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My take: A word to Christians - Be nice
February 9th, 2013
10:00 PM ET

My take: A word to Christians - Be nice

Editor's note: John S. Dickerson is author of the book “The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors that Will Crash the American Church ... and How to Prepare” and senior pastor of Cornerstone in Prescott, Arizona. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter @JohnSDickerson

By John S. Dickerson, Special to CNN

Last week a high-profile American writer and news personality asked me a painful question: “Hey pastor, can a Christian tweet hate?”

It was not a hypothetical question. He was asking because some of his 1.3 million Twitter followers claim to be “Christian,” and some of the meanest, most perverse hate-tweets he receives come from these self-proclaimed Christians.

We’ve all seen folks, Christian and otherwise, lose their cool in a Facebook face-off or in the comment section under a controversial news story. But as I scrolled through the “Christian” hate tweets to this news personality, I was baffled and ashamed by these so-called followers of Christ. One user describes himself not merely as Christian but as “sharing God’s message of Grace with everyone I encounter.” The messenger of Grace recently tweeted that he doesn’t merely hate this news personality, he despises and loathes him.

These are the moments when it’s embarrassing to be a Christian. I’m not embarrassed to believe the extravagant claims of Christianity: that Christ was born to a virgin, died for our sins, physically rose from the grave and is returning to rule the world. But I am embarrassed to be associated with some of the people who claim his name.

I have written in the past about the bad reputation that Christians have in America. Some argue that it comes from misrepresentation by the media. Others argue that “all who live godly will suffer persecution,” and that’s why we Christians have a poor reputation. Maybe there’s some truth to those claims, but we Christians have to acknowledge another reason why we are perceived as hateful: because many of our number are.

More and more, I see hateful Christians chalking up their disrepute to “persecution.” God tells us otherwise. In 1 Peter 4 we’re told, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed. …” And that’s the truth; sometimes we are insulted for proclaiming the good news of salvation in Christ. But listen to what follows: “If you suffer, however, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.”

The Apostle Peter is more or less saying: If you suffer for sharing the good news of Christ, great, you’re blessed. But if you suffer just because you’re being a criminal or acting like an idiot, then don’t blame it on Christ.

Some 2,000 years ago, Peter knew so-called Christians would be criminals and “meddlers.” He knew some would claim, “Wow, I’m really suffering for Jesus,” when they are really just suffering for being jerks.

The word “meddler” means busybody: someone who inserts himself into matters that are not his own. Might this include some people involved in the Twitter, Facebook and “comments” showdowns of our day?

So yes, “all who live godly will suffer persecution.” But let’s not be jerks, get persecuted and then blame it on Christ. American Christianity, with its past position of cultural superiority, gave birth to some self-righteous and condescending so-called Christians. These folks may be culturally Christian, but they know little of Christ and his actual message of humility and repentance. I am convinced that, if Jesus Christ were here walking among us, he would have nothing to do with those who claim his name and consistently spew hate.

Theologians and academics will argue about that last sentence. Isn’t Jesus “a friend of sinners?” Yes. Doesn’t Jesus’ grace wash away the sins of those who trust in him? Yes. Wouldn’t that include the sin of "hate tweet"? Yes.

In seminaries and churches, we tend to engage in obscure questions about theology. For example, “Is it possible for someone to truly trust Christ and spend their entire life tweeting hate?”

Maybe so. But Jesus didn’t engage in such esoteric abstractions. He taught simple truth with clarity, authority and practicality. On controversial issues—“Are hate tweeters true Christians?”—I find myself drawn to the simple words of Scripture. Theologians will argue and debate, but God’s word is simple and clear.

“Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.” (1 John 2:9,11)

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (James 3:9,10)

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20)

Jesus put it this way in Matthew 12:34-36: “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”

If we will give account for every careless word spoken, might we also give account for every careless comment typed or tweeted?

