Is it possible to be a Christian and treat people like this?

This does not look like ministry to me (photo by angeralert.com).

“You are not only a coward but a non-believer as well.”

It may not quite be at the level of a vibranium shield, but my skin is a lot thicker than it used to be. When you start a blog that promotes something as insanely unorthodox as the idea that the author of Genesis 1-3 might have (like most other biblical authors) made use of a metaphor here and there, you come to expect that some fundamentalists are going to call Father Merrin and start reaching for the holy water.

It’s unfortunate — and, often, perplexing — but you learn to get used to it.

Even so, there are times I receive emailed messages like the one quoted above, and it hits like a punch in the gut. I know I should just ignore such trollishness. Usually I can. But not always.

Now, it would be easy to paint this as an “us vs. them” thing, the “us” meaning those of us who think evolution is good science and the literal-ish reading of Genesis is bad hermeneutics, and the “them” being anyone who disagrees. But I don’t want to do that, mainly because it would be exceptionally counterproductive to the ultimate goal of making evolution a less contentious issue in the evangelical conversation, but also because it simply isn’t true.

Yes, through my work on this site, I have met young-earthers who are antagonistic and downright mean-spirited, who have discounted me as a “heretic,” “atheist,” “secularist” and more, all without displaying the slightest interest in understanding why I believe what I do. But I’ve also met young-earthers, who are just as young-earth-y as the other young-earthers, and who hold to and defend their beliefs just as strongly, while still showing respect and deference to someone who is — after all — a human being just like them.

So I can’t paint with a broad brush. But this discrepancy, between people who otherwise have almost identical beliefs, is causing me to rethink almost everything I thought I knew about the Christian faith.

You see, evangelicals like me are partial to the idea that faith is paramount in Christianity. In basic terms, this is a very biblical idea (James 2:24 notwithstanding). The problem is that “faith” is almost synonymous with the word “beliefs,” which is pretty darn close to the word “doctrine,” which leads to the subconscious (and hence, very powerful) idea that theological purity is the ultimate goal in the life of being a Christian. (Thanks a lot, English language.)

I have not been immune to this. At various points in my life, I have found myself bizarrely, irrationally feeling as though the Catholic who prays to the saints, or the Pentecostal who speaks in tongues, are more my enemy than the atheist who thinks we’re all a bunch of crazies that worship fairy tales.

But now I feel like I have to change my tune. More and more, I’m seeing that the issue is not doctrine; it’s attitude. It’s not theology; it’s posture. It’s not the brain; it’s the heart. In short, maybe it doesn’t really matter what kind of Christian you are. Maybe, what it comes down to is what kind of person you are.

It’s about how we treat people. Do we see them as … well, people? People with hearts and minds and spirits and free wills of their own? People whose needs and desires, broadly speaking, are common to us? Or do we see them as objects: prizes to be won, numbers to be accounted for, rebellious animals to be brought in line?

To say there is a spiritual component to all this is an understatement. The Spirit is the key. Galatians 5 contrasts the “works of the flesh” (among them, immorality, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, disputes, dissension, division, envy) with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

These latter nine are the adjectives that are to characterize the Spirit-indwelt Christian. It is these nine traits that are to distinguish us from “non-believers” — not the view we take of evolution, nor how vociferously we defend that view.

And again, this is not about bashing young-earthers in general. But it is about bashing the idea that self-righteous, indignant, hostile anger over matters of theological disagreement is somehow a virtue of the “true Christian.” Because it just isn’t.

I freely admit, this requires checking oneself constantly, because peace and joy and love are not exactly our natural states. It is the fruit of “the Spirit” after all, not the fruit of “humans just doing their human thing.”

None of this is to say we should just “agree to disagree” — ignore contentious matters in the name of some false appearance of “unity.” Even the early church was deeply divided over certain issues, which they debated at length. The bottom line is simply that there is no biblical basis for letting the quest for theological purity trump a constant outpouring of grace in a world that desperately needs it.

In evangelical culture, you hear a lot about whether someone can be a “real Christian” and believe in this or that. It’s why I worded my own headline the way I did. But I wonder if it makes more sense to ask whether someone can be a “real Christian” and not showcase the fruit of the Spirit, especially in trying situations.

