This week I came across an Instagram post of a pastor hanging out with a comedian. I like the pastor and the comedian. So I proceeded to show my social media thumbs’ up like most people by simply liking the photo and continuing on with my scrolling.
Then I came across the same post a few hours later. There were hundreds of comments. I thought, “Wow. That’s impressive. “ The most comments I’ve ever gotten came from one of my #tbt posts highlighting an embarrassing portrait from my awkward phase (which could basically be any photo from the age of 7-16 years old, and then again for a couple of years in my early twenties. I really lacked fashion sense back then.) Needless to say, I was intrigued. I read the last few comments that were visible, and 20 minutes later I was still loading and reading more comments! I’m not saying it was the best use of my time, but who hasn’t ended up giving more time than planned late at night to random Buzzfeed articles or ‘never released in theatres but available on Netflix movies’ or just one, okay, 5 more rounds of Candy Crush? We’ve all done it.
I was oddly fascinated by each comment because I had no idea how controversial the post was. I thought it was just a couple guys hanging out. I couldn’t see how it was ‘scandalous’ or ‘the sinful behavior of a false prophet’. I kept looking at the post to try to figure out if I was missing something. Was this like one of those annoying optical illusion posters that used to be sold at mall kiosks? I hated those. I would stare at them for five minutes straight and not see anything, and then some random stranger would join and immediately point out the triumphant dolphin emerging from the ocean. Was there some sort of proverbial dolphin in this post that everyone else could see, and that I was once again blind to?
It couldn’t be because the comedian isn’t a Christian, could it? That would be absurd. We are called to love and reach people, and we can’t very well do that without actually spending time with people. It couldn’t be because the comedian’s jokes aren’t all clean, could it? People recognize that taking a photo with someone doesn’t mean you endorse all of their behaviors, right? If it does I would have never stood next to Pierre Abi-Ad in our 3rd grade class photo, I’ll tell you that much. You should have heard some of his PG13 jokes on the playground! And it couldn’t be that people were simply using this social media platform to publicly air their dislike for these men, could it? I thought online bullying was something that middle school students needed to be taught about, NOT grown adults.
I never did find the dolphin in the post. In the end, all I found were some Christians criticizing and arguing over a photo of a couple of guys hanging out.
I guess the saying is true: Haters gonna hate.
It’s an all too common story in our world today, and unfortunately, we as Christians aren’t innocent of dabbling in the dark arts of hating ourselves: We don’t like this pastor because he teaches too much of that ‘positive Gospel’. (I guess I didn’t get the memo that Good News is no longer positive news.) Or we don’t like that pastor because he’s too strong on truth, teaching people to obey God’s Word. (I’m not sure when living by God’s Word became an outdated thing.) We don’t like this Christian leader because they are too flashy, and we don’t like that Christian leader because they are too mild. This denomination is too charismatic. That denomination is too traditional. These people are wrong because they don’t do full immersion water baptisms. Those people are wrong because they let women preach. This church service feels too much like a concert. That church service feels too much like a funeral.
If the world is supposed to know we are Jesus’ disciples by the way we love one another, than what sort of conclusion do you suppose the world is gathering based on all this hating?
There are so many disappointing things about the culture of criticism that exists in pockets of the Church today, especially since Jesus loves His Church so very fiercely. But to be honest, what is the most disappointing for me is that I too have been a hater.
In the past, I’ve opened my mouth in criticism against church cultures that were different than my own. In my pride, I thought that my way of doing things was the best way. And in the process, I missed out on opportunities to learn from others and improve the ministry that takes place within my own church. I have judged pastors for moral failures when I should have been praying for them, for their families, and for the people they had been pastoring. And in the process, I missed out on opportunities to examine my heart and ask the Holy Spirit to show me what in my own life I was entertaining that could lead me down a similar path of heartbreak. I have been angry at other denominations for practicing different doctrine than my own. And in the process, I missed out on an opportunity to further explore different aspects of theology.
I guess you could call me a recovering hater. Thanks to my own ego and insecurities, it’s all too easy for me to condemn instead of compliment, to tear down instead of build up, to attack instead of encourage. It’s a real struggle mainly because the temptation to participate in hating is usually cloaked in small subtleties. It comes in the form of the underhanded compliment or withholding of applause or the sidebar whispers to a friend. If that isn’t difficult enough, I also have to fight the hating that enters my mind. Even if I never verbalize my criticisms, it doesn’t mean I don’t have critical thoughts towards the very people Jesus has united me with as my brothers and sisters.
But here’s the thing: I don’t want to be a hater.
Yes, God have given me a voice, and I am meant to use that voice. The Holy Spirit has given me boldness, and because of that I can boldly speak truth in love. The Holy Spirit has also given me patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control and good ole long-suffering. These are the not so sexy fruits of the Spirit. No one is jumping for joy at being long-suffering in faith or showing kindness in response to rudeness or exercising self-control when someone is attacking. And yet these are all signs that the Holy Spirit is transforming our character to reflect more of Jesus and less of us.
Just because I have an opinion doesn’t mean I need to share it. I’m going to strive to be led by the Holy Spirit when it comes to what I have to say and when and how I choose to say it. I recognize that if I’m always talking then I become nothing more than white noise to the world around me. I’m going to refrain from saying what I’m thinking sometimes so that when I do speak people know that I have something to say worth listening to. I’m going to comment less with my own opinions and more with the Word of God. And I’m going to celebrate and encourage more than argue and debate.
I recognize that some Christians are not going to agree with me on a number of things, and well, that’s okay. They are the same people I’m going to be spending eternity with. They are Heaven bound because of a faith in Jesus, just like me. That being said, I should probably get good at living at peace with them in the here and now.
This is my hope, the ‘serenity prayer’ so to speak, of a recovering hater. Something tells me it’s not just my prayer. There’s a good chance it might be yours too. In fact, I bet we’ve all suffered from a dose of hating at one point or another. We are all in need of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the renewing of our minds to the Word of God, the commitment to love one another and find common ground at the foot of the cross. I believe there are a lot of us out there ready to kick a critical spirit to the curb in exchange for a spirit of love and unity.
My mom used to say, “You don’t fight fire with fire.” She also used to say, “Don’t get your panties in a bunch.” Even though both apply to the topic of this blog the first word of advice will be far less awkward for me as a writer to unpack. So we’ll go with the first nugget of wisdom from my mother. Just like we don’t fight fire with more fire, we can’t fight hating with more hating. Instead, we fight criticism with a good dose of humility, grace, and love.
May we fight the good fight, in this case, the fight against fighting… and bickering and criticizing and fault-finding. May we rise up in unity and be the men and women, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, leaders and servants, artists and advocates who actually change the world…
…because haters don’t change the world. Christians who love one another do.