Spiritual Road Rage
Road rage has become pandemic. People fighting, shooting – even killing – over such trivial things as lane access and speed limits, merging and parking. Social scientists are full of theories as to its rise: an increasingly polarized culture, racism, the availability of guns.
The more obvious answer, to my thinking, is the simple loss of civility. But a very particular loss. Road rage is the elevation of something that is, in fact, trivial to the level of enormity. You drive slow, I become enraged. You take “my” parking spot, it’s a fight. You cut me off, I pull out a gun.
I am noticing this pattern affect other areas of life. For example, the increase of spiritual road rage. This isn’t about someone driving in a way that you can’t tolerate, but someone thinking or living in a way you can’t tolerate.
David Aikman, in an editorial in Christianity Today, discussed how no attribute of civilized life seems more under attack than civility. He noted the extent to which certain Christians have turned themselves into the
“self-appointed attack dogs of Christendom. They seem determined to savage not only opponents of Christianity, but also fellow believers of whose doctrinal positions they disapprove. A troll through the Internet reveals websites so drenched in sarcasm and animosity that an agnostic, or a follower of another faith tradition interested in what it means to become a Christian, might be permanently disillusioned.”
I once read of a large church that made the news due to a problem with a persistently caustic blogger. A former member, he had become disgruntled over various actions of the senior pastor, and became further incensed that said pastor maintained the backing of the leadership. With nowhere to go with his frustration, and no means to lobby for his cause, he started an anonymous blog in order to wage a one-person campaign of accusation and bitterness. It quickly disintegrated on both sides to such a degree that suits and countersuits began flying freely.
What a God-forsaken mess.
But the article had links, which led to other links, and before I knew it, I found myself exposed in a way I had never imagined possible to the sordid world of the bitter blog—meaning blogs that seemingly exist for no other reason than to attack a particular Christian leader, church, ministry or movement. More often than not, the divides were over nothing more than a disagreement over negligible points of theology, varying philosophies of ministry or differing styles of leadership.
When I started Mecklenburg Community Church in the early 1990s, I commissioned a survey through the Barna Research Group to ask unchurched people who lived in the surrounding community a simple but direct question: “Why don’t you go to church?” The leading answers fell into categories you might expect: “There is no value in attending,” “I don’t have the time,” “I’m simply not interested,” “Churches ask for money too much,” “Church services are usually boring.” What surprised me most was the strength of one response in particular—so strong it was the second most common answer for being unchurched, representing six out of every ten people: “Churches have too many problems.”
The assessment of the unchurched continues to follow suit—that the typical Christian community is inflexible, hypocritical, judgmental and just plain mean. Division and discord are perceived to be more present in church than in many other groups. Why would anyone want to become involved with something that, in their mind, is so obviously dysfunctional? As one man in the survey quipped: “I’ve got enough problems in my life. Why would I go to church and get more?”
Sadly, this is not new for American Christianity. I once read of a school president who was also an evangelist, who made it clear that if any faculty or student attended a certain fellow evangelist’s crusade, they would be fired or expelled. If they wanted to pray for the evangelist, he suggested the following words:
Dear Lord, bless the man who leads Christian people into disobeying the word of God, who prepares the way for Antichrist by building the apostate church and turning his so-called converts over to infidels and unbelieving preachers. Bless the man who flatters the Pope and defers to the purple and scarlet-clothed Antichrist who heads the church that the word of God describes as the old whore of Babylon.
So much for Bob Jones, Sr. of Bob Jones University and his relationship with the famed evangelist Billy Graham. I am sure Bob Jones, Sr., was a good and Godly man in many ways. Just not in this way. So while sentiments of this kind have been brewing for some time, what is new is the increasingly public nature of our vitriol, its widespread dissemination through the internet, and our growing comfort and even affirmation of its manifestation.
As Francis Schaeffer observed toward the end of his life, it has almost become a matter of personal privilege, writing that,
“We rush in, being very, very pleased, it would seem at times, to find other men’s mistakes. We build ourselves up by tearing other men down... we love the smell of blood, the smell of the arena, the smell of the bullfight...”
We may be pleased, but we are not being Christian.
So whether it is theological road rage fueled by making tertiary matters primary, or methodological road rage fueled by building theological fences around personal tastes, we are simply modeling the ways of the world.
And the world – rightly – wants none of it.
After all, they already have enough problems in their life.
James Emery White
James Emery White, The Rise of the Nones (Baker).
James Emery White, Rethinking the Church (Baker).
David Aikman, “Attack Dogs of Christendom,” Christianity Today, August 2007, p. 52.
William Martin, A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story.
Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.