During the coronavirus outbreak, we are not only going through a great period of loneliness and isolation, but also of anger and defensiveness. At this time, we need an army of Christians online who communicate welcome, acceptance, listening and most of all love.
Right now it is particularly difficult to maintain a loving spirit. During the coronavirus epidemic many of us feel threatened and look for someone to blame. Recently the Asian-American Christian Collaborative published a Statement reporting over 1,000 recent examples of racism against Asians, holding their people, foods and customs are unsafe or unwelcome due to coronavirus. It is also an election year in the United States, when opinions run deep and emotions blaze strongly. It is always hard work to be a loving person. But it is particularly difficult right now.
This spirit of anger runs counter to God’s design for the church. Romans 15:7 tells us, “Welcome one another, just as Christ welcomed us, to the glory of God.” Here Paul envisions the global church as a welcoming body that warmly embraces newcomers. In the surrounding verses he talks about those who are from different ethnic backgrounds and have different lifestyle preferences. Paul’s vision is for the church to warmly welcome and embrace very different audiences. That’s a tall order.
Paul tells us how we can accomplish this goal: “Welcome one another, just as Christ welcomed us.” How does Christ welcome us into his family? Does he do it because we are worthy, spotless and naturally fit for heaven? No, he welcomes us even though we are selfish and evil. Here is what Romans 3:10-11 says about all of us: “There is none righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. They have all turned aside, they have together become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
Jesus welcomed me into his family even though I am totally unworthy. So when I look around the Kingdom and find people I don’t like very much I must think to myself, “I don’t deserve to be here. God could easily kick me out of his family. I don’t like this other person very much, but none of us deserve to be here. I’m going to work hard to accept them because God accepted me.”
This would be hard enough if we were just individuals who need to embrace one another. But all of us belong to several different tribes. Some of the tribes we belong to include our ethnic groups, countries, political parties and denominations. These tribes provide us with acceptance and belonging and help us define who we are. But they also divide people into insiders and outsiders. And they make us defensive when one of our tribes is attacked. While each of us as individuals may be occasionally attacked, some of our tribes are under constant attack. That makes us want to lash out defensively, which frequently means pointing out the imperfections of other tribes.
Today everybody feels harassed online. It doesn’t matter who you are—Christian, Muslim, Millennial, gay, Latino, left-wing, right-wing, older white men, millionaires—we are all picked on one way or another. Unloving and untrue things are said about all our tribes. Our natural inclination is to respond in anger, which just escalates aggressiveness.
Our negative words create a huge emotional disconnect. My social media presence might say “Jesus loves you.” At the same time I might viciously attack one of your tribes. If you hear both kinds of language coming from me, it’s not hard to figure out which one will stick. You will remember that I attacked your tribe and write off anything I say about God’s love.
We said before that each of us must acknowledge our own imperfections in order to enter the Kingdom of God and to welcome each other within it. But we must also learn an even harder truth: that we must acknowledge the imperfections of each of our tribes so that we can welcome others from different tribes. This is where love becomes extremely difficult. We must all welcome all other believers as part of the body of Christ. That means we must accept people we don’t like very much who come from tribes we don’t like very much.
What should be the guideline for the words that come from a Christian’s lips or keyboard? An easy-to-remember touchstone is Ephesians 4:15: “Speak the truth in love.”
Speaking truth means that we back up what we say with objective facts. When you post online, it is helpful to provide links to reliable, credible sources.
Speaking in love is echoed in Ephesians 4:29: “Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth; say only what is good for building up others.” Colossians 4:6 says “Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out.” How do you know if something you want to say is loving or not? Just ask how you would feel if somebody else said it about one of your tribes.
Speaking the truth in love does not mean we must agree on everything. Every marriage needs open space to handle conflict. The worlds of business, science and politics can’t function without debate. The point is not that we agree with everyone. The point is that we strive for all our speech to be both accurate and gracious.
It will help us to acknowledge that there are irrational people out there that you will never convince to obey the laws of logic, and there are angry people out there you will never persuade to be gracious. Proverbs 26:4 says, “Do not answer a fool in his folly, or you will become like him.” Arguing with some people is like trying to blow out a light bulb! You’re never going to get anywhere. Jesus never reconciled his relationships with the Pharisees, Herod or Judas, and you’re not going to get along with everyone either. That’s why Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, to the extent that it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” There are icky people that nobody anywhere can get along with, not even Jesus, and you aren’t going to change them.
We must let go of the need to retaliate against those who attack our tribes, even if the tribe they attack is God’s Kingdom. If an angry atheist drones on about stupid Christians, let him. You will never argue him into the Kingdom. God is big enough to take care of himself without your help.
It is not easy to speak the truth in love. Here are 3 practical steps to help:
Today ventilators, N95 masks and toilet paper are in short supply. There is also a critical shortage of Christians who welcome diverse peoples into the Kingdom of God by speaking the truth in love. Let me close by repeating my opening call to action: we need an army of Christians online today who communicate welcome, acceptance, listening and most of all love. And we ask the rest of you to go offline and play solitaire!