Christian jerks.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 July
SHE. “Ugh, religious people are the worst.”
ME. “Hey. I’m a religious person. How am I ‘the worst’?”
SHE. “Oh, you’re not that religious.”
ME. “I beg to differ. I’m extremely religious. If I weren’t, I’d be a massive jerk. Now explain how I’m ‘the worst’.”

You can tell my pagan friend recently had a bad experience with a Christian, and wanted to vent. Wanted to complain how religious Christians are bigoted, narrow-minded, and judgmental.

I could likewise start ranting about her own religious prejudices here. Y’notice I was trying to burst this “Christians are the worst” stereotype. But, as bigoted people will do, she figures her generalization is the rule, and I’m an exception: I’m “one of the good ones.” It’s why you can have some of the most racist coworkers, and they’ll insist they’re totally not racist because “I have black friends”—but they’ll still insist, those few exceptions aside, their favorite stereotypes are true. Yep, still bigots.

But enough about her. Some stereotypes are based on lies and fiction; others on serious cultural misunderstanding. The stereotype of the Christian jerk, however, is based on real-life Christian jerks. Because we’ve all seen Christian jerks. Most of us know Christian jerks. Some of us are Christian jerks: They’re the folks hwo claim they follow Jesus, but they’re just awful to other people.

Sometimes they’re only awful to non-Christians. Sometimes they’re equal-opportunity offenders to pagans and Christians alike. Generally they display all the impatience, bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and judgmentalism my pagan friend objected to… and think we all have.

And we don’t!—’cause some of us are actually trying to follow Jesus, and exhibit his fruit. But way too many of us Christians are impatient, bigoted, narrow-minded, and judgmental. I don’t know the percentage of Christians who are like this. Jesus does, but he’s not told me. However big the percentage is, it’s absolutely too many.

’Cause I know where my pagan friend is coming from. I’ve visited churches where they’re all jerks. All of them. The preaching was all rage and bile and sarcasm; the people weren’t friendly at all, and had zero patience for one another, and certainly none for visitors. I left early; I walked down the street to a Wendy’s and waited there till my friends left too. Wasn’t the first time I encountered such a church; I hate to say it, but it’s likely not my last time either.

People from the angry church in town like to leave Chick tracts in my workplace bathroom. Jack T. Chick was a wrathful, graceless jerk, and it shows in his tracts. “Chick tracts work!” the tracts themselves say, and I suppose they do, but I’m always reminded of Jesus’s comment to Pharisees about traveling land and sea to make a convert… to turn him into twice the children of hell they are. Mt 23.15 Jerks love Chick tracts because it wins ’em jerk converts.

And then I’ve visited churches where none of the people in ’em were jerks. At least, none I could see; I don’t know how they behave when they’re on Reddit hiding under their screen names. Regardless there are far too many Christian jerks in the world, and they give antichrists a useful reason to despise Christians.

How do these Christians justify such fleshly behavior? Any way they can. Any excuse will do. Usually by preemptively condemning the people they wish to be terrible to. They’re sinners; they have it coming; God’s gonna smite them, so they’re just making little contributions to the smiting.

Some Christians are trying to follow Jesus. Some aren’t.

I used to be one of these Christian jerks.

No, I’m not exaggerating some minor unloving misbehaviors. I was a major a--hole for a lot of years. I didn’t discriminate between pagans and Christians either. Think Ann Coulter, but more swearing. I’m definitely not that way anymore, which is why I could dare to challenge my friend with, “How am I ‘the worst’?” and she can actually consider me “one of the good ones.” I’m trying to follow Jesus, y’see; I guess I’m doing better than average.

And plenty of my fellow Christians are also trying to resist such fleshly, unloving behavior. Because we’re religious. We’re trying to perform the good works God laid out for us. Ep 2.10 We’re trying to love our neighbors. Lv 19.18 Trying to be fruity; trying to be kind.

Pagans are aware Jesus teaches such things. So they’re also aware Christians aren’t really following Christ, and are giant hypocrites whose “religion” is to affiliate with Christ but not actually follow. You know, Christianism. But to pagans, most if not all Christians fall into the giant hypocrite camp, so they blame religion.

