This is a post created by my wife, Amy Wolf Nastase. Please comment if you get the chance:
My college, like so many other Christian colleges, held a morning chapel service twice a week that all students were required to attend. And so every Tuesday and Thursday morning, roughly 2000 students would flock into the basketball gymnasium outfitted with wooden bleachers on one side, rows upon rows upon rows of metal folding chairs on the court floor, and pull-out metal bleachers on the other side with a small balcony section directly above them.
The “early bird” students came to chapel with one class already under their belt, while many more students poured out of the cafeteria and down the staircase to the gymnasium clutching travel mugs filled with coffee and pulling napkin-wrapped bagels out of their pockets, the hiding necessary to get around the rule prohibiting food from being taken out of the cafeteria. Finally, there were the students who came running from the outlying dorms dressed in clothes that may or may not have been worn the night before, desperately hoping to reach the gymnasium doors before they were officially shut, thereby barring students from purposefully sneaking in for the last five minutes of the service to meet the requirement.
If you wanted to be counted present at chapel, you had to be in the gymnasium for the whole service. But there was no requirement for being mentally or emotionally present. Eating breakfast, finishing homework, and studying for a test were all common activities during chapel. The far corner of the balcony was widely known, even among college staff, as the sleeping section. And even if you did pay attention, and liked the speaker or felt the topic was relevant, it never stuck with you for very long. Sure, you might talk about the morning’s chapel service with the person who lived down the hall from you in the dorm that night or maybe even write about it in your journal if it was still in your mind the next day. But often after a week, a month, a year, you had forgotten most, if not all, of the details of that chapel service.
Five years after graduation, I only vividly remember one chapel service. I can’t recall the speaker’s name. I’m not sure if he spoke in the spring or the fall of 2004. I can tell you the general theme of his message, but none of the details. In fact, I only remember it for one particular reason – students walked out in protest.
You see, this guest speaker was visiting a campus where a significant majority of the student body believed in just war theory and the latest just war was underway in Iraq. But the speaker, while sharing in the Christian faith with his audience, differed from them in one major way. He believed in pacifism, a theory at direct odds with just war despite both theories being rooted in, and built upon, Scripture.
No more than ten minutes into his talk, the speaker said [loosely quoted], “The Iraq War is wrong.”
Faint applause from the school’s few fellow pacifists followed, and as the speaker started his next sentence, a student voice rang out, “You’re wrong.”
As the speaker stopped and astonished students looked for the responsible party among themselves, the source of the voice identified himself by standing up and stomping down the wooden bleachers and walking out the back doors of the gymnasium. The silence after the initial shock only lasted a few seconds until more footsteps sounded and cheers and clapping filled the gymnasium. While the speaker and everyone else closely watched, about 50 students expressed their disapproval of the speaker and his interpretation of the Bible by leaving the service.
Sitting near the bottom of the wooden bleachers, I sat in stunned silence. What was happening that morning had never happened before. As a political science major, I was and still am for voicing opinions, but this protest was conducted in the wrong setting and in such a deliberate and defiant way that was meant to shame and provoke the guest speaker. I was further surprised by the reaction of my classmates, the ones who remained sitting in the bleachers with me, but who cheered on hatred. I never knew such emotions existed in the idyllic bubble of my Christian college.
In January, the Women’s Bible study ministry at my church started a new study written by Beth Moore. I had heard her name, as names tend to bounce around Christian circles, but I had no real knowledge of or about her when the study began. That first Tuesday evening, as the DVD played on the over-sized projection screen, I got to meet Beth Moore. It doesn’t take long for her to make a first impression on you. She’s a blond Texan, snappily dressed with a bright voice coming out of a perfectly lipsticked mouth that has a remarkably high words-per-minute rate. Although her bubbliness and quirks can easily distract a viewer, by the end of the video, I was distinctly aware of two things: she loved God and she loved being able to share about God with other women.
At home the next day, I decided to Google Beth Moore to learn more about her – her background, her story, her ministry. The first result was her personal website which provided her biography and introduced her ministry partners. Subsequent Google results linked to her books on Amazon, magazine interviews, and YouTube videos of her teaching. Near the bottom of the first page of results, Google politely suggested some Beth Moore related search terms.
The phrase, “Beth Moore criticism,” popped out of the list. Hmmm, I thought, criticisms. I had to admit that her strong and unique personality and “power woman” clothing and jewelry could be anything from mildly distracting to slightly annoying or even irritating for some women viewers. Not to mention her speaking style laced with her mantras of “Turn to the person sitting next to you and say…” and “Does anyone here get where I’m going with this?”
So, I clicked on the link and was shocked at the search results that came up. These critics had nothing to say about her hairstyle or her video persona or even her restless way of walking all over the stage and up and down the aisles while she taught. No, what these critics had to say was disturbing and unsettling, calling her a false prophet and warning against her bad theology and un-Biblical teaching.
And these critics didn’t stop with Beth Moore; many of these websites listed other pastors, teachers, authors, and theologians, some of whose names I recognized and others I didn’t. But all of them were labeled not just false prophets who were Biblically and theologically unsound, but also as evil and dangerous heretics. Heretics? Really?
I felt naive. How had I never heard about any of this before? Have I been fooled and led astray from the truth by these so-called heretics? Why would my church choose to do this Bible study if its author was a danger to the Christian faith? And then I felt sad. Why did the Christians writing these websites identifying and denouncing false prophets and heretics hate those other Christians, the ones preaching and teaching and writing and studying about God, so much?
I call it hate because I believe it is hate. And I believe it was hate that compelled those students at my college to loudly storm out of chapel service. It is hate because it shows no respect or attempted understanding of someone with a different interpretation or theological belief. It is hate because it shows no grace or love to another person who is not just any other person, but a fellow Christian who worships the same God and loves the same Jesus.
I don’t understand and so I ask the same question again. Why do Christians hate other Christians? My reflections on these two examples, markers of a distance of seven years of my life and faith, have developed into three theories I would like to present as possible answers to my own question.
1. We [as Christians] become so strongly focused on an issue like just war versus pacifism, minute points of theology, homosexuality, abortion, etc. that it takes over our vision and we fail to see people anymore. While there is a venue and a need at times to oppose an issue, the tragedy is when the attack on the issue spills over to an attack on a person.
2. We [again, as Christians] transfer the concept of the religious/moral/good/right versus the secular/immoral/bad/wrong into a my-kind-of-Christian versus the not-my-kind-of-Christian mentality.
3. We [as humanity, not just Christians] are apprehensive about differences and from our uncertainty about how to act in the presence of differences and our uncomfortable emotions, stems overreaction in the expression of hate.
I am not so naive as to think that all Christians should fully agree on every social or cultural or theological issue. That will not happen and it doesn’t need to happen. Different points of view and respectful discussion can challenge and grow our personal faith while serving as a launching pad for relationships with fellow Christians.
However, I am bold enough to implore Christians to love each other despite difference, small and large. And not just an inner love, expressed only in one’s mind to console oneself that one does live a life of love or within the safety of one’s own church’s walls, but an outward love that spills out from the heart and graciously extends respect and appreciation for each person in words and in gestures, virtually and physically. So to all my fellow Christians, please stop hating each other, and if it all possible, please love each other.