Right Christian vs. Wrong Christian

Our tendency to treat our fellow group members well and treat non-group members poorly is on spectacular display whenever the American church is caught in a cultural or theological conflict. In general, we are quick to defend our group members, afford them grace and respond to them in humility.  However, we’re not as generous toward opposing group members. In response to them, we often jump to conclusions, fail to genuinely listen to and consider their ideas, assume the worst intentions on their part and come up with reasons why their voices should be extinguished. Clearly, we have a difficult time crossing cultural and theological lines to engage in meaningful interactions.  This is partly due to the fact that, in the process of drawing dividing lines between our group and other groups, we often attach value labels to our group distinctions. The label of right is affixed to us and the label of wrong is affixed to them; these value labels serve to justify our negative attitudes toward them. For example, many church groups have made a distinction between what I call Right and Wrong Christian. Not surprisingly, Right Christian is just like us. His values, beliefs, culture, language and status are just like ours. He interprets the Bible like us and talks about God the way that we do. He votes likes us. He basically looks, speaks, and worships like us. If he shows up at our church, he fits in immediately. There’s just something likeable and trustworthy about him. On the other hand, Wrong Christian is a caricature of someone who different than us. His values, beliefs, culture, language and status are unfamiliar and this makes us suspect that there’s something wrong with him. He doesn’t have a high view of Scripture (unlike us) and his view of God is misguided (if not heretical). His voting record is simply not Christian. He looks a bit different, speaks a different language or vernacular and doesn’t worship like us. If he shows up at our church we might smile at him and half-heartedly welcome him, but ultimately we just hope that he goes away. There’s just something different about him and we are suspicious and/or uncomfortable.

Granted, these depictions of Right Christian and Wrong Christian are a bit extreme.  Perhaps your distinction between Right Christian and Wrong Christian is subtle. Recently, a friend told me that he’s not willing to attend a particular church in our city because the last time he visited this church, he noticed a young man wearing a baseball cap during the worship service. According to my friend, Wrong Christian is an irreverent little twerp who wears baseball caps during church. (To me, wearing a baseball cap is perfectly acceptable. I’m much more interested in the team logo on the cap. Oakland A’s fans are better than everyone else.) Maybe this isn’t your issue. I have another dear friend who is unable to talk about charismatic churches without ridiculing them. To him, Wrong Christian is a charismatic guy who speaks in tongues and worships weirdly. Maybe to you, Wrong Christian attends a church that affirms women in ministry leadership. Or maybe Wrong Christian attends a church that doesn’t affirm women in ministry leadership. Maybe Wrong Christian is black.  Maybe Wrong Christian is an undocumented immigrant. Maybe Wrong Christian doesn’t speak English.  Maybe Wrong Christian is in a fraternity. Maybe Wrong Christian drives a Hummer. Maybe Wrong Christian is a Calvinist. Maybe Wrong Christian is pro-choice. Maybe Wrong Christian takes the bus. Maybe Wrong Christian is just annoying. Maybe Wrong Christian is pro-Israel. Maybe Wrong Christian is a Yankee fan. You get the picture.

Oftentimes, our opinions of Wrong Christian are so strong that in addition to avoiding him, we actively condemn him. However, this is not always the case. Maybe we have opinions but don’t voice them in a forceful and condescending way. Or maybe we don’t voice them at all. Instead, we simply stay within the boundaries of our homogenous church. This enables us to stick close to Right Christian next door and stay far away from Wrong Christian across town. Perhaps we’re not devoting a lot of time and energy to criticizing Wrong Christian or picketing in front of his church.  Maybe it’s just that he’s not invited into our neighborhood. In other words, he doesn’t really exist in our world. To put it as bluntly as possible, he’s dead to us.