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.
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 🙂