Christians aren’t the only ones hurling hateful blows on the Web. But we are the only ones who claim to follow the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. So let’s be nice.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John S. Dickerson.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • My Take

soundoff (10,298 Responses)
  1. a dose of reality

    No matter how you dress it up, there are some fundamental difficulties with Christianity that are pretty hard to overcome.
    1. At its most fundamental level, Christianity requires a belief that an all-knowing, all-powerful, immortal being created the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies 13,720,000,000 years ago (the age of the Universe) sat back and waited 10,000,000,000 years for the Earth to form, then waited another 3,720,000,000 years for human beings to gradually evolve, then, at some point gave them eternal life and sent its son to Earth to talk about sheep and goats in the Middle East.
    While here, this divine visitor exhibits no knowledge of ANYTHING outside of the Iron Age Middle East, including the other continents, 99% of the human race, and the aforementioned galaxies.
    Either that, or it all started 6,000 years ago with one man, one woman and a talking snake. Either way “oh come on” just doesn’t quite capture it.
    2. This ‘all loving’ god spends his time running the Universe and spying on the approximately 7 billion human beings on planet Earth 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He even reads their minds (or “hears their prayers”, if you see any difference) using some kind of magic telepathic powers. He also keeps his telepathic eye on them when they are not praying, so as to know if they think bad thoughts (such as coveting their neighbor) so he knows whether to reward or punish them after they die.
    3. Having withheld any evidence of his existence, this god will then punish those who doubt him with an eternity burning in hell. I don’t have to kill, I don’t have to steal, I don’t even have to litter. All I have to do is harbor an honest, reasonable and rational disbelieve in the Christian god and he will inflict a grotesque penalty on me a billion times worse than the death penalty – and he loves me.
    4. The above beliefs are based on nothing more than a collection of Bronze and Iron Age Middle Eastern mythology, much of it discredited, that was cobbled together into a book called the “Bible” by people we know virtually nothing about, before the Dark Ages.
    5. The stories of Christianity are not even original. They are borrowed directly from earlier mythology from the Middle East. Genesis and Exodus, for example, are clearly based on earlier Babylonian myths such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Jesus story itself is straight from the stories about Apollonius of Tyana, Ho.rus and Dionysus (including virgin birth, the three wise men, the star in the East, birth at the Winter solstice, a baptism by another prophet, turning water into wine, crucifixion and rising from the dead).
    6. The Bible is also literally infested with contradictions, outdated morality, and open support for the most barbarous acts of cruelty – including, genocide, murder, slavery, r.ape and the complete subjugation of women. All of this is due to when and where it was written, the morality of the times and the motives of its authors and compilers. While this may be exculpatory from a literary point of view, it also screams out the fact that it is a pure product of man, bereft of any divine inspiration.
    7. A rejection of the supernatural elements of Christianity does not require a rejection of its morality. Most atheists and secular humanists share a large amount of the morality taught today by mainstream Christianity. To the extent we reject Christian morality, it is where it is outdated or mean spirited – such as in the way it seeks to curtail freedoms or oppose the rights of $exual minorities. In most other respects, our basic moral outlook is indistinguishable from that of the liberal Christian – we just don’t need the mother of all carrots and sticks hanging over our head in order to act in a manner that we consider moral.
    Falsely linking morality to a belief in the supernatural is a time-tested “three card trick” religion uses to stop its adherents from asking the hard questions. So is telling them it is “wrong to doubt.” This is probably why there is not one passage in the Bible in support of intelligence and healthy skepticism, but literally hundreds in support of blind acceptance and blatant gullibility.
    8. We have no idea of who wrote the four Gospels, how credible or trustworthy they were, what ulterior motives they had (other than to promote their religion) or what they based their views on. We know that the traditional story of it being Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is almost certainly wrong. For example, the Gospel of Matthew includes a scene in which Jesus meets Matthew, recounted entirely in the third person!! Nevertheless, we are called upon to accept the most extraordinary claims by these unknown people, who wrote between 35 to 65 years after Christ died and do not even claim to have been witnesses. It is like taking the word of an unknown Branch Davidian about what happened to David Koresh at Waco – who wrote 35 years after the fact and wasn’t there.
    9. When backed into a corner, Christianity admits it requires a “leap of faith” to believe it. However, once one accepts that pure faith is a legitimate reason to believe in something (which it most certainly is not, any more than “faith” that pixies exist is) one has to accept all other gods based on exactly the same reasoning. One cannot be a Christian based on the “leap of faith” – and then turn around and say those who believe in, for example, the Hindu gods, based on the same leap, got it wrong. In a dark room without features, any guess by a blind man at the direction of the door is as valid as the other 359 degrees.
    Geography and birthplace dictates what god(s) one believes in. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own gods and they all seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams, and prejudices. Do you think they all exist? If not, why only yours?
    Faith is not belief in a god. It is a mere hope for a god, a wish for a god, no more substantial than the hope for a good future and no more universal than the language you speak or the baseball team you support.

