The Problem with Religious People, Part 2

rick-warrenIn the aftermath of the tragic suicide of Rick and Kay Warren’s son Matthew, another tragedy is occurring: So-called followers of Jesus are using Matthew’s death as an occasion to attack Pastor Warren. This is sick, ugly, and sadly, indicative of the state of the body today.

It’s one thing for non-believers to make ridiculous statements like, “your son died due to your anti-gay hate toward gay people including your son” (as if there was even evidence that Matthew was gay, or as if he was not greatly loved by his mother and father, which he clearly was). It’s another thing when believers take this occasion to bash Rick Warren’s supposed theological errors, as if this was some kind of divine payback for his alleged sins. What kind of garbage is this?

-Dr. Michael L. Brown
“Enough with the Mean-Spirited Words Against Rick Warren (And Others)!”
CharismaNews.com

Yesterday, I read about the tragic suicide of well-known author and Pastor Rick Warren’s son Matthew. I have three adult children about the same age as Matthew and I can’t imagine any pain worse than facing the death of any of my children. Words cannot express the agony that Rick and Kay Warren must be enduring at this time, especially because they are people who are in the public eye. Whatever they experience, including heartrending grief, the world media watches them.

Imagine my surprise at reading Michael Brown’s article (I don’t usually read the source website, but I followed the link from Facebook), from which I quoted above, about how not only secular people are mistreating the Warren’s over the death of their son, but other Christians as well.

Really?

I know that Pastor Warren is a target for a number of reasons. Sometimes all it takes is just saying “I’m a Christian” in public. Some people, including many Christians, are critical of MegaChurches. Others, mainly secular folks, are critical of Warren for what they perceive as his “anti-gay” stance. Some of his critics have gone so far as to claim that Pastor Warren’s son Matthew was gay (which has not been substantiated to the best of my knowledge) and that it was Rick Warren’s disapproval of that “fact” which resulted in Matthew’s suicide.

To give you some context, I followed a link from Brown’s article to twitchy.com, which collected a number of “tweets” people made on twitter regarding Matthew Warren’s suicide:

@GayPatriot: I would imagine. But if you’re gay and your dad is the biggest preacher in the country it could lead to mental health problems.

@boymv18: your son died due to your anti-gay hate toward gay people including your son..

@TheReallyRick: Son of Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren has committed suicide. Place your bets on when its discovered he was gay. #ReligionKills

@BlazePhoenix_: Trust me, I AM being as charitable as I can be about hateful bigoted Pastor Rick Warren’s obvious failure with his own son!

The beat goes on and you can visit the “twitchy” website to read the rest of the “commentary.” It’s not pretty. I periodically encounter atheists on the web and their usual stance is to accuse me of moral failings because I “need religion to be a good person.” The assumption is that it’s better to be a good person based on who you are rather than who you serve.

Uh huh. Color me unconvinced.

michael-brownAnyway, what about Christians criticizing Warren? Brown’s article didn’t quote any Christian criticism nor provide links to websites or blogs taking Pastor Warren to task, so I (briefly) tried to find a few. I didn’t do well at all. The two primary Christian sites I found writing on the topic were Christianity Today and Christian News. Both sites presented straightforward news articles without editorializing excessively, especially in any negative light. I looked at the comments on each site in response, and found that they were universally kind and compassionate.

From the Christianity Today blog:

Loretta: I am so very sad for this family and their great loss. The enemy of God’s people attacks us where he can hurt us the worst, in our families. I will pray for your family’s healing from the Lord. I trust that this young man knew the Lord as his personal Savior and that knowing that will bring the Warren family hope and comfort.

Barbara: I am so sorry, I know the battle, my daughter suffers from depression for many years and she has just turned 27yrs old. I pray everyday for her and others. why do they have to go through this, I am so sorry, I belive Jesus has him now and now he can work on him and bring him to the promise land, May Jesus bless you all .Barbara a mom.

Paul: This is very sad indeed. May the Warrens at this time experience abundant comfort and peace from our God and Father. And may the young man’s soul rest in peace. Amen!

