I Heart Hateful Christians

I really can’t stand church marquees in general. They are almost always obnoxious or embarrassing. They’re not too bad when limited to announcing times for events and no more.

This time, though, one was likable enough to go viral and start showing up all over Facebook, etc. and it was from a church right here in Portland.

“God prefers loving atheists over hateful Christians”

What do you think?

It’s certainly not your run-of-the-mill nonsense churches seem to think is clever. At first, I didn’t object too much, but after only a couple seconds, it started to feel off. I started to have kind of an “eew, gross” feeling without really know why. Then, I decidedly didn’t like it.

I know, I’m supposed to feel all warm and fuzzy from reading it. I’m supposed to feel inclusive and open-minded, and I’m supposed to keep my mouth shut if I disagree because who would ever in their right mind disagree? I mean, who prefers hateful Christians over kind atheists? Certainly not God and certainly not me, right?

By now, I’m sure you’ve figured out I didn’t react the way I was supposed to, and a lot of people—maybe even some of you reading this—would write me off as bigoted or narrow-minded or out-dated or even hateful. Obviously, I disagree.

My problem with it is not that I prefer hateful Christians over kind atheists or that I think God does. What bothers me is that it assumes and subtly makes the reader assume that the question “which of these does God prefer: a kind atheist or a hateful Christian?” is a reasonable question with a valid answer.

It’s not.

Let’s be clear about that right now. It is a terrible question that can only lead to marginalizing those who don’t agree with whoever poses it or its answer. It is an inherently polarizing question that doesn’t lead to open dialogue, only to choosing sides and digging into an already held position.

Let’s be honest. The only thinking people this question can appeal to is atheists. At which point, it doesn’t belong on a church sign.

And even for atheists it lands in the realm of fantasy. They don’t think there is a God who prefers either of the two options.

I agree with the atheists.

As far as I can tell, neither of the two options make God happy. A kind atheist is better than a hateful atheist. God likes it when people are kind, but he isn’t especially thrilled when the people he loves and wants so intensely to have a relationship with refuse to acknowledge he exists. I know I wouldn’t be too happy if the people I loved ignored me, talked about how awful the things I’ve said and done are (though, of course, I didn’t really say and do them) and flat out said I’m a fiction. I don’t just speculate here. The Bible doesn’t have happy things to say about these people.

A hateful Christian is another thing altogether. Not a lot going for them, to the point where these people may be the true fiction. Let me be clear—I’m not saying everyone who says they’re a Christian is super nice and honest and generous and all around wonderful. I’m not even saying that people who genuinely know Jesus and are part of his kingdom never do mean or even hateful things. I am suggesting that people who can honestly be described as hateful people probably have little experience with God’s love, and probably have little or no love for God (and are not actually Christians).

15 ‘Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.’ (Matthew 7:15-20)

My point is, both a kind atheist and a hateful Christian (if this is even possible) break God’s heart, for different reasons. He is rejected by the kind atheist outright, and he is betrayed by the hateful Christian.

Both lead toward death. One is prettier than the other, and more pleasant to live with (I actually do prefer the kind atheist as far as that goes), but dying gruesomely from bleeding to death after being shot leaves you no more dead than dying quietly and peacefully from a gas leak. Death is death.

Before I move on, Christians really really should be kind. If you’re a Christian, please be nice to people! Including people different than you, who have different beliefs and practices. Just do it.

Now, assuming you see my point about all this, and you can agree it’s a nonsensical answer to a bad question to begin with, my next beef with it is that a church decided to put it up.

Way too many words get put into God’s mouth. I’m sure I do it, though I try not to. As the church, the ones entrusted with representing God and sharing what he has revealed of himself, we have been given a responsibility to do so as accurately as we can (which is another reason why being a hateful Christian is so awful). It’s hard, I know.

The best way is to limit to what is clear (also hard to determine) and if we feel compelled to go beyond that, at least have the decency to make it clear it is speculation or interpretation or opinion. Too often (all the time really) vague opinion is spouted as absolute truth. No wonder our culture has developed such an allergy to claims of absolute truth.

These vague opinions are so much more dangerous when they have the appeal of being clever or heart-warming—like this one—because we have the destructive tendency to believe things because we want them to be true.