    February 10, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • Lancesackless

      Haters gotta hate.

      Wanna know the best thing about Christopher Hitchens? The **** is dead.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

      Great post – but most Bible thumpers won't take the time to read it. Heck, most of them haven't read the entire Bible yet. ;)

      February 10, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • Randi

      Very well put. What a breath of fresh air you have stated. Thank you.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • andy65

      Couldn't have said it better. Well written!

      February 10, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • sqeptiq

      Any christian has to hope that lancesackless is not one.

      February 10, 2013 at 11:01 am |
    • Andrew

      That pretty much sums it up. Although, while using reason to convince unreasonable people seems pointless to me sometimes, maybe if it gets bashed in their head enough it will eventually sink in. That's faith though I suppose...

      February 10, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • Consequence

      if you have no faith in God, you do not have the knowledge to characterize it. Thousands of years of human history of faith in God and you think a little "dose of reality" (the sum of your knowledge) can ever threaten it? With faith, there is a quiet affirmation of the Truth of things...a deeper realm of understanding of why we are here than the superficialities offered by atheists and non-believers.

      February 10, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
  2. lngtrmthnkr

    the most important thing for christians is that they know God.Knowing his personality,his priorities,his values,what he feels are the most important things .What he is ,who he is,what he wants from us.

    February 10, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • a dose of reality

      as interpreted by who? you?

      February 10, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • Answer

      Isn't it a marvelous wonder that every christian will tell you the he/she knows exactly what their god is and then tells everyone else that all the others before him/her don't?

      February 10, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • ChrisVC

      The problem with what you've written, is that there is simply no consensus on that topic. Protestant and Catholic Christianity is split on this. In turn those two are split in to many more groups of thought. The Bible too, is not a singular 'officially decided on' tome of knowledge. Everyone believing that they have it 'right' or they are the 'true' followers of Christ. ie – everyone is looking too much from their own point of view.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:50 am |
  3. Doug

    "American Christianity, with its past position of cultural superiority, gave birth to some self-righteous and condescending so-called Christians"

    I agree. Actually this brand of Christianity has had a devastating effect on many different cultures worldwide, as US missionaries visit those countries and subvert their belief systems. Most of the recent political problems in South Korea can be traced back to Christian meddling. Just walking around Seoul you get a feel for how bad it is, honestly.

    February 10, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • mark ducharme

      My definition of religion is different than my definition of faith. religion = a group. faith = one with God. I am one with God. My God is Christ. A group of christians make up a a religious group. Christianty is not to blame for a christion religious groups actions.

      February 10, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • lngtrmthnkr

      no,not me.You .Everyone needs to find him for themself.Dont let someone else define who and what he is.

      February 10, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  4. mark ducharme

    the comments were more interesting than the article. Duh, We shouldn't say bad things. Most people see themselves as good people and most people fall into hate speech from time to time when emotions are high. why should christians be considered any more hypocritical than non-christians when that happens? truth is there is none. Oh, sure they boast of purity and then spew filth. sry, that's not limited to people of faith

    February 10, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • jon

      Yes, Mark, it is IS pretty much limited to people of faith to claim spiritual superiority and then act like a pig.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  5. Mike

    This is news?

    February 10, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • Bluidshay

      Nope. It's a religious blog. Which means it's an opinion piece. But nice try.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:45 am |
  6. Joe

    Thanks for everyone pointing out how news outlets in the U.S. have political bents, like NO Shi*t!!!
    Wow! what a revelation! Discovery for the history books right there....

