TGC’s “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question on how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected].
How do I respond when a coworker angrily disparages Christians as hateful and bigoted?
In working with unbelievers and believers alike, we’re called to live and labor in a manner worthy of the gospel (Phil. 1:27). We should be quick to humbly confess and repent when we fall short of it.
But how should we respond to coworkers who’ve taken offense not over our own actions but over those of other Christians?
1. Listen with humility.
In the face of frequent, embittered accusations that all Christians are prejudiced or malignant, it may be tempting to respond with defensiveness, resentment, or even retaliation. But humility is defusing and disarming. Even the strongest and proudest among us may be persuaded by patience and a soft tongue (Prov. 25:15).
Our best first step is to genuinely listen. This is more active (and self-forgetful) than silently crafting a rebuttal while the other person speaks. It involves praying for a tender heart that’s moved with compassion over the wrongs others have experienced as we mourn with those who mourn (Rom. 12:15).
Our coworkers (or others they know) may have been bullied, ostracized, or ridiculed—actions neither we nor Christ would ever approve.
2. Denounce un-Christlikeness.
While we might want to try to save face for our religion, Christ didn’t. He freely called out beliefs and behaviors that strayed from alignment with God’s Word.
We can do the same, offering statements such as “You’re right—that behavior is wrong” and “I’m so sorry that happened to you.”
Our faith is built on the premise that all people, and all Christians, fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). This would be a good time to mention that Jesus is the only perfect human, that believing in him does not make Christians sinless, and that sanctification is a long process. The sin of Christians is not a reason to disbelieve the gospel, but another reason to cling to it.
3. Affirm Christ.
Even as we rightly grieve and even apologize for the atrocities committed by other Christians in the name of Christ, we shouldn’t be ashamed of the gospel. However it may be distorted or manipulated for the Enemy’s ends, it’s still the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Rom. 1:16), and it’s exactly what all people—even Christianity’s fiercest opposers—are looking for in the end.
Even as we rightly grieve and even apologize for the atrocities committed by other Christians in the name of Christ, we shouldn’t be ashamed of the gospel.
The Christ we serve, follow, and submit to was full of grace and truth (John 1:17). His Word commands us to do everything in love (1 Cor. 16:14)—even when that love means affirming his commands of righteousness and his disapproval of sins, and even when we know we’ll be hated for his name’s sake (Matt. 10:22).
As you affirm the exclusivity of Christianity, you may seem to be affirming your coworker’s suspicions of bigotry. You might consider asking her what kinds of beliefs and values she’d denounce—perhaps racism or ageism. Almost certainly, your coworker doesn’t think we should be tolerant of all beliefs. She’d agree that in some instances, there is one right way. We think so, too.
4. Seek common ground.
We may spark empathy and find common ground with our coworkers if they can see how their own belief systems have been misrepresented at times.
Ask if they’ve met someone with their own worldview—whether Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic, or otherwise—whom they’d describe as hateful and bigoted. How do they reconcile this? Might they say this unkind individual is acting on misunderstood or misapplied beliefs that are still noble when rightly carried out? If so, could the same be true of hurtful Christians they’ve interacted with in the past?
We all acknowledge and submit ourselves to an authoritative belief system—whether Christianity, atheism, self-autonomy, or any other activist cause of our generation. We all believe in good and evil as defined by something (or someone) beyond us. We all have a theology that affects how we view and respond to ourselves and others. And we’re all guilty of acting in ways that contradict what we claim to be true.
Almost certainly, your coworker doesn’t think we should be tolerant of all beliefs. She’d agree that in some instances, intolerance is commendable. So do we.
Without justifying in any way, take courage in remembering this isn’t specific to Christianity. Adherents to monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, and atheism alike have been guilty of hatred and bigotry. Great humanitarian atrocities have even been committed in the name of science, yet we haven’t discredited the entire scientific field in response.
Unconscionable behavior may not always reflect a certain teaching but a misinterpretation of it. The greater question, then, is what our beliefs hold to be true and how they call us to live, regardless of how faithfully we live in accordance.
5. Be a counterpoint.
Remember that at the end of even your most articulate arguments, your behavior toward coworkers will likely speak louder. Followers of Christ are called to set an example for other Christians (and for unbelievers) in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity (1 Tim. 4:12), all while clothed in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Col. 3:12).
For each hateful and bigoted Christian interaction our coworkers have experienced, we can be a counterpoint they must now also explain. And we may find that to be the best apology and apologetic we can give.
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