I can admire the goal of prompting people to be kind, regardless of belief or spiritual practices. I agree with the assessment that a hateful Christian is a bad thing. I cannot tolerate manipulative trickery that shames people into taking sides and makes them appear hateful for thinking critically or having an opinion that differs.

I am a Christian, and I hope I am reaching forward toward greater understanding and peace. I am a Christian, and I hope I can continue to reach back to find wisdom. I know many of you want to do the same. I know some of you can’t bring yourselves to agree with me on any of this.

Either way, I am open to what you have to say, and I welcome discussion, because I do want people to think things through and be stretched in their thinking, myself included.

Just, please, remember to be kind 🙂

10 thoughts on “I Heart Hateful Christians

  1. To me, it matters not whether kindness is from someone who believes in God, or not. Would you care whether someone was a Christian or Atheist if you were in a situation and needed assistance. Perhaps what you would be most focused on was the kindness this person was extending to you; nothing more nothing less. And this, is the point. So instead of caring so much about the label upon one’s religion or the absence of it, we should care more about loving everyone, for this is what God is… Love. Its through these everyday, seemingly small acts of kindness, He reminds us how very great He is, and that there is no where He is not.

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    1. Sharon, you are absolutely right. Everyone ought to be kind, and love should not be extended or withheld based on the recipients beliefs or any other particular similarity or difference he or she may have when compared to me.

      I think signs like this one do more to highlight differences between us and inflame tensions that to teach us to be kind. While much less notable, “God likes it when people are kind” would be more accurate, less manipulative, and more helpful than what they actually wrote. “God prefers kind atheists over hateful Christians” accomplishes one of three things: it alienates some, it allows others to feel superior, it manipulates others into agreeing because they don’t really understand the significance but don’t want to seem like a jerk.

      I sense you and I may not totally line up in all of our thinking, but that’s OK! Life would be super boring if we all agreed on everything. The reason I write about things like this is give myself a chance to think deeply, to inspire others to do the same, and to have an opportunity to connect with people who might stretch me with different perspectives, so thank you for giving your input 🙂

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  2. Wisdom is found, as is absolute truth, in the Word of God. In my opinion a hateful Christian is an oxy moron to begin with. We need to remember and realize that when Christ truly becomes our savior and redeemer the old person is put away and a new person begins. As we read God’s word and grow in Christ, becoming more and more like him, the fallen side (including hatefulness) of the true Christian becomes less and less and Christ in us becomes more and more. Yes, we will continue to have those disappointing moments, moments when we show our faults and sinful nature, moments that are displeasing to God, but they should become less and less frequent as we grow closer to Jesus Christ.

    As we grow and become more like Jesus, words like hateful, sinful, mean, cruel, unkind, carnal and disobedient will become less frequently used as adjectives preceding the title of Christian.

    Thank you for the reminder of where my heart and my focus should be, on Christ and who He has called me to be, in Him.

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    1. New creation and being remade in the image of Christ is a wonderful thing. The more we live into Christ’s work in us, the less people will be able to think of “hateful Christian” as a viable description.

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  3. You ask what I think. We are to look to the final Authority of God’s Word, as “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” ~ 2 Timothy 3:16,17 (ESV)

    It is surprising to me that a pastor would place that quote on the church marquee because in doing so he is misrepresenting God. It’s a dangerous position to be in, misrepresenting God. What God “prefers”, according to Scripture, is that He is revealed through His Son, Jesus Christ. His desire is that people come to know Him. “Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.’ ~ Jeremiah 9:23,24 (ESV)

    On the pastor’s part, as far as stating that God prefers “kind atheists over hateful Christians” demonstrates a lack of understanding on the nature of who God is. It’s the kind of stunt that Satan himself would pull in hopes of getting people off track in their thinking, and thus off track in truly knowing God. Therefore, attempting to keep them from living eternally with God through faith in Jesus Christ. I agree with you, Brandon, that God does not prefer either.

    “Hateful Christians” are suspect of not being Christians AT ALL. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you [Christians], that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people WILL KNOW you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” ~ John 13:34, 35 (ESV – emphasis mine).

