Christians: Our Words, Beliefs and Teaching Matter because People Listen

We who are Christian leaders and teachers need to reckon with how our teaching and words are received.

A lot has been written and said about the horrific murders in Atlanta committed by a white male. We need to listen and lament and mourn. There are voices out there much better than mine who have better things to say. I recognize I have a tiny platform and the best I can do is pray and lament.

Yet, though my platform is tiny, I also recognize that I teach and speak with college students in our campus ministry as well as people in my church. With this voice, however small, comes responsibility.

What we say about who God is matters. Is God violent? Will God be violent? Will God bring vengeance on our enemies?

This article touches on these questions and has been haunting me since I read it yesterday:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2021/03/17/atlanta-shooting-southern-baptist-pastors-wrestle/

From the article:

Cottrell said he did not know whether Long currently attends the church or when he last attended services. According to a video that was captured by The Post before it was deleted, on Sunday the church’s pastor, the Rev. Jerry Dockery, gave a sermon on the apocalypse. Christ was coming soon, Dockery said, and the world must be ready.

“We’ve had, what, 45 presidents in our brief history as a nation? How many other kings around the world? How many other rulers have sat upon thrones, claiming to be in charge?” he asked. “The King is coming again.”

When Christ returns, Dockery said, he will wage war against those who have rejected his name.

“There is one word devoted to their demise,” the pastor said. “Swept away! Banished! Judged. They have no power before God. Satan himself is bound and released and then bound again and banished. That great dragon deceiver — just that quickly — God throws him into an eternal torment. And then we read where everyone — everyone that rejects Christ — will join Satan, the Beast and the false prophet in hell.”

If this murderer were a Muslim, we’d all be wondering where he was radicalized at. Plenty of Christians would shake their heads and say, “well, Islam is a violent religion.”

What if we, in the spirit of taking the plank out of our own eyes, asked this question of our own faith? Is our teaching radicalizing people? Are we creating disciples of Jesus who take up their cross, refusing violence and loving others? Or are we creating disciples of some sort of Christian Nationalism that imagines violence as a valid way to restore America to some mythologized past?

What we teach about God matters. If God is going to come back and slaughter all our enemies then some who hear this may think its justified to kill some enemies right now. Admittedly, most will not. But some may. This is one reason why I think it is so vital to emphasize the revelation of God in Jesus as THE clearest image of who God is and who God calls us to be.

What we teach about sex matters. Jesus said to gouge out your own eye if it causes you to sin. Yet, much of white evangelical discourse on sexuality has targeted the other. The blame for men’s sin has fallen on women and the message to women has been “don’t make your brother stumble!” Rather than asking men to take responsibility for their actions, men are portrayed as mindless animals who cannot control themselves. Again, there is no justification in using violence against others and if you are dealing with lust and pornography, take responsibility for your actions, get help and do not blame others.

Finally, there’s the racism component. How we speak about race, racism and other people matters. Anti-Asian hate crimes have risen 150% in the past year. To be clear – Christians should not speak of a “China virus” and should condemn our Christian friends if they do. Even if you think its a harmless joke, the people listening may not. They may hear it and use our “harmless joke” to justify their own violence.

I don’t know what else to say. My heart hurts as I look at the violence in the world. My faith hurts as it seems Christian faith is not just irrelevant to stopping it, but perhaps even a contributor to it. All I can do is try to watch my words and what I teach and through this have some impact on my small platform and circle of influence.

I pray you do as well.

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