Blunt and Gentle Christians Respond

Today, I’m going to report to you some of the answers I got to my question about blunt and gentle Christians. See When to Be Mean… for background information.

I asked questions of the blunt and the gentle Christians. To the blunt ones, I asked how they interpreted the biblical passages advocating gentleness. To the gentle ones, I inquired about why Jesus and Paul called people “fools.” (That doesn’t seem too gentle, does is?)

The Blunt Christian on Gentleness.

One of the blunt Christians said the following about love and gentleness:

“Is it hateful or attacking someone to point out flaws in someone’s ideology or interpretation or assumption or statement? Nope!…As far as being loving, I think telling the Truth is the most loving thing one can do. Loving is not a mutual admiration society. It is honesty, integrity, uncompromising Truth.”

“Well, we don’t want to physically hurt anyone, even those we disagree with, and we don’t wish harm on them. We shouldn’t make fun or purposely try to hurt someone’s feelings either. On the other hand, do these verses mean we should never play football because it could hurt someone? Or fire an employee b/c it could hurt his feelings? Or tell someone she’s wrong b/c she might think it’s accusatory? Or fight in battle with the military? Or work as a police officer and use force? I think the answer lies in common sense.”

“I daresay that if someone wants to learn something and asks nicely, she will get the same in kind. When is directness ungentle? Gentleness is not weakness or apologetic in what it says. It is merely not cruel. I think directness is loving. It’s a skill learned from necessity. Dealing with men, one must be simply direct.”

“And I think the term racca means more along the line of dehumanizing and creating a rift between BIBLICAL Christians as an ongoing action–not just one time calling someone a fool. It carries the connotation of calling someone less than human–like the Nazis or Muslims do to the Jews. “

She’s wrestling with the definition of gentleness, even as she says that being direct about the truth is a loving thing to do. She points out on another post that the Bible doesn’t hesitate to call people false prophets. That’s pretty direct! So, in her mind, she is just telling the truth when she calls liberalism a “mental illness.”

The Gentle Christians on Jesus’ Insults.

The gentle Christians said a variety of things about Jesus and Paul calling people “fools.”

Here are some answers:

“When people on these boards insult others, the insulters are more like the Pharisees themselves than like Christ. If you can’t tell the difference between mean-spirited insults and an attempt to lead another into Truth, then you should pray for discernment. If Jesus calls me a fool, I will listen. If a drunken bully calls me a fool, then he’s the sort of person Jesus instructed us NOT to be, and I have no moral qualms about saying that that person is NOT a Christian.”

“I think Jesus called it as He saw it. He was a teacher and He was the Son of God, He acted always under God’s inspiration. If you look at the instances when he was angry or calling people names it was always in a spirit of teaching and never in a fit of jealousy, pride or for personal power. What we have on the board is different because there is not a spirit of teaching, only of bullying and trying to prove our beliefs are the only right beliefs and anyone who believes different is a fool. Jesus never behaved that way. He knew the Truth and spoke it. If Jesus called me a fool I would certainly take it under advisement and not be offended.”

That was the most popular explanation: Jesus was Jesus, so he could call people “fools.” We’re not Jesus, however, so we shouldn’t.

Sometimes, calling a person a fool can be an act of love and affirming the truth:

“It’s all in the motive. If the motive is to correct, rebuke, etc. out of love, then it’s okay. Likely whatever is said will not be in an insulting manner. Paul called the Galatians foolish not so he can feel superior to them, or to put them down, but to reassert the doctrine of salvation by faith alone.”

But was Jesus being loving to the Pharisees when he called them “fools”? Wouldn’t that turn them off more rather than making them open to what he had to say? Maybe he wasn’t trying to get through to them:

“I think when Jesus called the Pharisees fools, it was likely more for the benefit of third-party observers than an attempt to get through to the Pharisees themselves. As you’ve said, when someone calls you a fool, they’re not likely to get their point across. But those watching undoubtedly learned something from Jesus’ judgment concerning the Pharisees.”

Or perhaps Jesus being mean was the exception, not the rule, in his everyday behavior:

“For myself, I cannot see Jesus and the money changers in the temple as something that would be something for me to do very often as that was not the common manner in which Jesus dealt with situations. Many times, He kept silent or spoke a parable or gave information that led others to conclusions, then let them make their conclusions or decisions…”

James Argues with Himself…

I kind of equivocated on all this. In one breath, I said to the offended liberal:

“Here’s another thought: the Pharisees were engaging in real moral evil. They were defrauding widows, being proud, etc. But you’re not engaging in moral evil. You just have philosophical differences with people on this board. And that’s not to minimize those differences, since each side takes its position with utmost seriousness. Policies involve issues of life-and-death. ‘We must oppose abortion and save those babies!’ one side says. ‘These poor people will starve to death without their food stamps, so we have to stop the Republican cutbacks,’ says another. Neither side deliberately wants to hurt someone else. Those are philosophical differences, and they should be addressed through tact and argument.”