“So you’re the real Christians, and they aren’t?” she half-seriously told me.

Kinda.

Not that Jesus won’t save Christian jerks; we’re saved by grace not good behavior. But a Christian is meant to follow Jesus, and if we legitimately follow him we’re gonna produce fruit! The Spirit’s gonna transform our character to resemble Jesus’s. We’re gonna be patient, gracious, gentle, kind, forgiving, like Jesus. We’re not gonna be jerks.

The Christian jerk doesn’t reflect Jesus’s character at all. At all. I’m fully aware there are some Christians who claim Jesus had his jerk-like moments, but they’re projecting their own bad attitudes upon him.

I’m also aware Christians are quick to defend prominent and famous people who are publicly awful human beings, by claiming that’s all a public act. In private they’re kind and loving to family, friends, and pets. They do tons of things for charity! I remind you Jesus noted this means nothing; pagans do this too. How’re we Christians any better?

Thing is, this argument, “Oh their jerkishness is all for show,” is reguarly used to dismiss really awful public behavior. Which dismisses nothing. We’re not talking about soap opera actors, professional wrestlers, or Stephen Colbert back when he was doing The Colbert Report—people who are only pretending to be heels for entertainment, but everybody’s aware it’s all in good fun. We’re talking people who have no business adopting the false public persona of a rude, selfish, angry, profane, carnal individual. If they’re Christian, or claim Jesus, it’s vital for them to represent our Lord properly at critical moments—and if these guys are faking it, they’re totally blowing it when it matters. But they’re faking nothing. The “all for show” argument is pure hypocrisy.

And too many Christians—especially fanboys and partisans—are too often defending prominent individuals who are consistently blowing it. It’s not just the one time; to be fair even the best of us stumble once in a while. Jerks do nothing but stumble. I write of Christians who simply aren’t christlike, and aren’t getting any better. We got too many!

Taking pride in one’s jerkishness.

When I call people out for their jerklike behavior and call it fruitless, most of ’em don’t know how to respond to me. Because nobody’s ever done this before.

Let me write that again, in italics. Nobody’s ever done this before.

A third time, in caps. NOBODYS EVER DONE THIS BEFORE.

I’m not saying nobody in the world ever rebukes fruitless behavior. My mom absolutely did with me. “Is that how a Christian’s supposed to behave?” I had to admit it’s really not. And Mom’s hardly alone; plenty of Christian parents and mentors correct their children and disciples when they forget themselves and get jerklike. They expect better of us, and remind us Jesus likewise expects better of us.

But if your parents are sucky Christians, or your Christian mentors and “elders” aren’t all that spiritually mature… well y’might not have anyone in your life who’d even think to correct you when you get fruitless and unloving. Because they get fruitless and unloving just as regularly. And make all the usual excuses for it.

Back when I was a young zealous Christian jerk, I was in the newspaper business. I’d write sarcastic opinion pieces for the newspaper about various issues, mocking my political opponents, trying to be funny while I slammed all the things which annoyed me. And the people of my church cheered me on. Encouraged me to keep it up. One of the associate pastors actually told me I was doing the Lord’s work.

No, they didn’t know any better. Nobody ever taught ’em better! Or did, like Mom (and the Holy Spirit), but like me, they ignored ’em as no fun, or not zealous enough. ’Cause it’s fun to be a jerk. Bullies wouldn’t bother if it didn’t feel good to smack other people around.

Popular pagan culture isn’t any better. Sometimes they rebuke jerks, like when outraged parents try to put a stop to online bullying. (Although y’notice they don’t really make a fuss till they or their kids are getting bullied.) More often we watch these jerks’ shows, or make them the protagonists of sitcoms, or elect ’em president.

Sometimes jerks even lead churches, and the church members cheer ’em on for slamming all the things they hate too. God forbid the members ever find themselves on the receiving end of their bullying pastor's ire; it's a lousy place to be, as any legalistic cult’s survivor can tell you.

