Facebook’s “On this Day” feature recently reminded me of a conversation in response to one of my older blog posts. That particular blog no longer exists, but the content of the post in question was later republished as this post: a response to students at my seminary who believed God wanted me in the Messianic Judaism program instead of counseling.
One response came from a former professor we’ll call H:
My problem lies not with H’s comment as a whole, but rather her last line that reads a bit like a scolding for not “looking for unity” in the Body of Christ, and instead “promoting one [denomination] over another.”
Years later, my thoughts in my blog post still stand. They are backed by personal experience, and are perfectly valid. No one gets to discredit them simply because it makes them look bad, or hurts their feelings.
My religious writing is 99% personal, autobiographical nature. My “testimony,” as it’s come to be called, sheds light on cultural appropriation of Judaism within Christianity, and the ways Christians have tried – badly, I must say – to “win” Jews over to Jesus. I wouldn’t write if I didn’t believe such criticism is to the benefit of the Church. Christians need to hear from someone on the inside why their Jew-ish evangelism efforts could be considered harmful.
Seminary wasn’t the first time, and nor would it be the last, that I encountered Christians like H: believers who express confusion, hurt, and even anger when people like me have valid disagreements with their beliefs. It is possible to criticize beliefs without criticizing the person holding them (although that’s extremely difficult!), but H saw my “attack” on the Messianic Jewish movement as an indictment against her personally, rather than as an honest expression of my personal experiences.
The inability to separate those experiences from personal indictments is hardly a problem that is unique to H. It’s been my experience that many Christians (particularly those of the evangelical sect) have difficulty separating criticism of a religious movement from their own faith identity. It’s very difficult to condemn anything wrong with Christian culture (treatment of LGBT people, for a timely example) without hurting the feelings of other Christians, who view themselves as part of one homogeneous group. They will protest “Not all Christians are like that!” even when you’re not talking about them, specifically.
The sense of tribalism runs so deep that any form of criticism, no matter how polite or necessary, will be interpreted as “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.”
Requests to “look for unity” or “stop causing division” when criticism is absolutely necessary are just veiled silencing tactics: don’t ask questions. Don’t rock the boat. If something disturbs you, keep it to yourself, because you’ll ruin the experience for everyone else.
Evangelicals are fond of saying that “truth offends” when nonbelievers are resistant to their message. That statement works both ways: we are living in divisive times, and if I happen to witness behavior that is turning more people away from Christianity than is enticing them to join, it would be irresponsible to keep my mouth shut. Christians tend to embrace “divisiveness” if it involves confronting gays who want want gay weddings (with mutual benefits!), or public schools that don’t include Creationism in science classes, but when it comes to pointing out their own behavior, accusing you of “disrupting the Body of Christ” effectively shifts the blame.
Well, I’d much rather be “divisive” than complicit. Bring on All The Divisive Things.
But “causing division” only works if the people being confronted have humble hearts willing to listen and change (see, that rhetoric works both ways, too). I’m starting to wonder if self-awareness, and the ability to handle constructive criticism, are rare spiritual gifts.
Like this post? Check out Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic, now available on Amazon.