Response to: "When you disapprove of my behavior or beliefs

you are being mean-spirited."

by Gary C. Burger, MDiv

An increasing number of people believe that since morality is relative to the person, group, culture or situation, then someone else (namely a Christian) doesn't have any right to disapprove of a person's behavior. Trying to take away their right to do what they want is just plain "mean." Either these people missed some major lessons in their upbringing or they are just parroting what they've heard others say without thinking about it.

It is not the disapproval that makes one "mean-spirited," it is how a person expresses their disapproval that makes them mean-spirited. We can agree to disagree—agreeably. If I see a painting in a museum that I don't like, am I being mean-spirited if I say, "I don't like that picture because there is too much red?" Of course not, but I would be mean-spirited if I ripped it to shreds with a razor blade. Likewise, if a friend is doing something dangerous our friendship gives us a certain obligation to disapprove of their ideas or actions to protect them. As citizens in a free society we also have the freedom and obligation to speak up about ideas and behaviors that are not in the best interest of the individual, our community and nation.

If this is so obvious, then why do people issue this challenge? It is often a defensive reaction. The funny thing about ego defensive reactions is that they seem so appropriate and justified to that person but so obviously way out of proportion to everyone around them. Most likely, this person wants sexual freedom and doesn't want anyone to tell them their actions are selfish and dangerous. To call me "mean-spirited," is an attempt to take the focus and guilt off of that person's wrong behavior and pretend that I am the bad guy.

You might try a conversation similar to this one to help the challenger see the double standard they are imposing on you.

Challenger: "When you disapprove of my behavior or beliefs you are being mean-spirited."

Responder: "Can I ask you a few questions?"

Challenger: "Sure."

Responder: "Do you disagree with my Christian beliefs? Do you think I should keep them to myself and not try to persuade anyone else to believe them?"

Challenger: "Yes."

Responder: "Then are you being "mean-spirited?"

Challenger: "Well, no."

Responder: "If you had a friend who was binge drinking and beginning to do dangerous stunts on a balcony would it be mean-spirited of you to disapprove of his behavior and try to persuade him to stop?"

Challenger: "No, but no one has the right to tell me I can't have sex with anyone I want to. If it was up to you Christians you'd make it against the law to sleep with my girlfriend."

Responder: "Hey, take it easy. I don't know anyone who wants to do that. Look, when most Christians like myself share our faith and encourage people to evaluate their lives to see if they are really getting the most out of their lives, we aren't trying to be mean or take away anyone's fun. We are just deeply concerned and want to help others find more fulfillment, purpose and meaning. We are loving people with God's love. We have discovered that following God's ways is much more rewarding than rebelling against them. And finally, I don't believe in nagging anyone. If you would like to talk about how I find that God's ways are better, I would enjoy telling you. If you are not interested, I won't try to push it on you. Simply expressing disagreement or disapproval doesn't make someone mean-spirited, does it? Its how you treat the person with whom you disagree that shows how mean or kind you are. We can agree to disagree in an agreeable manner, can't we? So please don't say I'm being mean-spirited, because that is not really the case, is it?

At some point in the conversation, they may begin to try to justify and point fingers and so on. These are just defense mechanisms. Just listen and let them ventilate and they will wind up telling you what the real issue is. For example, they might be trying to defend their sexual immorality. You can address the subject, but make sure they understand the difference between disapproval and being mean-spirited.

Conclusion

Jesus is the best example of true tolerance. He was friends with people whose beliefs He disagreed with and behavior He disapproved of. But instead of locking them up he won them over through love and reason. His tolerance was a true tolerance. How could Jesus treat people with whom he disagreed with such respect? The Bible tells us that we are made in the image of God and therefore have infinite worth. Jesus claimed to be that creator God in the flesh and could look at the people with whom He disagreed with love, compassion, respect and ultimately forgiveness. As a result prostitutes stopped selling their bodies, alcoholics became sober, thieves stopped stealing and it was all on their own initiative. No one called Him mean-spirited.


Resources

See article: Christians are Intolerant


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