The comments at Christian News were similar:

I am so sorry for your loss. My father committed suicide when I was 3 years old, I will spend my life wanting to help the broken hearted and show them our heavenly fathers love! My prayers are with the Warren family and friends. I pray the do not “what if” but say “what now God!” I love the Warrens for all that they as a pastor and family have given to us. I pray all of our words spoken to this family are filled with love and grace. We all mean well, listen and pray for them! Praying now!!
Mary Ann Moore, Sebastopol, CA

Linda Long: We are so sorry for the loss of your son. We also lost our son to suicide. It’s a Pain that never goes away, but we have an amazing God that will give you all the strength you need to get through this difficult time. Our prayers and thoughts are with you and family. God bless you!

If there is Christian criticism against the Warrens in relation to the death of their son, I can’t find any. That’s probably good, because I periodically have problems with religious people and even sometimes lose my faith in religious people ever having the ability to truly follow the will of God.

Atheists are expected to be mean-spirited and cruel (not that all of them are) but Christians are to aspire to a higher standard. More’s the pity when we don’t.

However, Brown’s focus wasn’t on Rick Warren who, as I said before, is an easy target for a variety of reasons. His focus was on mean-spirited Christians and how we are exceptionally poor witnesses to the world around us when we are unkind and inconsiderate.

Interestingly enough, in Bible study last Sunday, we studied 1 Peter 2 which includes instructions on how to be good examples and good witnesses for Christ in a pagan world:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

1 Peter 2:11-12

failureIf there are Christians who are publicly criticizing Pastor Rick Warren and his wife Kay for any reason at this difficult time in their lives, you should be ashamed of yourselves. If there are Christians specifically criticizing the Warrens for somehow participating or causing their son’s suicide, again, you should be ashamed. Whatever differences you may think you have with the Warrens or however you may feel about Pastor Warren’s theology, doctrine, or the nature and character of his church, does any of that really matter right now? If someone is grieving…if anyone is grieving, isn’t it our responsibility to show comfort and compassion in the name of Christ?

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

John 13:34

The implication is that we should love each other, not just in a “warm and fuzzy feeling” way, but with the same sort of love that Messiah loves us…love that’s self-sacrificing…loving someone enough that you would die for them if you had to.

Brown finishes his article with this:

Sadly, it is not just active Christians who frequent Christian websites. There are plenty of former-believers and outright non-believers who visit them too, and all too often, our inability to be civil in the midst of our disagreements, our extreme willingness to identify fellow-believers as false prophets and false teachers, our self-assumed right to judge the motivation of people’s hearts, and our utter violation of Jesus’ command to love one another as he loved us simply demonstrates to the world that our gospel is not true.

May this be the day we search our hearts, determining to watch our words, repent of our sins, and glorify the Lord with everything we write and say. Surely he deserves nothing less than this.

And remember: The world is watching.

The world is watching. We can choose to either sanctify the Name of God or desecrate it. Our choice, and by our choice, people will make decisions for or against God.

And also remember it’s not just people who are watching. God watches as well.

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14 thoughts on “The Problem with Religious People, Part 2”

  1. I’m struck by a few things in this bo-ro-med (bonus round meditation)
    First is the hatful lack of tolerance among those who hate others for their perceived hatful intolerance. I’ve seen this recently with someone telling me over and over how liberal and tolerant they are and at the same time repeating over and over how much they hate “bigots” and intolerant religious people.

    Mind boggling.

    Second, although I too love to debate the pros and cons of certain theological points of view, to think that we can cast another human aside because we disagree with their theological stance is so far afield from our calling as believers as to not even be comprehensible.

    We are commanded to LOVE God and our fellow, not WIN an argument.

  2. I agree, Ruth. We’ve been taught that we should expect the rest of the world to hate us for who we are and who we follow, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Pastor Warren has drawn such hateful criticism from the secular world. What’s astonishing is that Christians would take this opportunity, when the Warren family is in great pain, to attack them, supposedly in the name of Christ. I think it’s true that not everyone who calls themselves a believer truly belongs to Messiah.

  3. This news utterly crushed me when I heard it.

    I am a regular visitor to Saddleback’s main campus; meeting there at least 5 times a week, not for worship albeit, but because it’s a beautiful, and local (literally a 30 second drive from my house) spot, where I utilize their outdoor workout circuit. (A gorgeous, outdoor gym, with various workout equipment, there for any to use).