Fortunately, that’s not my call. But I do know this: If this fruit is not evident in one’s life, it is obviously not because they are mistaken on some fine point of Christian doctrine. I’m afraid their confusion goes much, much deeper.

An earlier version of this column was originally published on the Sojourners’ blog God’s Politics.

Tyler Francke

  • Leandro Vicente

    Perfect text! I’ve been surrounded by theological issues and I even posted on my Facebook once that “I don’t like theology”, nowadays I can see actually I don’t like the way people use that to fight themselves. Normally God is really far from Theology, even though this is an important way to help you understand rationally what you believe. However the real point is love, Christianity is for everyone – not only for the smartest or the most intellectual. God is love, without love we will never know God and knowledge for itself is really distant from love.
    Less theories, more love. Please.

  • TomS

    1) Don’t you mean authors of Genesis 1-3?
    2) In about the 18th century atheist, in English, meant a person who acted against God, not one who didn’t believe in God.

    • 1) The author, or authors, of Genesis 1-3 are unknown, so it doesn’t make much difference to me.

      2) What’s your point? Just to clarify, I wasn’t using the 18th-century definition.

      • Jordan Peiffer

        I actually find that second one to be pretty interesting, myself. So, back in the day, “atheist” meant someone who was anti-God in moral conduct, whether they believed in Him or not? And nowadays it’s reversed, denoting beliefs, not moral conduct. . . Some Christians, though, seem to think it means both. I wonder if that was a carry-over, somehow? When did the term make the transition? Hmm. At any rate, I find that quite interesting.

        • I’m not sure where Tom is getting his information, but Wikipedia seems to think “atheism” has always referred to beliefs.

          • Allen Miller

            I’m thinking that at the time of the Reformers, the word “atheist” meant someone who opposed God, and not necessarily one who denies God’s existence. I can also vaguely recall examples in some of the Inquisition indictments.

            Wasn’t “atheist” one of the charges listed against G. Bruno which led to his execution? Having been official clergy for several different religious orders (and getting thrown out of all of them!), he certainly wasn’t an atheist in the modern sense.

            So I do know that “atheist” has been used for one who opposes God in various instances and periods of history but I’ve never tried to do an overall investigation for lexicography purposes.

            That’s yet another interesting topic I’ve seen here. I’ve not participated previously, but I do enjoy the website.

            Professor Tertius

            [By the way, I have vision problems and my vision-assistance software is sort of “hard-wired” from a few years ago and “Allen Miller” was my T.A. and set up auto logins for various forums. So I appear here under that name but I now try to use “Professor Tertius” in all of my Internet posts. So if I continue to post, I’ll try to remember to add that name at the bottom of my posts.]

          • Thank you!

  • KarenH

    I’d agree with just about everything you wrote, except for the part where atheists are the enemies of Christians. As a Christian, who is in the midst of a huge crisis of faith, based entirely on the way Christians are more and more antagonistic (in general) towards non-believers and other Christians they deem not-Christian-enough, I have seen and experienced far more love and grace from atheists towards Christians than I have seen Christians demonstrating toward atheists.

    If atheists are the enemies of Christians, it is because that is how Christians treat them, not because they wish to be.

    • Hi Karen, I’m sorry to hear about the challenges you are currently going through, and am glad you have found some people who will support you and show you love and grace. You will find no condemnation from me.

      I can understand why my wording might have put you off, but I didn’t at all mean to imply should be antagonistic toward atheists or vice versa. I was simply speaking of philosophical disagreement, and certainly, my own theological views are far more different from an atheist’s than they would be from a Catholic’s or Pentecostal’s. None of that is to say we should not be able to get along and treat each other with dignity and respect. I have also fostered some friendships with atheists and agnostics through this site and I am very grateful for their perspectives and conversation.

  • When I first came to this site, I wasn’t 100% certain of your motives. I wasn’t positive if you were actually a Theistic Evolutionist (as am I, incase you were wondering) or if you were more akin to the Colbert Report. However, as I have read over your site, and your comments over the last couple days I have grown fond of you Tyler Francke. You are cool in my book.

    • Hey, thanks, man! Glad to hear it! Always great to connect with other believers who think our faith can find harmony with science without prejudice to either.

