Some Christians, unfortunately, are known for mistreating and shunning people they disagree with.
I was twelve when we started going to a new church. It was the only church we could find that wasn’t hostile toward homeschooling in a time when homeschooling was even more controversial than it is now.
I wore skirts as a kid because I liked them. My dad, insisting that I be safe, instructed me to wear pants for riding bikes, climbing trees, and riding horses. It seemed to me to be a reasonable compromise.
When we started going to this church, the first child to speak to me was a girl who was a little younger than me. The first thing out of her mouth was:
“Do you ever wear pants?”
I answered truthfully that I did sometimes, and immediately she retreated to her mother who ushered her away from the unholy child: me.
We attended that church for seven years before we had the good sense to leave.
The entire time I was there I dealt with being ostracized, I was called names, I was gossiped about, and I had many rumors started about me –including one that I was promiscuous when I was not.
All this because I didn’t do the external things (like wear skirts all the time) that certain church members believed made you holy.
It made them even more upset that I wouldn’t change to try to fit into their cliques.
The real issue was that my parents didn’t agree with their legalistic beliefs, so some of the church people seemed determined to make my life miserable.
I think they were trying to prove to me that I was wrong and that I needed to believe like they did.
What it did was make me not want to be like them or have anything to do with them.
Is that how scripture tells us to behave?
Are we supposed to say unkind things, argue, gossip, mistreat, and otherwise be unkind?
The only things we are allowed to do, biblically, are–
A. avoid interaction with people who are in sin or teaching false doctrine (so that we’re not influenced by it),
B. gently try to correct those who are in sin by speaking the truth in love (to restore them to the faith),
C. expose false teaching so others aren’t led astray by it.
(See the chart below for references.)
We are always, always to be kind. See this chart about kindness.
Those we’re not allowed to be harsh to:
Those we’re sometimes allowed to be harsh to:
Note that the point of how we treat them is to avoid falling away ourselves (keep our distance) and to restore them to the faith (try to correct them).
The motivation behind what we do should not be to hurt them but to bring them back into a proper understanding of the Bible and restore their faith in Christ.
This may be perceived as harsh, but it’s not really unkind.
It is actually immensely kind.
Only someone who truly loves and cares for the person would take the time and effort to do this, risking their friendship for the sake of the person’s spiritual state.
Those we are allowed to be harsh with:
Both Jesus and the apostles harshly rebuked false teachers to their face.
They did not rebuke the false teacher’s followers who had been led astray. Rather they warned them.
Again, a rebuke may seem harsh, but it can be done in a loving and not prideful way.
Since we don’t have divine insight into the person’s heart, we have to be careful about how we approach someone.
In my story above, if people at our church had a problem with how my parents were raising me, they should have taken it up with the teacher, my parents, and not mistreated a child who was just the student.
Even in the case of false teachers, it is never okay to sin against them by lying, name calling, or being hateful.
If we want to win them to Christ we are going to have to be kind and gracious.
Sinning against them will only push them farther from God. This is true of all people who need Jesus.
Jesus’ followers have a bad reputation of doing this.
It does not bring honor to God.
It always helps me when I put it in a chart.
I hope it helps you, too.