    Though I don’t attend services (I have been a few times here and there), nor do I consider myself a member of their church, I am profoundly thankful for Saddleback, and in an ironic way, I feel a deep spiritual connection to the campus, and the organization, despite not being an attendee.

    I have never personally met Pastor Rick, but have heard him preach many times, being in the audience of the mega-church worship center. From those I know who have met him though, they always tell me he is one of the most genuine, caring, loving persons they have had the pleasure to know.

    One of my friends once relayed a story how he saw the Pastor in a local Walgreens, and much to my friend’s slight amusement and genuine appreciation, witnessed Pastor Rick hugging every person he walked past through the aisles, telling them he loved them, and that he hoped they were having a great day.

    Though I might disagree with him theologically, as many do (who agrees 100% with anyone, anyways?), I admire him greatly as a person, and as a fellow Christian. Recently, for instance, Saddleback opened their brand new PEACE Center which provides hot meals, mentoring, and other services to those in need who live within our local community.

    I have seen many of my friends, changed as people, because they attend the church. They love Pastor Rick, and they love Jesus. Sure, He might be a slightly different Jesus than the portrait I paint of Yeshua for myself, but that seems like such a small thing sometimes, when all else is considered.

    It absolutely tore me apart when I heard the news about his son, but how much more hurt has been added to my angst by those who have taken this tragedy as an opportunity to spit on the Warren’s, and trash Saddleback as a community.

    Like you said, those people should be absolutely ashamed of themselves for even thinking of doing such a terrible thing. How dare they use this as a springboard for hatred and pettiness! And that some have the audacity to call themselves followers of Yeshua! It makes my blood boil…

    I hope to G-d that the Warrens don’t see any of the said filth that has been coming out of some people’s mouths. If they do end up encountering any of it, I pray with a broken heart that they might be able to stand strong amidst such terror…

    It is a sad time. My heart aches.

    Shalom, my friend.

  4. “If there are Christians who are publicly criticizing Pastor Rick Warren and his wife Kay for any reason at this difficult time in their lives, you should be ashamed of yourselves.”

    Amen.

  5. Unfortunately, we’re all human and even in the community of faith, some folks let themselves sink to the bottom of the moral and ethical barrel.

  6. Since hearing the news of Matthew’s death, I’ve been mostly praying and reflecting on my own story. I’m only now looking around to see what others are saying about it.

    As a Christian with a mental illness who has attempted suicide myself, I grieve for the Warren family and can appreciate Matthew’s struggle.

    At the same time, the way we respond when someone commits suicide needs to be both compassionate and truthful. While the Bible is not clear that suicide is the “unpardonable sin” of “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”, one can not deny (no matter how awful the circumstances) that it is a supreme act of ingratitude against God’s gift of life.

    Most importantly, we need to send the message to people enduring the profound agony of clinical depression to never give up, no matter how bad it gets – to “choose life” – for yourself and your loved ones.

    Thank you for the post and the opportunity to share.

  7. very well said, James. i think the moment you really begin to take up your cross and follow Christ should also be the moment you ask Him to clothe you with a full armor of faith. when you declare yourself a Christian, suddenly everyone else’s eyes are on you, watching closely and waiting for that moment when they could throw anything against you and your faith. it’s really sad how we cannot uplift one another instead.

    “If someone is grieving…if anyone is grieving, isn’t it our responsibility to show comfort and compassion in the name of Christ?” this is what we need to do.

    thank you always for your great insights. 🙂

  8. James, when someone brings up the “need religion to be a good person” argument a good question to ask to put the ball back in their court is: “who decides what defines a good person.”

    If there is no objective standard for what is good and what is not good, as it relates to our personhood, then each of us can decide that for ourselves. The common response is that “we” as in society decides that, we don’t need a dusty old book for that.

    The response to that is this: if society has a right to decide what being a good person is — then like minded individuals can form their own society and define “goodness” as they please.

    I believe we’ve seen that in the last 100 years in: Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, Mao’ist China, and the killing fields of Pol Pot. If we follow through on the logic that we can define goodness without scripture then each man is free to do what is right in his own eyes. Nazi Germany was unbelievably evil and certainly not “good” but if a nation of people decide to define “good” as they did and there is nowhere to turn for an objective standard then they are free to define “good” as they will and act upon it.

    The end result of such thinking is always a turn towards authoritarianism.

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