Today we begin a several-week series called Topical Tuesdays, where you pick the topic and I make up answers.  You can add your topic / question to the list by commenting on this post.  Today’s question is submitted by Jeremy B:

What is a good response when someone (or group), who is affiliated with the Baptist orientation makes national news for allegedly trying to smuggle Haitian children?  More generally, what is a good response when other Christians (or sometimes we ourselves) embarrass The Name?

I still remember one of my youth pastor’s famous one liners whenever we went somewhere as a group: Whatever you do, don’t drag the name of Jesus through the mud. Bob knew something that we hadn’t quite learned, and that is that it’s very easy to draw attention away from the holy, grace-filled name of Jesus and towards our own stupid / ignorant / sinful behavior.  Sometimes we behaved that way because we meant to (church buses are simply a sin pit on wheels, just so you know), other times because we simply didn’t know any better (“What? I shouldn’t have yelled ‘Shine your head for a quarter, sir?’ to that bald guy?”).

Still, it seems that Christians are continuously doing dumb stuff.  I haven’t followed the situation in Haiti closely enough to know the full story, but I’d guess that this church group was trying to do a good thing with either (a) false information (“But what they told me was…”), (b) incomplete information (“Let’s just trust God for the details.”), or (c) just plain stupidity (“What? I can’t take kids that aren’t mine into another country?  But they’re so cute!“).

But back to Jeremy’s question, how do we as fellow believers respond?  I think four points are in order.  (I’ll use the Haiti situation as a springboard, but try to keep this as general as possible for other scenarios):

  1. Pray fervently. True, untrue, or somewhere in between, the fact is that we are dealing with fellow believers in crisis.  Pray for their safety, for justice, and for mercy in the case where honest mistakes were made.
  2. Listen discerningly. In nearly every situation where a church group or individual Christian makes headlines for nefarious purposes, I typically don’t jump to conclusions until I’ve heard from the church or the individual.  Proverbs 18:17 says, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”  In 17 years of ministry, I’ve heard hundreds of accusations against churches or church members.  Sadly, my thick skull has only recently learned that until I hear both sides of the story, I’m probably not getting the accurate version.
  3. Argue (or defend) honestly. When a non-believer asks your opinion, be gracious, be humble, but be truthful.  If you don’t know, don’t comment.  Don’t spout your opinion.  And by all means, don’t play the persecution card.  (“You just hate us because we’re Christians!”   “No.  I hate you because you’re obnoxious.”)  Where Christians mess up, we should own up.  But there’s a difference between honestly assessing a situation and crossing the line into gossip.  Be careful.
  4. Re-direct accordingly. In my experience, these stories do little more than give people another barrier to the gospel.  That’s why we must perpetually re-direct people to the truth.  Christians are not perfect.  Jesus is.  Churches are going to fail us.  Jesus won’t.  It’s important that people understand that we are very imperfect representatives of a perfect savior.

Great question, Jeremy.  Anyone else want to take this on?

Next week: Should covenant members be the only ones that serve on ministry teams?