Rev. Christopher Marlin-Warfield

Bringing People Together to do Good

“Don’t Be a Jerk” Is Not the Core Message of the Gospel

The post that set this post off is an old one from John Pavlovitz: The Church of Not Being Horrible. The core of that post is a common one. What we really need — what would cut to the heart of the Christian gospel and maybe even all religion — is a church that understands the importance of not being horrible to each other. Maybe we even need a church that embraces that ethic; a church that takes not being horrible to each other as its mission.

Here is what Pavlovitz writes:

I’m starting a new church: the Church of Not Being Horrible.

Our mission statement is simply this — Don’t be horrible to people:

[…]

The central question at any given moment in the church is: Am I being horrible right now? If one concludes that they are, they endeavor to not do so. If they are unsure, they allow other people to help them see their horrible blind spots of privilege, prejudice, and ignorance—and then they respond.

In other words, our sacred calling is to be decent, to be kind, to be compassionate, to be whatever it is that we believe the world is lacking: to be the kind of people the world needs—and it definitely needs people being less horrible these days.

Pavlovitz admits that ‘not being horrible’ is a low bar to set. And I’ll concede that, in a world where some people seem to make a vocation out of robbing other people of their dignity, ‘not being horrible’ can be a beautiful aspiration.

But I have two problems with this watering down of the Christian gospel and Christian ethics.

First, not being horrible is not the same as being decent, kind, and compassionate. Refraining from kicking someone when they’re down is not the same as helping them get back up. And calling on people to not be horrible is not a call to anything more than the apathy of simply not actively hurting people.

Not being horrible is not the same as being decent, kind, and compassionate. Refraining from kicking someone when their down is not the same as helping them get back up. Click To Tweet

What Pavlovitz wants isn’t just a world where people don’t hurt each other. He doesn’t want just a world where people refrain from taking away other people’s civil rights or caricaturing other people’s religion. What Pavlovitz wants — and what I want, as well — is a world where people carry each other. I think that what we both want is a world characterized not by the apathy of not actively hurting each other, but a world characterized by the passionate work of helping one another.

Second, related, and maybe more importantly, the life that the gospel calls us to — the life that Jesus Christ calls us to — isn’t a life of not being horrible. It’s a life of active, zealous, foolhardy, and dangerous love for our friends, our neighbors, and our enemies. In a world where people do make a habit out of robbing others of their dignity, the positive call to love each other — the call to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a time of God’s favor — is a call to revolution.

In a world where people do make a habit out of robbing others of their dignity, the positive call to love each other is a call to revolution. Click To Tweet

And those of us who are Christians shouldn’t water that down to not being horrible.

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