How can some Christians exude such cruelty and ignorance while simultaneously claiming to follow Jesus — a humble man who was radically loving and ultimately died for sake of humanity?
There are many reasons, but here are some of the main factors, characteristics, and influences that cause some faith-based individuals, communities, and organizations to become aggressively bigoted instead of generously benevolent.
1. They fear change.
Some people hate change and see it as an attack on their beliefs. Since their Bible is inerrant and their God is unchanging, new ideas are dangerous and subversive to their flawless theology. Perfection cannot be improved upon, so any variation or contradiction is perceived as absurd. Discovery, learning, and creativity are often prohibited, and new ideas are viewed as a dangerous threat to their way of life.
Historically, this is why many Christians were shamefully ignorant and embarrassingly wrong when it came to addressing issues such as slavery, civil rights, the Holocaust, recognizing genocide, and combating AIDS (just to name a few). Unfortunately, many Christians continue to be closed-minded and refuse to see beyond themselves.
2. They’re privileged.
Change is hard to accept when things are working in your favor. As the common expression goes: “Why is change a good thing?”
Any theology, idea, or sermon that challenges people to sacrifice or reach beyond their comfort zone isn’t easily accepted.
Many Christians defend their position so passionately because the greatest beneficiaries of their worldview are themselves. New paradigms are stubbornly rejected by those benefitting from being the privileged majority. Anything “different” is seen as an illogical attack against their entitled position, and feelings of discomfort cause them to become even more insular.
But if these same Christians sense that they’re the ones being persecuted, abandoned, ignored, or losing power, they become more accepting of different opinions, contrasting ideas, and new ways of thinking.
Anything profitable and favorable is preferred over anything requiring sacrifice. Thus, the Gospel of Christ is continually counter-cultural to the practices and lifestyles of many Christians who refuse to acknowledge, admit, or forsake their privilege.
3. They crave power.
Contrary to Jesus, who humbly served and sacrificed his entire life for the sake of others, some Christians desire control and power. They use their faith as a war of attrition and a means to empower themselves — not others.
They prefer to preach, yell, and shout instead of listen, discuss, and learn. They use proclamations filled with absolutes and flood social media with dubious links, articles, and opinions that promote their agendas. They declare statements instead of asking questions and refuse to engage in meaningful dialogue. They prefer political might over spiritual strength, legal enforcement over personal choice, conscription over evangelism, punishment over grace, fear over hope, and control over love. In extreme cases, even violence and aggression is viewed as a necessary means of gaining power.
The love of Christ is abandoned and discarded in exchange for prideful, selfish, and carnal ambitions.
4. The future is scary.
Unloving Christians often believe that the Apocalypse is going to happen sooner rather than later — possibly tomorrow. They assume people are becoming more depraved every passing minute — the younger generation is inherently evil and can’t be fixed. The gays, liberals, and abortionists are ruining the world, and every single negative news event is proof that God is judging the world and that the end is near.
Repent! Turn from your sins! Fear-mongers manipulate the gospel into a somber warning call from God that foresees a future full of doom and gloom and destruction. To them, the Bible isn’t a message of hope, joy and redemption, but a weapon meant to strike fear into anyone who doesn’t wholeheartedly agree with their theology and belief system.
5. The past was beautiful.
As bad as the future is, the past was practically perfect to some Christians. They complain: “If only we could recreate the present to make it like the past — when people feared God, had morals and everyone went to church.”
Discriminating Christians love to tarnish the current (and future) reputation of humanity by comparing it to the past. But their past isn’t reality — it’s a revisionist history that’s been glossed over by misconceptions, ignorance, and convenient assumptions.
When Christians lack humility, they refuse to admit they were ever wrong. They forget — or stubbornly deny — that many aspects of the “Christian” past were actually worse than the present. Not only did Christians ruthlessly kill and torture in the name of God, but where was the church when children were being molested within their institutions, millions were being persecuted and killed, unfair taxes were bankrupting entire communities, and Christians consistently turned a blind eye to injustice, the poor, and those who were in desperate need of help?
These past sins — some of which still continue, and which some Christians actively participated in — don’t exist for current believers too blinded by pride. Their words, actions, and lives are skewed by a misguided sense of self-righteousness and virtue. They hold the moral high ground while everyone else is simply wrong — no matter what the evidence shows.
6. They’re exclusive.
Hateful Christians have an "us v. them" mentality and believe that only those who strictly agree with their beliefs can be true believers — the rest of humanity is being manipulated by Satan. Anyone questioning them is quickly labeled a “heretic.”
For intolerant Christians, the Bible is a message of selectiveness, a VERY narrow path nearly impossible to follow. Conveniently, they always see themselves as being privy to special revelation that’s only been given to them and the select few who piously adhere to their same strict rules, practices, and traditions. They view God as having a “love” that is exclusive rather than inclusive.
7. They have the answers. Everyone else is wrong.
For these holier-than-thou individuals, the concept of “the mystery of God” is a direct threat to their ideologies. Therefore, almost every situation and question has an answer and explanation. Everything is black and white — nothing is unknown.
And while society shifts and creates moral questions that are harder and harder to answer, instead of humble reflection, they simply rework and evolve their answers to remain true to their original beliefs — no matter how complicated, confusing, or ridiculous the answers become. To them, any answer is better than not having an answer at all — and they have all the answers while everyone else is being horribly misled. They believe themselves to be the sole proprietors of truth.
Since these people believe their religious convictions to be correct in all matters, they’re obnoxiously rude, mean, and hurtful when communicating with others. Their morally superior self-perception creates an attitude of disdain for those they view as “sinners,” “challengers,” and “outsiders” — anyone different from themselves.
While it’s easy to associate these traits with fundamentalist religious zealots, it’s much harder to recognize these subtleties within ourselves. But anyone can slip into these easy temptations. We must continually reflect upon our attitudes, thoughts, and actions and constantly strive to emulate Christ.
Because ultimately, these types of “Christians” do more harm than good — which raises the question, "Am Idoing more harm than good?"
In the end, are we as followers of Jesus actually following his example: Loving our neighbors — and even our enemies — to the very best of our ability?
Stephen Mattson blogs at stephenjmattson.com. He's contributed for Relevant Magazine, Redletterchristians.org, and studied Youth Ministry at the Moody Bible Institute. He is now on staff at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.