Humility: the forgotten evangelical virtue

benefitsfruit01You can identify them by their fruit – that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Matthew 7:16

This “fruit” has many definitions: empathy, service, compassion. But the one I want to address is a particularly thorny one: humility.

You’ll never hear anyone seriously say, “I’m so great at being humble.” Most of us aren’t. Humility requires taking responsibility for things we’d rather sweep under the rug. Sometimes humility requires admitting we were wrong about something. That’s not easy to do.

But then, nothing Jesus asks of his followers is supposed to be easy.

Recently, an acquaintance shared an article from Charisma magazine on Facebook about transgender acceptance (or lack thereof). If you are familiar with this magazine, you know it’s a fear-based publication that thrives on conspiracy theories about how Christians are constantly under attack in the United States. Facts – particularly scientific facts – are not a priority for Charisma writers. But when it comes to disproving the validity of the transgender “agenda,” suddenly this article is all about the science. I have to say that’s pretty convenient, especially considering that no citations for these ‘scientific facts’ were given.

That’s not humility. That’s cognitive dissonance at best, and justification for bigotry at worst.

Here’s a particularly unpleasant fact: 80% sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim already knows. This could be a friend, a relative, even a pastor. This means that, statistically, women and children are 80% more likely to be molested in church than in a public restroom. One need not do more than turn on the news to learn about religious public figures caught in sexual “scandals,” or the complete mishandling of sexual assaults that occur on Christian college campuses. The above statistic is proven every day the more these stories are exposed, and there are an untold number of these stories that will never make it to the news, much less outside the home or church walls.

Humility is admitting that many Christians have a bad history of handling abuse cases, and brainstorming what can be done to fix that. Misrepresenting facts, or ignoring them altogether for the sake of self-preservation, is pretty much the opposite of humble.

When Christians are “caught” and exposed as abusers and law-breakers, a common response in the evangelical community is Well, he/she must not be a True Christian™ . The doctrine of daily sanctification seems to be at odds with the teaching that humans will never not be sinners on this side of heaven. In evangelical tradition, all sins are equally offensive, yet the exposed rapist is denounced by the No True Scotsman fallacy while the gossipers and gluttons are excused as being “works in progress.”

This is nothing more than a defense mechanism for churches to save face. It’s far easier to hide the dirty laundry than take responsibility for it, and even go so far as to admit that dirty church laundry often stinks just as much as secular laundry. And yet, the example of Jesus calls – no, demands – that Christians be humble. In this case, the right choice is obvious because it is the harder choice. Come on, Christians. Time to act like grown-ups and pick up our collective cross. Yes, it’s heavy, but that’s kind of the point.

A sign of a strong, healthy family dynamic is when members take responsibility for their own. And yet this is not what happens. You don’t denounce your flesh and blood for screwing up; you work with them so they can get the help they need. The Christians who screw up are still ours.

It would be easier to denounce those screw-ups as fakers if only there weren’t so many of them. Like it or not, Christianity is littered with rapists, murderers, embezzlers, and wife beaters. It’s time to acknowledge this and ask ourselves why our faith has a reputation for being cruel and deceitful. If the adage is true – that church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints – let’s stop acting so shocked when our members are outed as sinners. What favor are we doing our witness by denying they were ever truly “saved” in the first place? Under the right circumstances and environmental conditions, none of us is truly incapable of anything.

I cannot tell you how many of my atheist and agnostic friends would respect Christians a lot more if we could stop making excuses and own our shit.

By and large, I know more Christians who give me hope and encouragement than the scary ones who make me want to flee. But the lack of humility and self-awareness I’m seeing from Christians on the news and in my Facebook feed is terrifying, and it’s time to start holding them accountable.


4 thoughts on “Humility: the forgotten evangelical virtue

  1. “Think you’re really righteous? Think you’re pure at heart? Well, I know I’m a million times as humble as thou art.”

    from the song “Amish Paradise” by Weird Al Yankovic.


  2. Pingback: It was never about bathrooms, or protecting women and children – Sarahbeth Caplin

  3. “Well, he/she must not be a True Christian(TM)”. Yet, many of these same people will insist that misogyny and violence are inherent in Islam due to ISIS and use that as justification to close the door to refugees!


  4. This post has raised good issues.
    I’m speaking from a UK perspective so I can’t truly comment on the detail as the social dynamics are different here. In the UK we have a very aggressive wing of atheism who leap with glee upon any short comings and then blame every theist irrespective of the belief system (they can be very broad-minded in their prejudices). Thus it doesn’t matter what you say, all they wish to hear is ‘Oh Woe is me! Of course there is no god! Please forgive me!’
    Overall though those Christians who circle the wagons at the sound of any scandal or criticism would do well to not just read the Bible with a view to suiting their world-view but consider over and over the message Jesus was bringing to us.
    And stop with the ‘profiling’ of groups; they don’t seem comprehend they too are being profiled.
    Best wishes

    Liked by 1 person

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