental about other Christians in this post. I don’t pretend to be perfect, and I know I’m too judgmental at times. Yet, I’m quite concerned about the future of Christianity in the U.S.

Are Americans Christians killing Christianity from the inside? I believe we are. The danger signs are evident if Christians open their eyes. Church attendance and membership are declining at an alarming rate, and one major reason is that many non-Christians — whether they have never been Christian or have left the faith — don’t believe the religion has anything to offer them. All they see is the bad fruit that Christ warned against.

People who claim to be Bible-believing Christians need to pull out their red-letter New Testaments, read the words that Christ actually spoke about how Christians should live and behave, and heed those words.

In Matthew 7:1, Jesus famously tells us, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”  And in Matthew 7:3-5, he says, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

That’s as clear as it gets.

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