  • Larry Bunce

    In theological disputes, I’m afraid most of us at least secretly want to be there to gloat when Jesus meets the people of the other side and tells them “I never knew you.” Of course, that attitude would give us the same greeting from Jesus.

    • So true! I tell Christians that evangelism is about trying to help as many people as possible find heaven and eternal life. That’s why we call it “being saved.” If you secretly want to see certain people or people groups in hell, then you’ve got it wrong, plain and simple.

  • Ashley haworth-roberts

    I do NOT understand why my comment about The Question Evolution Project has apparently been deleted. It was about how some claimed Christians behave.

    • Hey Ashley, mod here. I’m sorry for your trouble, but I can’t find any previous comment about The Question Evolution Project. The spam filters automatically pick up any comments that have more than two hyperlinks, but those just go to the moderation folder and I don’t see any comments from you there, either. You’re welcome to try reposting. For the record, I rarely delete comments. My guidelines are here, and they’re applied pretty liberally, if I do say so myself.

      • Ashley haworth-roberts

        Tyler Thanks – my comment was visible to me just after I made it so I assumed it had been post-moderated. I DID post two links about the antics of liar Sorensen and his lying fans. Will post them again – as two separate posts.

        • Thanks, Ashley! Sorry for the trouble. Even with the links, the comment still should have gone in the queue for moderation, and I don’t see it there, so I’m as confused as you are. Please feel free to resubmit the links and comments, one at a time, when you have a chance.

          • Ashley haworth-roberts

            Tyler
            My post just now starting “the two BCSE links…” IS currently visible on my screen and not obviously requiring ‘moderation’ or ‘approval’. But when I try to add the text below as a ‘reply’ to my new post I cannot because I get a message in red telling me that the post is ‘not active’. Some kind of glitch?
            Ashley

            One FINAL attempt to submit the BCSE links (the relevant thread titles refer to Bob Sorensen and to The Question Evolution Project):
            http://forums.bcseweb.org.uk/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=3153&start=540
            http://forums.bcseweb.org.uk/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=3477&start=15

          • Looks like it worked! Thanks for your patience. Must be a glitch somewhere in Disqus.

          • Ashley haworth-roberts

            Now my FIRST post of today – beginning “the two BCSE links …” has inexplicably vanished …

      • You allow personal attacks in the comments? Wow.

        • Ashley haworth-roberts

          Did I say anything untrue about The Question Evolution Project?

          • Have you said anything true? You assert things seven ways ’till sundown, but you have yet to back up a claim. Unless you call selective citing, ad hominems, straw men, genetic fallacies, bigotry, bullying, and outright lying, more asserting, denial (“that’s not true!”), pursuing your own ego’s best interests, more assertion as “telling the truth”.

          • ashleyhr

            I’ll take Bob’s belated answer as a ‘no’.

            I will leave to others to confirm for themselves that I have said nothing whatsoever about The Question Evolution Project that is untrue. After all, if I had I am sure he would have told us all about it.

          • ashleyhr

            PS For those who do not know, I have many times specifically identified Bob Sorensen by email as a ‘compulsive liar’.

          • ashleyhr

            I expect Bob will now pretend not to notice my replies.

        • Ashley haworth-roberts

          The Question Evolution Project addressing someone named Kevin half an hour ago: “We
          emphasize critical thinking, but you wouldn’t know that because you’d
          rather spout off your uninformed, bigoted opinions to build up your own
          ego by putting other people down.” THEY make personal attacks? Wow.

          • Perhaps your personal vendetta against us and the irrelevant comment were deemed just that: Irrelevant personal attacks, and not pertinent. Surprising, considering the vicious content of the piece.

          • Yeah, I’m a real vicious animal.

          • Yeah, I’m a real vicious, unreasonable person.

          • I have yet to see something from you that is not from a personal vendetta and straw man arguments. Why do you hate people who actually believe the Bible?

          • Hazmat

            You misrepresent what creationists believe, and spend a great deal of time attacking them. How is it possible to be a Christian and biatch slap your so called brothers in Christ?

          • You misrepresent what creationists believe

            Well, I certainly don’t intend to, but please enlighten me. How about some specific examples of what I’ve gotten wrong?

            and spend a great deal of time attacking them. How is it possible to be a Christian and biatch slap your so called brothers in Christ?