    February 10, 2013 at 10:33 am |
  7. Leopold Stotch

    Believe in Butters.

    February 10, 2013 at 10:32 am |
  8. muslim2012

    February 10, 2013 at 10:32 am |
  9. sera neum

    Another tone deaf christian article by CNN's christian scribe.
    People are angry because we have real problems. Just telling everyone to be nice is no different than any other propaganda whose mantra is "perception is reality".

    Well, that's why this article is on CNN in the first place.

    February 10, 2013 at 10:32 am |
  10. Dan

    http://www.granddeception.com/#sthash.PVigyv7M.dpbs

    February 10, 2013 at 10:32 am |
  11. Dani Jaimiy

    I think all of these comments are ridiculous. People need to stop spending their time bashing the author about bashing other people. Can you say... hypocritical? I know I can. Grow up! I think the author makes a very valid point, and those who disagree should keep it to themselves.

    February 10, 2013 at 10:31 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      I fear that most people did not really read the article. Most of us decide what is right or wrong based on what serves our selfish interests.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • Tim Brown

      Typical Christian remark. Anyone that doesn't agree with you is bashing (persecuting). Poor babies.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      "I think the author makes a very valid point,"
      awesome, that's your opinion (unsupported at this point)
      "and those who disagree should keep it to themselves."
      absolutely not (even though I don't necessarily disagree)
      people should not say what they think because you think that what the author says is right.... that's ridiculous, cmon

      February 10, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • 21k

      didn't you just bash other people for bashing other people? the sign of a true xtian.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:40 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Why should those who disagree be forbidden to speak up?

      February 10, 2013 at 10:41 am |
  12. muslim2012

    February 10, 2013 at 10:31 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      Finding examples of converts does not function to prove validity of an outlook. Proof is found in the scientific method.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • MagicPanties

      My invisible pink unicorn converted to the church of the flying spaghetti monster, so clearly that is the one true religion.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  13. Ed F.

    Christians hate everyone who doesn't believe what they do.

    The Nazis were Christians
    Neo-Nazis are Christians
    The KKK are Christians
    The GOP are Christians and they hate everyone and everything.

    February 10, 2013 at 10:31 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      Claiming to be a follower of a belief, does not make it true.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:31 am |
    • Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

      You left out the Tea Party – a watered down KKK for those too cowardly to join the Klan

      February 10, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • 21k

      surthfurd, but when a muslim does something wrong, all muslims are put into the same boat by xtians.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • Tim Brown

      Don't forgetr the slave owners and their church – southern baptists.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:39 am |
  14. Ron

    Wow! Lotsa discussion! Guess this is good. I think that the pastor is simply trying to say is that we are the "face" of our belief system (whatever that is) to the people we come in contact with. Jesus' ministry was based on attraction. He said that people will know us by the way we love. The opposite is unfortunately true. If we act as hypocrites, which I do on a daily basis, then we can't blame people for not wanting anything to do with us. I think many more people might want what Christians have if we presented a better picture of what Christianity is supposed to be.

    February 10, 2013 at 10:29 am |
  15. Christian7

    Mostly I do not hear hate from Christians. I hear Christians opposing ideas that are contrary to the Bible, and people hate that opposition so much, they call Christians haters. Do Christians say hateful things? Yes. But most of the "hate" is really an interpretation. Opposition to ideas you strongly believe is not hate. It is a debate.

    February 10, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      There seems to be a lot of intolerance in all groups. Lots of people happily proclaiming that it is their right to limit the rights of others.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      so you have no problem contradicting yourself
      fantastic!

      February 10, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • Christian7

      FreeFromTheism, NO. Contradicting yourself is completely wrong and should be avoided.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:31 am |
    • Ed F.

      LOL

      Christians are the worst people in the world. They do and say nothing that Jesus would have approved of.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:32 am |
    • Christian7

      Surthurfurd, Rights are given by God and should not be limited by others. That does not mean you have the right to do whatever you want.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • wo

      What is the idiotic thing that Patrici. Robertson say recently? He is a christian, right?