    It is also said, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God, and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him… beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” ~ 1 John 4:7, 8, 9, 11 (ESV)

    “Vague opinions” are destructive because they are prideful and stand in the very face of God as though proclaiming that a mere human would know better than God as to what He “prefers”. It is a terrible thing to stand before a Holy God and “speak” on His behalf in a most unholy way. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ ~ 1 Peter 1:14, 15, 16 (ESV)

    A “kind atheist” though giving a positive impression still faces eternal separation from God. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” ~ John 3:36 (ESV)

    Christian, have compassion upon both, the kind atheist and the hateful Christian. Pray for God to grant them repentance that they may stand in worship of Him for all eternity. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” ~ John 3:16 (ESV)

    To God be the glory!

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  4. I consider myself to be perhaps a “kind agnostic.” For that reason, and also as your father, I found this blog to be quite an interesting read. I see your point. Assuming that God DOES exist, I would say that the arrogance of announcing to the world exactly what God prefers is rather ridiculous, unless this pastor has actual conversations with God and can hear God’s opinion spoken directly. I think that the more compelling question is not what God prefers,, but rather,what the humans who are impacted by the behavior (kind or otherwise) should prefer. I agree (sort of) with Sharon on this, that the important thing is love. I don’t know if God exists or not, but I know for sure that love is real, and love is certainly the key issue, not theology.

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    1. I appreciate your thoughts. I wondered what you would think about this post. I also agree that the important thing is love. And without reservation I can say I prefer kind atheists to hateful Christians. I think theology is more intertwined with our behavior (in this case whether or not we act with love) than we sometimes think or would like, but that is true of every area of what we believe about reality. This is the basis, as you know, of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Our behavior stems from our thought life, conscious and unconscious. Of course, atheists can have thoughts that lead them to love and kindness, and I have much experience with such people.

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      1. Loving behavior can also change thinking, according to cognitive-behavior theory 🙂 However, I am not a cognitive-behaviorist, and I believe that our chosen behavior can even contradict our thinking, because our behavioral choices come from a much more profound level than simply our logic, especially when those choices are motivated by love. I really do believe in love, and in truth. I think I respect love and truth above all other principles. Therefore, although the apostle Paul and I disagree on many, many things, I suppose that we agree that the greatest of these is love.

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  5. I agree that the slogan is disturbing, yet it hits at something that people respond to for an important reason. People who are not kind are dissimilar to God. The Bible certainly says that God is love. Jesus said, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” The true “badge” of discipleship, then, is not status in an organization, but relationship with people. It all fits the way God acts. God Himself is always surprising, but always acts in powerfully creative loving ways. I certainly agree with the call for compassion on all. God Himself has compassion on all. God sends the necessities to the just and the unjust, rain and sunshine come to all. I certainly agree that acting as God’s agent, as if I and I alone know what God prefers does sound terribly arrogant. I just think God has gone to a lot of trouble to demonstrate His own attitudes. I pray that I can be a kind Christian, and an encouraging one. Christ-followers are told to “encourage one another.” I want to do that. Jesus helped those in need whether they were His followers or not. I want to do THAT, too. I’m not terribly successful at it, but that is what I want to do. I find the more I keep focused on Jesus, the more I’m able to follow. I’d rather be a kind Christian than and unkind one. I guess I would rather be a kind atheist than an unkind atheist. The way I see it EVERYONE faces eternal separation from God, except that God threw Himself into the gap to make a way for those who trust Him to have eternal life. I appreciate the verses Iris shared. That is where our hope comes from. Also, the way I see it, everything good comes from God. If an atheist is kind it was God who gave him or her the life and the choice to live in a kind way or an unkind way. I believe God is drawing everyone to Himself. Some people have had so much pain in their lives that they do not recognize the kindness of God. Nevertheless God is kind and God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. So, YES. The important thing is love. Thank you so much for sharing such important ideas.

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    1. Judy, thank you for your input! Such important points. God has certainly shown himself to be loving and creative and to do amazing things. And while we can’t assert anything we want about him with legitimacy, God has revealed a great deal about his character that we can affirm.

      “People who are not kind are dissimilar to God.” This is essential. This is what makes me doubt such a thing as a truly hateful actual Christian even exists, and it is why I can affirm that a kind atheist points us to God even without being able to acknowledge it about him/herself.

      “The true “badge” of discipleship, then, is not status in an organization, but relationship with people.” I think many of us need to be reminded of this often. And for the Christian, to love people is certainly the test of living in tune with one’s calling. Thank you for encouraging me with your input here.

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