            I see it as correcting false teachers (which is very biblical, by the way). At any rate, nothing on this site reaches a fraction of the venom that is routinely directed by young earth creationist groups and their representatives at “compromising Christians” like me. I suspect that young earthers are just not accustomed to their beliefs being challenged on a biblical and theological basis, so they scream “attack.”

          • ashleyhr

            Does anybody know what Bob is on about or what point he is trying to make? I don’t. My point is that his online behaviour is utterly hypocritical.

  • Hi Tyler. You say these traits distinguish Christians from us unbelievers: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

    If the faithfulness is towards loved ones, every single one is completely compatible with humanism. No faith or deity is required to pursue them all.

    We atheists are not your enemy. We’re all members of the same species, stuck on the same rock. As a social species, we either hang together or hang separately. It is our empathy and reciprocal natures that make these nine traits worthy, not the arbitrary rulings of a ‘sky fairy’.

  • Larry Bunce

    A comment in this thread made me think of Jesus’ statement, “He who is not against me is for me,” when His disciples tell of someone not of their group driving out demons in Jesus’ name. Some Christians prefer His statement “He who is not for us is against us” in Matthew 12. In that case, Jesus is quoting a thief who is plundering a house, who is in constant fear of being found out.

  • Adão Lincon Bezerra Montel

    In 1.600, Giordano Bruno died burned by his ideas. One of those ideas in particular was: the stars are other suns with others planets like our Sun. But I Think the Giordano Bruno sacrifices was not necessary at all. After the Giornado Bruno death, the Catholic Church (and protestant churchs too) and the most of the people went on believing that the Bruno ideas were incorrect and heretical. Only some much intelligent people like Galileu Galilei and Johannes Kepler could realize how bright were the Bruno insight. In other words, the Giordano Bruno death was useless. The world did not change due to his death. Actually, only after the advances in the telescopes and in the teaching of astronomy for the people, the ideas around the world really changed. So, I think to myself Giordano did not need to die. The teaching is a tool more efficient to change the people than the some kinds of sacrifice. I like very much of your work in God of Evolution because this is essentially a way to teach. In last weeks I stopped to discuss with young-earth creationists because I realized that they need to learn very much (at least here in Brazil) to that a civilized discussion can be possible.
    Congratulations for your work. God bless you!

  • sammy4231

    Don’t restrict your thinking to Genesis 1-3.

    I found this look at the Bible quite useful while arguing with a YEC SDA. Here is the culmination of many searches through Strong’s, sites like yours, etc.
    The writer, I take to be Moses, used Yom accurately compared to modern theory.

    Genesis 4:3, process of time, English Time = Hebrew Yom

    2:17 English Day also = Hebrew Yom

    3:17 E Days = H Yom refers directly to 2:17, so we know it’s something on the order of 900 years, or simply Time as in process of Time in 4:3.

    We can take that logic back to Genesis 1:5, E Light = H Yom. For the first 3 “Day”s, there was no greater “light” to rule the “day”. Hours aren’t mentioned in Genesis at all. Yom can be ANY DURATION, even after the fourth day. That is how the writer used the word Yom.

    Now, compare Gen 1:12 to 1:29. We go from the earth bringing forth singular herb kind and tree kind, to EVERY kind, which makes it plural.

    And, take a minute to think on the concept of after. When is after used absent of the idea of before? Never.

    If we look at all the times the writer uses after…kinds, from Gen 1 through the end of Noah’s voyage, we find no conflict with old earth and evolution of kinds = species. Take notice of when “sorts” appear.

    Lastly, Gen 7:3 …;to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth.

    Lineage was the paramount consideration in the story, reason for the ark. No? All those names of people on the pages most people don’t read are to record lineage. God thought lineage quite important in dealing with Abraham.

    We should use the same logic when God tells Moses to write after his kind after their kinds after it’s kind after kinds after kinds over and over. How can Creationists ignore all those after-kinds?

    If it took some number of billions of years to form an earth and evolve a species God could finally integrate a soul into, God has that kind of Yom. Notice, the formation of mankind has no mention of after-kind; and Darwin posited that civilization causes stasis.

    The Bible never was about God poofing creatures, or anything, into existence a la cartoon wizard.

    Enjoy! 😀