I had a phone call last week in response to one of the Snarky Apologist YouTube videos about Jehovah’s Witnesses. The caller started, “You are really mean in your presentation. Can’t you focus on issues without attacking others?” I listened and didn’t point out the obvious, that they were emotional and attacking me. After a few minutes I responded with a stock statement I have been using for years now, “You may be right. I may be mean. I may even be short and fat but the real issue is, where are we wrong?” The caller hesitated for a moment, not sure what to do with the response. I then pointed out that the video did address actual issues and even though they became emotionally worked up over the material that doesn’t mean that we resorted to an emotional attack devoid of facts. We ended up talking for nearly an hour and they are in the process of verifying a number of issues we covered.
A few days later I had a call from someone that has been reading our book on Bill Gothard. The caller said they really had wanted to drop by the office to talk because they wanted to tell me face to face that our writings are mean-spirited and even though they disagree with Bill Gothard that does not mean we should be so mean-spirited in the way we write. After listening for a while I responded with, you might have guessed, “You may be right. I may be mean. I may even be short and fat but the real issue is, where am I wrong?”
This week Pastor Rick Warren tweeted:
IRONIC: Those who proudly claim to have discernment as a ministry never discern their own pride which is so obvious to others.
Many times people are so invested in what they believe that they cannot really see or hear criticism without regarding the critic as mean, arrogant, prideful, etc. Leaders live in glass houses and everyone around them has Windex. Is it really true that Warren has never met an apologist (discernment ministry) that was not prideful and not a humble servant or is it more the case that Warren resents having his teaching tested by Scripture? More to the point, even if those in discernment ministry “never discern their own pride which is so obvious to others” does that mean what they are saying is wrong or inaccurate? To expand my stock reply, “You may be right. I may be prideful. I may be mean. I may even be short and fat but the real issue is, where am I wrong?”
We live in an odd time. Within the church Christianity is being redefined, niceness is now the closest thing to godliness. To say someone is wrong is not nice and therefore ungodly. Outside the church people’s “feelings” dictate whether criticism is even allowed.
Although we shouldn’t be unnecessarily offensive it doesn’t follow that pointing out error is mean. False teachers and those vying for or are in high profile public positions sometimes need a direct no-holds barred challenge and the meek and lowly Jesus even gives us examples in Matthew 3:7; 12:34 and 23:33 as he publically called the Pharisees and Sadducees “serpents” and “brood of vipers.” To make sure He was understood He called them “whitewashed tombs” that “are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” earlier in Matthew 23:27. Jesus called them “blind guides,” “hypocrites,” “fools and blind men.” Not nice kind words to be sure. Emotionally charged language meant to call them out on their false teaching, deception, and self-serving leadership and rules designed to keep them in a position of prominence. We can find a great many similar examples in the Old Testament as the prophets addressed bad leadership.
In addressing high profile false teachers in the church the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:12 recommends that they emasculate themselves. Eeek, sounds painful. Hard, unkind words but sometimes they are necessary to bring attention to a problem that is being ignored or more importantly accepted because to point out error is deemed “mean.”
There is another side to this issue. That is the side of kind words. The Apostle Paul does say to “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt…” (Col. 4:6). There is a context though which begins with “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity” (Col: 4:5). Confronting serious error, whether within the Church or by a public official may need to be done differently at times than how we might respond to someone not “in the know.” An unbeliever is treated differently than someone who is represented as a leader in the church. We assume they have error and kindly respond as they consider what we have to say. Even in the church, those who sit in the pew are under far less expectation than those who are doing the teaching. The Apostle Paul outlines in 2 Timothy 2:24-26 how a leader is to handle themselves in their charge and those outside the church:
The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, don’t argue at the drop of a hat and don’t be the one to drop the hat.
but be kind to all This one is important. Some are difficult and hard learners. Sometimes they test our ability to be kind. Don’t give up, remember, they are trying to figure this stuff out and are subjected to a lot of false and misleading information.
patient when wronged This one may be the most difficult. In talking with non-believers we may be wronged a lot and patience is required.
with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition Not everything is worth fighting about and the object is to bring about correct thinking. Sometimes responding with “You may be right. I may be mean. I may even be short and fat but the real issue is, where am I wrong?” It is not always necessary to defend ourselves but to focus on the actual issues at hand. Having a bit of fun with it helps. Joy and I have said that in talking with Jehovah’s Witnesses they have called her the “Whore of Babylon” so often we just call her floozy for short. That isn’t really true but does make light of a difficult situation which can be helpful. The reason is given in the next section:
if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
Whether it is in the area of religion or political discourse there is a spiritual element or basis involved. Our worldview determines our beliefs and behaviors. Those in leadership are or should be held to a higher standard. We need to treat the average person more kindly since they are generally less informed and have less influence than leaders do.
I didn’t watch the inauguration this week. It is difficult for me to think kindly of our current president since our worldviews are so totally in opposition. It is difficult for me to think kindly of the House and Senate as the leaders there seem to be more concerned about keeping and strengthening their high positions than serving the people. Somehow the titles, “hypocrites,” and “brood of vipers” seems appropriate at present.
It seems that there should be a way to reduce some of the rancor and reasonably discuss problems and issues but that would require leaders, whether in the church or in the political arena, to place God first and function as servants rather than as the ruling elite. FOX News used what they thought were the five best inaugural quotes on history and I really liked Thomas Jefferson’s 1801 Inaugural address:
Let us then, fellow citizen’s, unite with one heart and one mind, let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty, and even life itself, are but dreary things … Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.”