Yet, in another post, I was more hesitant to divorce morality and politics. The liberal said to me:

“Yes, Jesus was black-and-white on spirituality. I’m inclined to think he should be, because I believe that there is some ultimate Truth in spirituality, and Jesus was someone who knew what that Truth is. Politics is more about opinions than spiritual truth. It’s not an absolute sort of thing. (But if Jesus had an opinion on political issues, his opinion would carry more weight with me than someone else’s would.)”

And I replied:

“[D]ivorcing politics and religion is not always easy. In the time of Jesus, they often overlapped. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were political parties as well as religious sects. Also, they both had power, which is rather political. Jesus and John the Baptist criticized political authorities, as did the Old Testament prophets. According to some scholars (e.g., N.T. Wright), Jesus was making statements about how Israel should interact with Rome. Should it revolt, or turn the other cheek? And that’s a political issue. So that’s one reason you have people on the religious right (or left) who are so bold in attacking authorities or people with different political persuasions. ‘We’re only doing what Jesus did. He called Herod a fox!’ they say.”

So where am I now on this? I try to address arguments rather than personalities, and I believe in tact. Consequently, I don’t know why Jesus and Paul called people “fools.” Insults can turn people off, but they can also shake a person out of complacency and make him think. Maybe that’s the reason they did it, I don’t know. But I personally opt for gentleness. And, on the occasions that I get mad and scoff, “You dumb liberals!,” I don’t think I’m acting according to my higher nature.

But that’s just my opinion.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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5 Responses to Blunt and Gentle Christians Respond

  1. Pascalian Awakenings says:

    James, this is interesting. I just started a short series on blogging and Christian ethics. This is mostly because of the dialog I see on blogs. It seems like people write things they would never say.

    I’m still working on things, but it seems as though a lot of it depends on our love for the other. It gets down to speaking or posting the truth in love.

    Yvette

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  2. James Pate says:

    Hi Yvette,

    Yes, I read Part I yesterday. It was ironic that you were talking about that while all of this was going on.

    Do you have any thoughts on Jesus calling the Pharisees “fools”?

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  3. Pascalian Awakenings says:

    OK…good question. My initial thoughts were that he wants them to repent, and he is using harsh language to jar them.

    I did a little reading on the passage in Matthew 23 and found these thoughts from NT Wright helpful. From Matthew for Everyone vol. 2 pp. 102-104.

    From p. 102-103
    “Basically, he accuses them of getting things the wrong way round. They are valuing the gold above the Temple, and the gift above the altar. They are placing higher worth on the objects that human beings have brought into God’s presence than on God’s presence itself. But if the gold and the gifts mean anything, it’s because the Temple and the altar mean something. And they mean what they mean because of God’s promise to be present there. In other words, the teachers are taking God’s name in vain. They are guilty of breaking the third commandment. And they are covering it up with slick arguments about what counts and what doesn’t.

    All of this results in the teachers in question being condemned as ‘blind” (verses 16, 19). They can’t see what’s really important, or rather who is really important. They are like someone who has never learned to read trying to settle a dispute on the respective merits of Shakespeare and Goethe. They show by their every ruling that they simply don’t know what they’re talking about.”

    From p. 104
    “Equally, some have supposed that Jesus, whom we think of as kindly and loving, could never have denounced anyone, least of all his fellow-Jews, in such sharp tones. It has sometimes been suggested that these sayings belong to a later age, when divisions emerged between ‘official’ Christianity and Judaism. But that is unnecessary. Jesus was aware throughout his public career of fierce opposition from parties in Judaism with rival agendas. The present chapter consists, in fact, of a solemn, almost ritual, denunciation of them for their hollow piety and misguided teaching.”

    So, I think he used the language because it applied.

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  4. James Pate says:

    That’s probably it, though I hesitate to say that all Christians who try it out are doing so appropriately.

    That looks like a good book. Does it include all sorts of scholarly views, or just N.T. Wright’s?

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  5. Pascalian Awakenings says:

    The book is in a series of books by NT Wright. It is a New Testament for Everyone series. They are like devotionals and commentaries combined. He takes a book of the bible and breaks it up in sections, and then he offers commentary and practical living combined. It makes a great devotional study. I highly recommend them for non-scholarly reading. They have the analysis, but practical illustrations too. He really did balance things nicely.

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