Let’s face it. Christians don’t have a great reputation in the larger community. This wasn’t always the case but increasingly seems to be the norm. When people encounter a Christian, they instinctively raise their protective shields. Why is that?
A 2019 Barna report shows that non-Christians view evangelical Christians through a political lens. While most evangelicals see themselves as caring, hopeful and friendly, most non-Christians see us as politically conservative, narrow-minded and homophobic. Other descriptors that rank high are misogynistic, puritanical and uptight.
Unfortunately, many evangelical Christians respond to that survey with a shrug of the shoulders and an angry, “So what? Who cares what they think?”
Others find reasons to shift the blame. I could run through a long list of excuses evangelical Christians use to justify our negative reputation in the community.
- “That’s what happens when you speak the truth.”
- “Jesus told us that the world would hate us.”
- “They misunderstand us and our intentions.”
- “They’re blind to their sin and destructive behaviors.”
Each of those may have a ring of truth and may be applicable from time to time, but let me offer another more frequent reason those outside our faith cast us in a negative light: Christians don’t know when to shut up.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot … a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, 7b).
I suggest six times Christians should learn to keep their mouths closed and ears open.
“Let me offer another more frequent reason those outside our faith cast us in a negative light: Christians don’t know when to shut up.”
First, when someone is telling their story. “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, ‘Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (Matthew 8:10).
Jesus heard the story of the Roman centurion and drew an astonishing conclusion: “This Gentile has more faith than any Jew I have met!”
If someone is brave enough to share their story, you should quietly listen, asking only questions that show you’re genuinely interested and encouraging them to continue.
If their story doesn’t align with your faith views on life, then it’s time to do the long and laborious work of building a friendship across that divide. Only then will you someday earn the right to speak the truth.
Second, when you don’t have all the facts. “Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen and understand’” (Matthew 15:10).
Jesus consistently lamented that people had ears but couldn’t hear and eyes but couldn’t see. He never mentioned that they had tongues but didn’t speak. Speaking our minds is not usually the problem for Christians.
Keep in mind that life is complicated and people make poor decisions for all kinds of reasons. Make sure you have as many of the facts as possible before you jump to conclusions.
The Christian’s first posture should be to ask sincere questions and listen. Seek to understand. Look for common ground. Gather the facts and then draw conclusions with humility and an ever-present awareness that you could be wrong.
“Gather the facts and then draw conclusions with humility and an ever-present awareness that you could be wrong.”
Third, when you are out of your depth. “‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep’” (John 4:11).
Jesus stood in front of a famous well. He was thirsty, but the well was too deep and he didn’t have anything with which to draw the water. He had to ask for help.
The democratization of publishing has brought hundreds of thousands of new commentators to the global conversation. According to Internet Live Stats, a staggering 7.5 million blog posts get published daily.
Too many are rushing to publish, anxious to add their voice to the growing discord. Anyone with a computer and internet service fancies themselves an expert. Most know just enough to be dangerous.
Much of what passes as opinion pieces are simply Christians parroting what their favorite pundit is saying. Often, neither the pundit nor the parrot has done their homework.
Last year when Critical Race Theory became controversial, I was in the middle of writing a series of blog posts on the topic of women in ministry. It was an issue I had devoted a considerable amount of time to studying — about a thousand hours of reading over a 20-year period. I ended up writing more than 30 blog posts on the subject of women in ministry, totaling more than 60,000 words.
I thought about shifting for a season and writing on the subject of Critical Race Theory. It was a hot topic, and I felt that as both a Latino and a conservative evangelical I might add a different perspective.
However, I quickly realized I was out of my depth and would need to invest at least 100 hours of reading to get to the place where I could say anything valuable about it.
“Recognize when you are dealing with an issue whose complexities overwhelm your meager research.”
I didn’t have 100 hours to invest, so I chose to keep my mouth shut. There were plenty of others, far more qualified than I, who were writing on both sides of that issue.
Recognize when you are dealing with an issue whose complexities overwhelm your meager research. Rely on the professionals who have devoted thousands of hours to studying the issue at hand.
Fourth, when you just met someone. “Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Legion,’ he replied because many demons had gone into him” (Luke 8:30).
Learn a person’s name before you attack them. Learn their story before you pass judgment.
My dad taught me that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. The day you meet someone is not the time to share everything you think is wrong with the world.
Most people don’t care what you think. At least, not at first. They want to know that you care about them before you start pointing out all they are getting wrong.
“Learn a person’s name before you attack them. Learn their story before you pass judgment.”
Fifth, when action is more important than words. “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
There are moments that call for a cessation of words and a move to action.
When a tornado hits or a child is deathly ill or depression turns to suicidal ideation, the time for words is gone. The person who truly knows how to love turns off their mouth and animates their ears, hands and feet.
Sixth, when your theology lines up perfectly with your political agenda. “Then he said to them, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’” (Matthew 22:21b).
If God is always on your side, it’s time to reevaluate your view of God. You have most likely fashioned a god in the image of your party’s ideology. The danger is that you will lose the ability to distinguish between the rhetoric of the party line and the voice of God.
I am deeply suspicious of anyone (including myself) who always has God on their side. You should be too.
When you find yourself constantly quoting God to undergird your political views, it’s time to close your mouth and open your ears. God wants to teach you where you’re wrong.
The words of James should be plastered on every billboard in America: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20).
It’s difficult to estimate the damage that has been done by Christians who completely ignore the words of James.
It’s heartbreaking to imagine it.
Ellis Orozco serves as senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Richardson, Texas. A Houston native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University before going on to earn a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctor of ministry from George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University.
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