“I don’t mean to be rude —” [Vernon] began, in a tone that threatened rudeness in every syllable.
“—yet, sadly, accidental rudeness occurs alarmingly often,” Dumbledore finished the sentence gravely. “Best to say nothing at all, my dear man.”
~ Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Have you ever noticed how easily offended people are these days?
I’m not talking about the old church lady who gasps in sanctimonious horror at Mr. Saggy Pants in the third row; I’m referring to people who seem to take an almost twisted pleasure in being offended.
Use words like “sound doctrine” and see the hackles rise:
“What do you mean? How dare you insinuate that I’m not teaching sound doctrine. You are so judgmental and self-righteous!”
Or maybe you think that the designation of marriage should be between one man and one woman. Instead of avoiding conflict, you tactfully proffer your contrarian view.
Look out for flying daggers:
“How dare you force your opinion on me! It’s not as though that supreme court ruling affects you anyway. What does it matter if two adults who love each other happen to be of the same sex and want to get married. It’s not as if you have to marry the same sex. You’re so selfish! You’re such a bigot!”
Just admitting that you’re a Christian gets people frothing at the mouth:
“What?! Don’t you know that Judeo-Christian religions are responsible for all the terribly offensive and devastating things that happened in history?! You’re such an idiot to believe in that nonsense.”
And so it goes…
As Christians, we anticipate attacks from non-believers. If we mature in Christ, those types of attacks, while irritating, will be like the barking of a chihuahua to a great dane. None of us is greater than Jesus Christ, and we all know how vehemently his opponents cried out for his crucifixion. Jesus’ mere presence was enough to make the veins pulse dangerously on the Pharisees’ heads.
They passionately hated Him. Is it any wonder that people hate us?
What we don’t anticipate is thin-skin among fellow Christians. When we are working with fellow Christians, we consider ourselves to be in a safe zone. We operate as though we can act and speak with love, and, as long as our intentions are good, those words and deeds will be received with gratitude. Unfortunately, there are times when our good intentions are met with cynicism and substantial criticism.
It all began with political correctness.
Do you remember when the grip of political correctness tightened in the United States? It was in the 90s. It seemed to me that many considered it a passing fad. Colloquial phrases that had been used for decades were suddenly “offensive” and “inappropriate.” The majority found PC phrases to be absurdly humorous—until people started losing jobs and facing lawsuits. The whole movement has become so asinine that one can be accused of hate speech just for stating a countercultural viewpoint.
Political correctness created a culture of hypersensitivity. The perceived danger of “causing offense” enabled people and groups to grasp their desires, inflict harm on their enemies and hijack otherwise intelligent discourse. How often do we get in discussions, only to have them morph into a playground fight: “you’re racist.” “no, you are!” “you’re a homophobe.” “you’re just ugly” “am not!” “am too!”
Sadly, the thin-skinned political correctness movement has seeped into our church because we live in this world. We aren’t monks. We don’t get to go into isolation (although that often sounds very appealing…). We are bombarded with our culture every single day and it takes a lot of effort to counterbalance it.
Evil intentions? Or just having a bad day?
There is an old West African folk story entitled, “Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears.” It’s a simple tale of a mosquito who told an iguana some foolish nonsense. The iguana, intolerant of such ludicrous talk shoved sticks in his ears and left. As he ambled along, a python saw him and called out, “Good morning, Iguana!”
The iguana failed to hear the python (due to the aforementioned sticks) nor did he happen to see him. The python thought, “He must be plotting against me! I need to go and hide!” With great speed he slithered into a rabbit hole, and the occupants bounded away in fear.
Thus began a chain of events that eventually lead to the accidental death of an owlet; the owlet belonged to Mother Owl who woke the sun each day. So bereaved was Mother Owl that she refused to hoot for the sun to come up. Prolonged darkness settled on the land and anxiety settled on the animals.
When the animals gather to determine the source of the problem, they investigate the chain of events to find the source of all the trouble. In the end, they accuse the mosquito of being at fault for making up such nonsense in the first place.
