The Danger of Christians Becoming Armchair Critics
Phil Cooke

Phil Cooke

Of all the damage Hurricane Harvey did to south Texas, one of the most frustrating revelations was the number of Christians who felt “called” to be armchair quarterbacks. Plenty of them surfaced writing about what Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church did wrong (in their opinion). But it’s also reminded me of all the others who feel just as “called” to address the theology, style, behavior, choices, and other aspects of numerous pastors, leaders, and congregations across the country.

In the case of Lakewood, there were bloggers who went to great lengths castigating Joel and the church, even though they were writing from a thousand miles away, weren’t in the storm, hadn’t been in the prep meetings between the church and city, hadn’t contacted church leadership, and pretty much based their comments on what they’d read online (mostly via social media.)

But no need to get hung up in Houston, because I can give you plenty of others. One remarkably common example is a disgruntled ex-church or staff member who feels called to launch a blog or Facebook page for the single purpose of criticizing their former pastor or church. If you ask them about it, they’ll argue in noble terms like they’re “calling out sin” or “exposing the truth.”

But speaking of truth, there’s that pesky scripture: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” Obviously, we can’t all get through to people we may think are in the wrong, and many of them won’t respond anyway. But the point is to get as close as possible to the source. Talk to the person, or at least find out the actual facts. Do some research. There’s no scriptural instructions to blog or launch social media campaigns based on hurt feelings, moral indignation, or worst of all – sketchy information from the social media mob.

The truth is, the Internet has made it so easy to be an armchair critic. Just get angry, type something up, and “click” to send it on. When I write books, my editor and publisher require that I fact check everything, but not so online. Believers need to control that impulse and wait until we have the facts. CBS News recently did a piece on “Internet Shaming” and it’s a powerful report about just how much damage this causes.

Second, we need to examine our own actions more and other’s actions less. In the case of Lakewood, I’m curious how much their critics were doing to help the hurricane victims. In the case of other critics of pastors and leaders, I’m curious about how many people they’ve led to Jesus recently. It may sound trite, but at the end of my life, I’m not expecting God to ask my opinions about other leaders. He’s going to ask what I did with my life.

Last – stop the sanctimonious posturing. As Maggie Smith’s character Dowager Countess Violet Crawley in Downton Abby remarked, “It must be cold on the moral high ground.” We have little idea of the battles other people are fighting or the obstacles they’re dealing with. Of all people, Christians should be known as the people most willing to extend grace.

Certainly there are hypocrites, apostates, and jerks in the church, but I need to deal with my own shortcomings before I start lecturing others. Too many Christians have become like a parent who yells at his kids to get off their phones, while scrolling through his.

It’s time to stop being that guy.

 

Phil Cooke is a producer and media consultant to churches and ministries across the country. His latest book is “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media.” Find out more at www.philcooke.com.