I have been overwhelmed over the last few years by certain hateful outbursts from Christians - normally aimed toward other Christians. I had been toying with the idea of responding to all of my "hate mail" publicly in 2010 on this blog. I have decided not to, assuming it wouldn't really help what seems to be the primary problem with all of us - an instinct to react before trying to understand the position of the other person.
Today is my first day in the office since Christmas and I was greeted with a rather self-righteous letter regarding three words that were spoken during the Vineyard Christmas Show. In the letter I was told to "quit being so controversial." (You'd never guess the three offensive words, so don't even try - They weren't even said by me.) My response to that is that I have indeed quit trying to be controversial to the best of my ability and maturity. When I was younger I did things for the sake of controversy. Young people do that. They overreact. Now that I am less young, I do things for specific reasons. It seems to me a dialogue about the reasons why someone did something offensive to you would be more beneficial than shooting a stranger a letter, email, or far worse - a publicly viewed comment on a social media site. It is bad when Christians argue without seeking understanding in private. It is anti-missional and self-destructive when it happens in a public forum. We come off as arrogant and ignorant. And most people know enough about Jesus to know that we are being hypocritical when we do so.
A month back I was publicly criticized on Facebook for taking a vacation. The argument went that as a pastor I should not make enough money to take the sort of vacation I took. This may be a fair argument, but it is not fair to do it publicly. Had the person personally contacted me I would have offered my W-2 statements, receipts for my vacation expenses and the reasons why Debbie and I take a trip like this every five years without the kids. After seeing the numbers, that person could (still rather subjectively) decide if I am overpaid. If after that dialogue the person convinced me that I was in truth being overpaid as a pastor, I would take a pay cut. I have done this before for the sake of the mission of organizations I believe in. I'd do it again. Alas, none of this could be discussed because there was no attempt to understand. The reaction was to publicly malign.
I have advocated Facebook and Twitter for the church. They can be useful tools to promote community. Our problem comes when we begin to believe that the person we are relating with online is some avatar living within our computer. Life is not a game. People matter. Matthew 18 and Paul's one another commands apply on Facebook as much as in "real life."
I'm going to commit to seek to understand before seeking to be understood in 2010. I'd love for you to join me.