Some of the worlds meanest are Christian.
Abby, 37, is a fashionista, boutique owner, and influencer. Despite these external signs of success, however, the women’s group she attends hears her heart’s hunger for marriage. Suzanna, who follows Abby on Instagram and sees her frequent selfies, told the group Abby is still single because she’s too self-centered.
Marcia and her sister had weathered their share of arguments. When her only sister got diagnosed with breast cancer, however, Marcia dismissed their differences and cares for her sick sister diligently. Yet, despite Marcia’s selflessness and knowing about her family’s financial need, the dying woman purposely cuts Marcia out of her will.
Greg not only abandons his family, he also pursues another man’s wife, breaks up that marriage, and marries the newly liberated woman with money from the church.
Did I mention that Greg was the pastor of said church?
Suzanna, Marcia’s sister, and Greg would tell you they’re Christians.
But how can Christ-followers be so heartless? Can you imagine Jesus shooing a leper or shaming a prostitute? After all, He sacrificed His life not just for frazzled single parents but also coldhearted child abusers and crooked criminals. So how could anybody who insists they love Jesus turn around and shatter our soul with cruel words (Job 19:2)?
Good question. Here are 4 possible answers:
1. A Severe Neglect of Human Emotions
Churches major in spiritual matters. They reach the lost for Christ and teach us His words. Awesome. Except when ministers shape their sermons to slander the emotional world.
Some do so by labeling feelings as liars, thereby alienating us from our emotions. Others rail against therapists or counselors. Either way, when church leaders wage a war against our soul and its needs, don’t be surprised if some Christians follow along.
However, pretending that Christians have no need to befriend the complex world of emotion is problematic. Whether ministers like it or not, God designed us to be more than just spiritual beings—we also possess a soul and we live in a body (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
A lifelong habit of denying emotion means some Christians are left clueless when it comes to handling feelings.
There are many examples we can wade into, but let’s take jealousy, a powerful—but tricky—emotion to process. Proverbs 27:4 phrases it this way: “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” (ESV).
Let’s return to one of the mean stories from before to illustrate.
What if you discovered that Marcia’s sister disinherits her because of a chronic case of jealousy? Marcia had kids and a loving husband, whereas her sister never married. Marcia’s job suits her talents while her sister’s professional aspiration never took off.
Say you feel moved to advocate for Marcia. Would you:
A needy dad failed when he used this tactic to persuade Jesus to heal his son. Jesus informed him what’s needed is faith, not compassion (Mark 9:22-23, ESV). Likewise, asking a jealous person to show compassion won’t always work.
Having your feelings invalidated is unpleasant for anyone, making this intervention highly ineffective.
The Word of God should be the final authority for all believers. The sad truth, however, is that this isn’t always the case—including when people are gripped by emotions.
Operating as though the only thing that mattered was spirituality will injure our relationships.
2. Stunted Spiritual Growth
Some believers categorize church as a Christian country club. They parade their Sunday best and color coordinate from hat to heels to coax compliments from other churchgoers. Bonus points if they can catch other parishioners throwing side-eyes toward their bling bling.
But at least these folks make it to church. Other mean Christians only attend if it’s convenient or because the calendar claims it’s Christmas.
Consequently, they consume only a puny amount of Scripture compared to everything else. It makes sense for these infrequent churchgoers to forgo biblical values when a conflict erupts. They might withhold forgiveness instead.
However, un-forgiveness will ferment into bitterness.
And once bitterness blooms, it will poison their hearts: “Your ways and your deeds have brought these things upon you. This is your evil. How bitter! How it has touched your heart!” (Jeremiah 4:18, NASB).
Which explains why they can act in mean ways.
3. Suppressing Emotional Pain
Christians who ignore the cuts and bruises to their souls could convey an image of insensitivity.
For instance, let’s revisit Greg’s story from before. Prior to the breakdown of his marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Greg pastored a small church in a small town. Translation: his salary could barely sustain their family. Even after Greg pursued the only other opportunity he could find, a commission-only sales job, money was still scarce.
When Mrs. Greg saw her husband’s substandard skills as a salesman, she assailed her husband as a failed provider and fake preacher. She also shoved her husband once or twice.
His wife’s non-stop verbal abuse made Greg feel trapped. As their tiny town’s most visible personality, Greg couldn’t confide in anyone—which is why he went online.
What would eventually develop into a full-blown affair began when he found an old friend on Facebook. Just like she used to do in college, this woman knew how to soothe him.
I didn’t detail Greg’s backstory to justify his ungodly choices but to depict the power inherent in unhealed emotional wounds.
Unless we take intentional steps to heal it, emotional pain will explode into behavior that can be cold, unchristian, or often both.
4. Shirking Conflict Resolution
Remember Abby, the single woman with a successful career? Suzanna’s comment about Abby’s self-centeredness slashed any remaining hope to be married. Abby also worries Suzanna could be right. What if God thinks I’m not marriage material?
Abby’s family never processed hard feelings. So, even though Suzanna’s words cut her to the core, Abby could only envision one escape route—quit the small group. Avoid Suzanna. Flee.
But let’s review what happened from Suzanna’s perspective. Because she can’t find a filter that’d fit in her mouth, Suzanna often broadcasts her sentiments liberally. In addition, as a Baby Boomer, Suzanna is a naïve newbie when it comes to social media. She interpreted Abby’s frequent selfies as evidence of excessive self-love rather than a way to promote Abby’s boutique business.
Unless Abby can inform Suzanna how hurtful her comment felt, Suzanna would continue to remain clueless as to her potential to harm others while Abby continues to wonder how a Christian could be so cruel.
How to Survive Mean Christians
Regardless of why some Christians can be mean, we’re still stuck with the mess their decisions made. This may range from tolerating all the feelings that their callous actions provoke to devastating financial consequences.
No matter what cruel Christians have done, however, here’s a response that never fails: Forgiveness.
But let’s be real. Forgiveness can be challenging—such as when the offender struts around without any ounce of remorse. Which may explain why 60% of respondents in a survey of love and forgiveness believed the offender must first apologize before we can forgive.
However, the shock of being mistreated can sometimes knock you over, making forgiveness seem as unlikely as accessing a high cupboard while lying prone on the floor.
If you need help getting back on your feet, I have a book for you. Consider it your step ladder to reach that forgiveness threshold.
As we strive to forgive those who have hurt us, there’s a crucial commitment we can make. Let’s resolve to do the necessary work to eliminate cruel or rude behavior from our repertoire.
That way, we won’t add to the mean Christian population.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Gajus
Audrey Davidheiser, PhD is a California licensed psychologist, certified Internal Family Systems therapist, and author of Surviving Difficult People: When Your Faith and Feelings Clash. She founded and directed a counseling center for the Los Angeles Dream Center, supervised graduate students, and has treated close to 2,200 clients. Dr. Audrey devotes her California practice to survivors of psychological trauma. Visit her on www.aimforbreakthrough.com and Instagram @DrAudreyD.