Lately, I’ve been thinking about unkindness. There seems to be a lot of it going around. People are increasingly angry and anxious about many things. Sometimes that anger and anxiety manifests as unkindness and a lack of compassion for others.
Recently I was talking with a young person about the possibility of being a pastor. I had intended it as a casual conversation—“Have you ever thought about becoming a pastor?”—but the young person responded with an immediate and decisive “no.” Knowing this person was a church kid, I asked why not. The response went something like this: “Church people are mean.” I was startled and assured the youth that church people are NOT mean, at least not all the time, but s/he remained unconvinced.
This is not the first time I’ve heard some comments from young people about the meanness of church people. More than one young adult cited their opinion that church people were mean, often using more colorful language that I won’t reproduce here.
So why are church people sometimes so mean?
I think it is because faith—and church, a place where we practice our faith—is close to our hearts. We have many emotions and experiences and memories tied to church: births and baptisms and confirmations and weddings and funerals and of course, week after week of Sunday worship. We are invested in our church on multiple levels. And as in any situation in which we have invested our energy and emotions, we are sensitive about it. So when another person comes along who seems to threaten our comfort or our memories by suggesting a change, we feel threatened. And when people feel threatened, they choose to flee or to fight. And fighting—even church fighting—can get mean.
It should not be so.
Jesus admonishes to us to love one another and show the world who we by our love for one another. “They will know we are Christians by our love” is not just a 70’s folk song. It is the command of Jesus (Jn. 13:35; see also 15:12, 15:17).
This does not mean that church folks cannot disagree. We are, after all, as human as everyone else. But it should mean that when church folks disagree, we do so agreeably—with mutual respect and love.
Ellen DeGeneres closes her talk show each day with the admonition that we should be kind to one another. I think she got that from the Bible.
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)