When I read that story, I always think that it was the python’s fault. He should have seen the sticks in the ears of the iguana and thought, “I wonder why he’s walking around with those silly things in his ears…” Instead, he immediately assumed ill intent. He reacted erroneously based on unfounded suspicions. His reaction caused tremendous trouble.
How often are we like that offended snake?
Is the church transforming the culture or is the culture transforming the church?
Whether we want to admit it or not, we are all products of our culture.
We don’t walk around in togas. We can go to the store in jeans and a ratty old t-shirt and people don’t necessarily assume we’re from the wrong part of town. We use iPhones, watch television, play sports, listen to music, argue about politics, read blogs, love our pets and take selfies (well… some of us do.). All of these activities are part of the standard American culture. They aren’t necessarily wrong or right, healthy or unhealthy. It’s just the way things are.
What about culturally acceptable viewpoints? Do we mesh with those too?
Our culture loves “tolerance.” Christianity is intolerant of sin.
Our culture embraces free-thinking. Christianity embraces Christ’s thinking.
Our culture believes in sensual satisfaction. Christianity believes in denying self and seeking spiritual satisfaction.
We go against the grain of our society—at least we’re supposed to—so it’s no real shock that society passionately hates us, just as Christ was hated by the culture of His day.
Our culture gets offended… easily. If you had the guts to go on Facebook during the whole “Love Wins” deal and speak against it, then you how quickly people took offense to your “bigoted” view point. It didn’t matter how civil your tone, the fact that you even espoused such a view was offensive.
People file lawsuits, claim racism, start riots all because of perceived offense.
Is the church countercultural in this regard? What has been your experience?
Hypersensitivity is very much alive in our congregations. It’s not supposed to be like that.
We are called out of the world.
We are called to be radically different from the world.
We are called to adopt the mind of Christ. Christ was not hypersensitive; he was perceptive. He knew when someone was genuinely on the attack and when they were just foolish.
There are three primary causes of taking offense too easily:
1) We are slow to understand and quick to anger.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
~James 1.19-20, ESV
Whoever James was writing to, they needed some attitude adjustments. Sounds like there were a lot of angry pythons running around…
Being slow-to-understand can really damage our relationships. We sort of hear, we don’t process properly and we inevitably get angry. Anger leads to bitterness; Bitterness to resentment; resentment to hatred.
2) We think a little too much of ourselves
Remember that time your friend seemed like they were avoiding you? Your texts went unanswered, phone calls went to voicemail and your invitations were turned down a few times. You start to wonder if they even liked you anymore. You felt hurt and a tad resentful… and then you found out that they’d been dealing with a monumental crisis.
It had absolutely nothing to do with you.
There are times when people act or speak a certain away and we immediately take offense or assume malice.
Did consider that you hadn’t even crossed their minds?
You are like the python. They didn’t see or hear you because they were so consumed with frustration that they were blocking every extraneous thing. If they had seen you, they would have acknowledged you and told you about that dumb mosquito and his frustrating nonsense. But instead of going to them and making sure all is well in your relationship, you assume ill intent. You get mad. You hold a grudge. The relationship frays.
I’m surely going to offend somebody here, but it needs to be said: sometimes we overestimate our own importance. We have a little too much self and not enough Christ. Narcissism dwells in our heart instead of humility.
It’s time to do a little home maintenance…
3) We fear being stabbed in the back.
Nobody wants to be fooled.
I think it is safe to assume that most of us fear what others think about us (despite all our bravado to the contrary). In order to avoid that humiliating position, we go on the defensive: we assume every player is trying to break through our line. We assume every player is the enemy… we go so far as to identify our own teammates as enemies.
We hunker down against everyone and everything and tuck that football into our body so that nobody can score a touchdown.
What if we try assuming innocence until guilt is proven?
What if we asked clarifying questions instead of wearing a chip on the shoulder? Would that make us all sissies… or would we simply have a little less bickering?
It’s time to start assuming good will from our brothers and sisters in Christ.
It’s time to fix this problem.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to cover how we can adopt the humble and wise mind of Christ with the following topics:
Chip removal for Christians:
- Assume goodwill
- Perfect the art of listening.
- Do to others what you would have them do to you.
- Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves
- Think before you speak
- Be slow to anger.
God be with you my friends.