      February 10, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • snowboarder

      christian, that is the rub. if christians wish to live according to the bible they should. unfortunately, many christians work tirelessly to ensure that their beliefs are codified into law so that the entire populace must live according to their interpretation of the bible.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:36 am |
    • Christian7

      Ed F. I very very strongly disagree. Billions of dollars of charity is given to feed poor world wide from Christian donations each year.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:36 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      Christian7.. How do we know what is God's will? There are far too many conflicting notions even in the Bible.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • snowboarder

      christian, no one can deny your rights but men and no one can defend your rights but men. so where exactly do those rights come from?

      February 10, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • MarkInPDX

      So, surtherford, how are Christians' rights being denied?

      February 10, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      Markln.. I think in the mess of the chat, you did not pick up my meaning.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:40 am |
    • Peter Grenader

      Excuse me. There's on old saying: don't spit in my face and cal it the rain. Whether or not in the words that they write they dot their I's with little hearts or not, I have not seen venom and wrath like which spews from the pens and mouths from many 'christians' from any other demographic, period. Debate is a wonderful thing. Being called a baby killer, commie, Marxist, demorat, even got an 'anti-american fa got' once – etc etc etc etc etc etc etc isn't that, not even close. What Exodus International and their cronies attempted to do to Apple in retaliation to last year decision to pull their gay cure app wasn't debate. What they said about Trevon Martin wasn't debate. How they speak of the country's first Black President isn't debate.

      I'm afraid myself, and most of the others who red your comment are going to have to agree to disagree on this one.... while we wipe the spit off our faces.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:47 am |
  16. kathy

    As seen in the last election, these so called christians were the most hate-filled contributors on almost any web page, blog, comments on sites like this and of course twitter. God would be ashamed of some of these people doing and saying the things they have in his name.

    February 10, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • MagicPanties

      Easy way to lose the hate –> lose the religion

      February 10, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Christian7

      MagicPanties, "Treat others the way you want to be treated." "Love your enemy."

      February 10, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • jd

      if he is embarrassed, then he's not omniscient

      February 10, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  17. BubbaCo

    I'm embarrassed for humans that are so ridiculously gullible that they actually believe the mythology of religion. Any of them.

    February 10, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • MagicPanties

      It's the fault of the parents who allow young children to be indoctrinated.
      The kids of course believe whatever they are told (like Santa Claus and Tooth Fairy) no matter how outlandish.

      So parents, stop brainwashing your kids and let them make up their own minds, maybe in the mid to late teens when they can "reason".

      Organized religion only exists because parents keep the cycle going with their children.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • jd

      it's a phase in our evolution. 2000 years from now, we'll look back on this period much the way we do today when studying people who worshiped the sun or objects.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • Wes Scott

      MagicPanties, I was raised in a very strict christian environment, but as I got older and more educated I began to ask questions for which rational answers were not forthcoming. Telling me to just accept it on faith did not cut it. When I had seen enough of the world to recognize that religion is b.s. I stopped believing.

      You cannot truly blame the parents because adults grow up without learning to think for themselves and questions everything they have been told. I understand how brainwashing works because I was deeply exposed to it, but if I can see through that fog and come to an opposite conclusion, then most others probably can, as well.

      February 10, 2013 at 11:00 am |
  18. Tim Brown

    Christians are rarely persecuted for anything. They tend to define someone disagreeing with them as persecution. Poor babies. If somebody thinks you're nuts for believing in fairy tales that is not persecution.

    On the other hand Christians are probabaly the most bigoted group in America, attempting to deny rights for many groups. Now that's persecution.

    February 10, 2013 at 10:27 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      Those doing the persecuting are not following Jesus. They belong to a tribe they call Christian.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:29 am |
  19. PamR811

    Tis very true. Some of the most nasty hateful people are know are Christians. But some of the most loving compassionate people I know are Christian as well. Sadly I run into the first kind far too often. The hate-filled ones ran my family out of our church, for not thinking the same say they do. That as 7 years ago, we still haven't gone back

    February 10, 2013 at 10:27 am |
  20. Blog Summary

    "These Christians are sinning??? On Twitter? Dam them!" wrote John S. Dickerson, pastor.

    February 10, 2013 at 10:26 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.