How’d I snap out of this behavior? God’s grace. He put up with me long enough for me to realize the value in seriously following Jesus. As I investigated what following Jesus means, I noticed good fruit’s kinda important. So I sought that… and the Spirit purged the jerkishness out of me. Not all at once; it’s a process. It’s not entirely gone yet. Still working on it.

But at least I now know better than to revel in my awful behavior… as you’ll still see among Chriatians who warn you, “I speak fluent sarcasm,” or “This is who I am; deal with it,” or “I have zero tolerance for you bulls---,” or the various other red-flag T-shirt slogans they tweet. All of which mean, “I’m deficient in the Spirit’s fruit and proud of it.”

And a lot of people are proud of it. They sell T-shirts with these slogans on ’em, you know. They sell rather well. Christians wear ’em too. They take pride in being ornery, impatient, hostile, even shooty. They figure they’re right to be immediately angry at whatever pisses them off; it’s a righteous anger; impatience is a virtue.

It’s all over the culture, and all over Christendom. And like I said, many a Christian indulges in this behavior, and nobody rebukes ’em for it. Because they’re doing it too.

Call them on it!

Jerks aren’t gonna change unless they realize they need to. And they’re not gonna realize they need to, not gonna even think they need to, unless they’re first called out for their bad behavior.

Like most people, their self-preservation instinct is gonna kick in: “I’m not the problem; you are. You’re too sensitive. You lack a sense of humor; you can’t take a joke. You snowflake.” Whatever turns things around so they’re the good guy and we’re the uptight jerks who wanna take away all their evil fun.

Too many people fear confrontation. It makes ’em profoundly uncomfortable, so they avoid it like crazy. It’s why jerks can go for years, if not their whole lives, without any pushback: People avoid them instead of telling them to their face, “Don’t.”

But I find it works. And works really well.

If you fear confrontation, fine; try the easiest form of it, which’d be on social media. Instead of blocking or unfriending someone who’s awful to you, simply tell them they’re being awful to you. Watch what happens.

Yeah, frequently they get self-defensive and accuse us of stuff, and adopt the attitude of “F--- you if you can’t take a joke.” Doesn’t help if we’ve been a little unfruitful ourselves. But if that’s true—if you have been a little less-than-Christian in your online behavior—own it. “Yes that was wrong of me. I admit that. And this was wrong of you.” Kick the excuse of “Everybody does it, so it’s okay” right out from under them. We’re all wrong.

I’m a member of a few social media discussion groups. I like to joke discussion groups are really debate clubs, ’cause they quickly turn into argument clinics. Some people join ’em because they’re truly interested in the topics… and some already have their mind made up, and wanna pick a fight so they can defend their side. I don’t mind disagreement, but I do mind when fruitless people’s inner jerk comes out. In those cases I put the discussion on pause: We need to deal with the bad behavior.

Well they don’t wanna deal with the bad behavior. They wanna keep debating. They actually look at my objections to their behavior as a debate tactic: “You’re not dealing with the real issue.” No; I’m dealing with the more important issue: Their lack of self-control. I’m not indulging their immaturity.

Some discussion group leaders think the very same way. Others don’t moderate their groups at all… at least not until someone does something which offends them personally. Social media has all sorts. But either way, I’m not gonna wait till a moderator steps in: I’m gonna speak up. As should we all. “Your behavior isn’t appropriate. Stop or I’m leaving.”

This is much easier to do on social media, than in real-life situations. When you’ve got a jerk in the workplace, at school, at home, at church, it’s not always so easy to step away. Sometimes we do need to call in a moderator. Sometimes there isn’t one; if your boss, the pastor, or your parents are the jerks, what’re you gonna do? (In these cases, of course stepping away isn’t easy. But you gotta. Start making arrangements.)

Jerks aren’t gonna change their behavior until they get enough pushback. Until it’s no longer amusing: “Ha-ha, look what an uncompromising jerk I am.” And for Christians, enough of it might be what finally gets ’em to listen to the Holy Spirit and repent.

As for your own behavior: You know better. Don’t be a dick. Don’t give pagans any more ammunition to complain, “Religious people are the worst.” Be better than that. Be like Jesus.