On Being Less Offended and Less Offensive

In his book, We Learn Nothing: Essays and Cartoons, political cartoonist and New York Times Op-Ed writer Tim Kreider describes the modern epidemic that he calls “outrage porn:”

So many letters to the editor and comments on the Internet have this…tone of thrilled vindication: these are people who have been vigilantly on the lookout for something to be offended by, and found it…Obviously, some part of us loves feeling 1) right and 2) wronged. But outrage is like a lot of other things that feel good but, over time, devour us from the inside out. Except it’s even more insidious than most vices because we don’t even consciously acknowledge that it’s a pleasure. We prefer to think of it as a disagreeable but fundamentally healthy reaction to negative stimuli, like pain or nausea, rather than admit that it’s a shameful kick we eagerly indulge again and again…(It is) outrage porn, selected specifically to pander to our impulse to judge and punish, to get us off on righteous indignation.

The commitment to feel 1) right and 2) wronged seems to be a fairly common phenomenon. But is this a fruitful way for Christians in particular to engage in public conversations about the issues of the day? I think Jesus taught us another way.

There are surely going to be times when we will disagree with others, sometimes in a passionate way. A follower of Jesus is by definition a person who carries certain convictions. Yet when we must disagree, being steadfast in our loyalty to Jesus demands that we not be disagreeable as people. When people assume a different viewpoint than ours, we are never to hold them in contempt. Scorn and disdain and a chip on the shoulder are notChristian virtues. Rather, they are Pharisaical vices. They may at times contribute to winning an argument, but they will never win a person. A disagreeable spirit is not the way that Jesus intends for his followers to engage in disagreements and debates.

Tim Keller says that tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs. It’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you. This is where biblical Christianity is unparalleled in its beauty and distinctiveness. I am not talking about distorted belief systems that pretend to be Christianity but are not. I am talking about the true, pure, undefiled, unedited, unfiltered, unrevised, and altogether biblical and beautiful system of belief—the one that visits orphans and widows in their afflictions, the one that loves all its neighbors who are near or in need, the one that is kind to its enemies:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”

Jesus did not merely speak these words as an edict from on high. He became these words. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). While we were running from him, while we were passively resisting him, while we were actively opposing him, while we were his enemies, Christ in love gave his life for us.

Do we need any more reason than this to be kind to those who see things differently than we do?What more reason do we need than that through Jesus, we are forgiven and free and loved and will never ever, ever, ever, be condemned or scorned by the courts of heaven?

Having received such grace, Christians have a compelling reason to be remarkably gracious, inviting, and endearing in our treatment of others, including and especially those who disagree with us. Let’s be known by what we are for instead of what we are against. Let’s be less zealous about defending our own rights — for Jesus laid down his rights — and more zealous about joining Jesus in his mission of loving people, places, and things to life.

As I wrote in my book, Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who are Tired of Taking Sides:

When the grace of Jesus sinks in, we will be among the least offended and least offensive people in the world.

Jesus already took us seriously by giving his life for us. There is no better reason than this to take ourselves less seriously.

Thanks for listening.