One day, I decided to call a guest speaker at my college a hypocrite.
He was a very cool guy. Young. Super smart. Excellent speaker who told funny stories. His thesis was simple: Christians shouldn’t make fun of atheists. We shouldn’t assume that people who believe differently than we do are stupid or use cheesy church signs to ram anti-humanist clichés down everyone’s throat.
This is a good reminder, and something I care a lot about.
But afterward, in a small group Q&A time, I had a nagging question. So I blurted out, “You said that we should learn what we can from atheists, respect their intelligence, and not make fun of them.”
Cool Christian Guy nodded.
“So…several times in your talk, you made fun of fundamentalist Christian groups and the stupid things they say. Shouldn’t we extend the same respect to them? Shouldn’t we try to learn from them too?”
After a pause where I’m pretty sure my face lit on fire, Cool Christian Guy recovered admirably and said that he knew of someone who had written a book on just that subject, and it would probably be really interesting, and any other questions?
Which left me feeling a little unsatisfied.
Recently, my friend Paula and I were discussing Hipster Christianity. (If you don’t know what this is, or if you want to see if you are a Hipster Christian, take this quiz.)
While we both agreed that there is good in valuing “old” things like liturgy, hymns, and house churches, Paula had some wise words about a possible downside:
“The Pope? St. Theresa of Avila? Coolest, most relevant people ever. My Sunday School teacher with the Kentucky accent? My associate pastor? Old-fashioned—out of touch—obviously have no idea about being relevant or loving Christians. Somehow my criticism of evangelical subculture turned into a totally unloving rejection of the faithful and compassionate Christians who surrounded me.
“I understand why we critique things from our history—that’s necessary. But the generation before us—as every generation after—accomplished great good for us, too.”
This reminded me of a Christianity Today article I recently read. In it the writer tells the church, “You draw people to yourself whom I would never choose to spend time with.”
Past generations might have finished this statement with “that trashy single mom down the street” or “my gay coworker” or even “that snobby twenty-something blogger who writes unbiblical things and thinks she’s so smart.”
But this writer goes on to say, “Every Sunday, it seems, you put me in contact with the older woman who thinks that angels and dead pets are everywhere around us.”
And yet, she reminds us: God has called us to love those people too. Not just the “edgy.” Not just the “cool.” Not just the atheists or the marginalized, not just social justice causes or dusty old theologians or bands that have vaguely spiritual lyrics but really great music.
We’re called to love the teenage girl who only listens to (bad) Christian pop songs. The person in small group who says, “Now, we just need to have faith,” in response to any difficult theological question. The famous pastor, museum owner, or camo-wearing TV star who speaks for Christianity in ways you don’t agree with.
It’s not wrong to critique the thoughts and ideas of those in the church. I’m not saying that in a spiritual discussion with someone we should speak only of happy things we have in common like a love of peace and harmony and chocolate.
I’m just saying that it’s very, very easy to move from graciously disagreeing with someone to mocking them in a disrespectful way or dismissing them entirely. Because that’s cooler. That’s funnier. That’s more sensational. That gets more clicks and likes and shares.
This seems like a bad motivation to me.
To be fair, Jesus said some pretty extreme things. It’s not an easy answer of “always qualify everything you say, be super gentle, and never ever use sarcasm.” When does humor go too far? It’s a tricky question.
But even when you disagree with other Christians, remember what we have in common. They are your brothers and sisters, and you are called to love them too.
So, blog readers, I want to know: what type of person is hardest for you to love? (Also, 30 imaginary bonus points if you tell me your hipster Christian quotient. For the record, I was a 77.)