It’s no secret that social and cultural dialogue isn’t what it used to be. In one particularly ridiculous example, I saw a post from a man who vaguely suggested support for the embattled Alabama Senate nominee, Judge Roy Moore. A woman — who didn’t seem to personally know the man posting this support — immediately commented something to the effect that this man is as bad as all the predators, he probably leaves his grandchildren with known Republican child molesters, and that he’d surely burn in hell.
I can’t say I’m a Roy Moore fan, but not to call this reaction extreme would be pretty extreme. It’s actually kind of impressive how effectively she lays aside every last bit of the actual issue and instead goes right for a stranger’s proverbial jugular.
We are really good at telling each other what we think and quite terrible at listening to each other. We’re more interested in classifying people or groups so we can dismiss them. We’ll even stoop to straw man-ing people — painting their argument as something more ridiculous than it is so that it’s easier to dismantle. Potential nuance or further inquiry is rarely the interest. If we can show how bad someone is and publicly call them out, it puts us on the good side. And it’s really just making fun of the nerdy kid in order to gain cool points.
We should always be willing to call out evil. But there’s a difference between calling out evil and the sort of manipulative posturing built around a desire to craft our image by using and smearing people who represent something we want to appear against.
I recently watched a documentary on the Ku Klux Klan and, weirdly, I think that group is a great example of this cultural tendency. Obviously, I have to disclaim that I’m no KKK fan, but it’s interesting, in this case, to see individual people within the organization rather than the facelessness of the whole. These folks are people. They’re incredibly misled people who are following an evil white supremacy doctrine. But they’re people. And we miss that, content to write off their souls because they believe a terrible doctrine.
On a broader scale, it’s important that witnesses to Christ don’t miss the person behind the sin. A good theology of sin admits that different sin has different temporal consequences but that all sin is an equally heinous rebellion before the good cosmic King’s laws. Don’t see someone as beyond hope because they belong to a group that is, albeit rightfully, universally condemned by current culture.
The truth is that we all have people or groups we struggle to show love to because they are annoying or, maybe in some cases, hold and act out on harmful and evil views. Maybe they even want to hurt us. Perhaps we struggle to even want them to repent. It might feel better if they get what’s coming to them. But God desires that all should be saved (1 Timothy 2:3,4; 1 Peter 3:9). And Jesus didn’t give us an “except for” clause in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:43–48).
There is a man named Daryl Davis who is an excellent example of an effective witness for Jesus because he treats people like people. Davis is a black man who has famously befriended and unconverted KKK members after asking the question “how can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” His talk is worth listening to and PBS did a documentary about him on Netflix that I’m looking forward to watching.
To Daryl, as to Christ, people are far more complex than any one aspect, no matter how upsetting or harmful that aspect is. If we are to be effective witnesses for Christ, we must think this way and approach nonbelievers in this way. We can’t have groups that we consider not worth our time or beyond the reach of God’s hand. We must see their sin in the same light we see our sin, not posturing ourselves as anything other than fellow souls who, but for the grace of God, would be in a similar position.
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Danny Nathan grew up at Grace participating in the music and worship ministry. He’s currently a worship leader, leading people into worship in a variety of venues, including our modern worship service and student ministry gatherings. Danny is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a degree in English. In June 2016, Danny married his high school sweetheart Alli.