Why Do Christians Have Such a Horrible Reputation?

Jesus said, “This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” Unfortunately, this is not often the case. I did a Google search to see if I could find some info on the general perception, and here’s a screenshot of the most common searches that people do on Christians.

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Instead of “loving,” Christians are just as often known for being mean, hateful, judgmental, intolerant, bigoted, (you get the idea.) Our reputation isn’t stellar, and honestly, it’s for good reason.

Take this story at the beginning of Acts 11. Peter has just returned from a visit with some non-Jewish people who had decided to follow Jesus and had been baptized. Peter shared with him that he was learning that God’s family was even bigger than he thought, showing him that people in every nation could be accepted into God’s family. What a great insight! If God is the biggest thing in your universe, it’s always good news to figure out that God is bigger and more all-encompassing than you thought, right?

Apparently not. When Peter returns home, Acts 11 describes the homecoming “celebration” like this:

The apostles and the brothers and sisters throughout Judea heard that even the Gentiles had welcomed God’s word. When Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him. They accused him, “You went into the home of the uncircumcised and ate with them!”

Instead of greeting Peter with excitement and celebration, they give him criticism and accusation.

What is it about human beings, especially ones who claim to be Christians, that makes us so critical of one another? Why is this so often our first reaction to everything?! Something good happens? Let’s criticize a minor detail that didn’t go well! Something amazing happens? Let’s respond with cynicism or skepticism! Something is new or different? Let’s focus on how it can never be as good as it used to be! Why is our first instinct so often to tear each other down?

Thankfully Peter doesn’t respond the way I would’ve responded, by yelling or throwing something (or someone), he explained what happened step by step. Verse 18 says, “Once the apostles and other believers heard this, they calmed down. They praised God and concluded, “So then God has enabled Gentiles to change their hearts and lives so that they might have new life.” That’s great that they eventually got there, but why couldn’t that have been their first reaction?

The stories in the Bible aren’t always intended to show us what to do, I think just as often they help us see what not to do. I believe this is one of those stories. I see myself in this story and I am convicted for being so hyper-critical, so cynical, so skeptical of ways God’s spirit is moving that are outside my parameters. If I’m honest, I typically only want God to move and work in the ways I want and understand, when it’s convenient for me, with the people I choose, at my church, within my own programs or ministries or worship services, and if anything good is happening somewhere else, my first reaction isn’t positive.

I read their story in Acts 11 and I think, “How dare they respond to Peter’s news like that? Who do they think they are?” But if they were reading my story, they’d think the same thing. How dare I be so critical of the good things happening outside of my pre-conceived understanding of how God works? Shame on the people in Acts 11 and shame on me today.

How could this story be different? What if they had celebrated Peter’s arrival and Peter’s good news? “The Kingdom of God is even bigger than we thought,” they should’ve shouted as he returned. And what about us? What if our first inclination was to celebrate and not criticize? What if the first thing we did was affirm and not accuse?

What would we have to do to turn the tide so that the Google predictive search page would say:

Why are Christians so…
…loving
…thoughtful
…selfless
…justice-minded
…joyous
…concerned for other people
…peaceful

God, may you fill us so that we will be what you want us to be, a reflection of who you really are.

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