A regular observer of the news is likely to run across a certain sort of picture these days on a not-infrequent sort of basis. Though the particulars and location vary, the picture seen is thus: one individual, or a group of individuals, yelling at others, with the participants often in close proximity to those they are shouting at. Frequently such photographs of this sort of discourse is political in nature, the clamor and commotion involving some sort of disagreement concerning policy or political goals. Perhaps the uproar is about the climate, or tax policy, or minority rights, or majority rights, or support for a particular politician, or as likely, opposition to a particular politician. A subset of such images shows the ones on the receiving end of the verbal abuse to be reciprocating in kind.
Such moments are not entirely the property of the political. The Westboro Baptist Church, for many years, made a national name for themselves with such conduct. Nor is the conduct new. Throughout history various movements, political, religious, and social, have thought the best means of defending deeply held believes was to attack those in opposition, both verbally and physically.
Everyone has things they believe to be true. Often, such matters of faith are deeply personal and important to the believer. When such is the case, it is only natural to want to convert other people to one’s own way of thinking. And, when considered dispassionately, this whole business of yelling at those in disagreement, beyond just being an expression of anger and indignation, is a sort of effort at conversion. It is an effort to shame, berate and verbally cow others so as to reduce opposition and convince them of the importance of the issue at hand.
Not surprisingly, yelling abuse at others is a terrible way of converting. To the contrary, it has a tendency to harden and increase opposition to the position being defended.
This is a topic that Christians should give some thought to. For one thing, regarding matters of faith, there are no topics so important as the salvation of the soul. Though we might save the planet, feed all the poor, and remove all injustice, if we lose our souls we have gained nothing lasting (cf. Matthew 16:26). Therefore, Christians are commanded by their Lord to actively work on converting others to the Gospel (cf. Mark 16:15-16; Matthew 28:18-20), understanding that He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life, the only means by which men can reach the Father and His heavenly home (John 14:6).
Yet, Jesus in His wisdom never commanded His followers to yell or berate others into submission. Jesus taught a better way to convert people to the truth: love those in opposition, treat them kindly, reason with them respectfully, and move on if they refuse to listen.
The Bible teaches us, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink (Proverbs 25:21; ESV).” To this thought the apostle Paul added, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21; ESV).”
Likewise, there are frequent admonitions in the Scriptures against anger. “Be angry and sin not (Ephesians 4:26).” “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11; ESV).” “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice (Ephesians 4:31).”
We are to “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” but as we make such a defense of our faith, we are specifically told, “yet do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 1:15; ESV).”
Naturally not everyone will listen, but when they don’t listen, again, the Lord teaches us to move one. Even if those in opposition start to make trouble, rather than fight and yell, Jesus merely repeated the admonition to move on elsewhere (cf. Matthew 10:12-14, 23). In all things, as much as depended on His followers, Jesus wants us to seek to be at peace with others, even those with whom we disagree (cf. Romans 12:17-18).
This whole business of getting in someone’s face and yelling our anger at them is not the path of Christ and it is certainly not the way to convert people to the truth. Jesus had a better way: one which reflected the love He taught, one which was more likely to produce the desired results, and one which did not actively make the world a more unpleasant place in which to live. It is most certainly the method His followers should endeavor to employ as we seek to convert the world to the truth of Christ.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.