Those Hateful, Judgmental, Hypocritical Christians

3d_unchristian_cover“Christianity has an image problem.”

That’s the first sentence in David Kinnaman’s book Unchristian: what a new generation really thinks about Christianity…and why it matters (Baker Books, 2007).

Kinnaman is the president of the Barna Research Group, and he bases that conclusion on interviews conducted with thousands of young people across the country.  He notes that their responses are not only neutral, but in many cases negative.  Their complaints against Christianity—and the Christians and churches that have shaped their views—is that it is:

1. Hypocritical.  Outsiders consider us hypocritical—saying one thing and doing another—and they are skeptical of our morally superior attitudes.  They say Christians pretend to be something unreal, conveying a polished image that is not accurate.  Christians think the church is only a place for virtuous and morally pure people.

2. Too focused on getting converts.  Outsiders wonder if we genuinely care about them.  They feel like targets rather than people.  They question our motives when we try to help them “get saved,” despite the fact that many of them have already “tried” Jesus and experienced church before.

3. Antihomosexual.  Outsiders say that Christians are bigoted and show disdain for gays and lesbians.  They say Christians are fixated on curing homosexuals and on leveraging political solutions against them. 

4. Sheltered.  Christians are thought of as old-fashioned, boring, and out of touch with reality.  Outsiders say we do not respond to reality in appropriately complex ways, preferring simplistic solutions and answers.  We are not willing to deal with the grit and grime of people’s lives.

5. Too political.  Another common perception of Christians is that we are overly motivated by a political agenda, that we promote and represent politically conservative interests and issues.  Conservative Christians are often thought of as right-wingers.

6. Judgmental.  Outsiders think of Christians as quick to judge others.  They say we are not honest about our attitudes and perspectives about other people.  They doubt that we really love people as we say we do.

Kinnaman looks at each of these perceptions in depth over the next six chapters of his book, before concluding with a chapter on how we might make the move from unchristian to Christian: that is, how we might become more authentically Christian in order to change the perceptions of young people who think we are too political, hypocritical, sheltered, judgmental, conversion-happy, and antihomosexual. 

I haven’t finished the book yet, but the chapter on hypocrisy—just as an example—makes some good points.  Kinnaman says that, based on his research, there is shockingly little difference between the behavior of born-again Christians and everybody else.  And yet when you ask these Christians what their priorities are they say, “doing the right thing, being good, not sinning.”  I’m sure there are shining examples of virtue among us, but when we say that our priorities are doing the right thing, being good, and not sinning, and then do the wrong thing, behave badly, and sin freely—that’s hypocrisy. 

In what other ways might those young people be right about Christianity…and what will we do to change their perceptions?

17 thoughts on “Those Hateful, Judgmental, Hypocritical Christians

  1. Great subject to open up for conversation…we really do need to change the perception of being Christian. I look forward to many discussions….

  2. Jim,

    To answer your question, I’m reminded of a quote that a former pastor used to relate to the congregation quite frequently.

    “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

    So, maybe if we Christians were a little more, “Seen and not heard” (to steal a line from a Petra song), we could work to dispell the hypocrisy.

  3. It is important to note that we don’t always want to be accepted by everyone. We ARE going to turn some people off. If someone wants to condemn me of working too hard at the Great Commission, bring it on! Have I been hypocritical in my Christian walk? Haven’t we all? Change perception by showing people our repentance and more importantly our CHANGE to be better Christians? When we sweep our sins under the rug others may think we don’t care or are above repentance.
    Do I approve of homosexuality? No. Every time it is mentioned in the bible it is condemned along with any sexual relation outside of marriage, which the bible only identifies as a heterosexual relationship. If that makes me a bigot, I am happily one. David Kinnaman has also said it turns people off with clichés like: love the sinner hate the sin. But, that is what we are commanded to do.
    Often my answers may seem so simple and sheltered because I have a textbook to life written by the Creator of life. Not all questions have hard answers. Some answers are harder to admit to and live out.
    Many of these views tend tie me to what seems to be the far right politically. I will not apologize for that. I do think the church needs to sit “too far left for the right and too far right for the left” as long as Christ sits there too. We cannot dim our light in the shadows just so our light doesn’t blind the non-believer. Do we need a makeover to appeal to the unchurched? Sure, but we need to make sure it doesn’t become a facelift altering the foundations Christ set for us.

  4. Do I even take my light into the darkness at all, let alone not dim it? I stay to my own and keep to the places familiar to me.

    Young non-believers rightly assume most Christians are too political, hypocritical, sheltered, judgmental, conversion-happy, and antihomosexual because those are the only Christians they meet, see, or hear. They have never met me, or other Christians like me. Our presence is never felt in the world because we are always blending in, and getting along.

    I have spent most of my life afraid other Christians would find out how liberal I am, and afraid that non-Christians would find out how conservative I am. I have felt delight and wonder in Christ, but felt ashamed to be associated with what I have heard said and done in his name, in OUR name, in MY name – Christian!

    Tomorrow I am going do something about this! But not tonight. Tonight I have to take my old broken dryer to the dump and them go home and watch TV.

  5. stumbled across this blog through links (small world) and I’m curious about ‘a next step’ after taking all of that into consideration, and I find it awesome you’d mention something like this, because I’m one of those young people who say all those numbered things.

    Just mentioning, too, that I’m not turned off by religion so much as maybe the manner people carry it out.. or lack thereof?

    Nice blog.

  6. Kat:

    There really are some Christians who love the world God loves and the people who are in it.

    I think about the members of my church–many of them older people–who make it possible for our homeless neighbors to have hot showers three or four times a week.

    I think about those gay people who tell me through tears that they have experienced the welcome of Christ himself at our church–a Baptist church at that.

    I think about the Divorce Recovery Workshop we offer year after year to people who feel like failures and wonder if there is any way to go on.

    I hope we learned all this from Jesus, who attracted “outsiders” wherever he went, but I would also like to admit that we are still learning.

    We have a long way to go.

    Thanks for writing.


  7. Of course, we Christians should always remember the commandment to “love our neighbors as we love ourselves” (mindful that some people don’t love themselves very much). And perhaps one wise thing of which we should remind those who don’t care for Christians very much would be to point out the old Soviet Union, Communist China and North Korea who have had officially atheistic governments and have been hostile to Christianity and to all religion. No matter how much one may dislike Christians, we look pretty good compared to the atheistic nations.

  8. I do agree with all the points listed above. I am a Christian and have been around with a lot of other Christians. I do notice that Christians are very focused on getting converts (like they are trying to fulfill their quota) but once they get that person in the church they don’t really treat that person as a friend but as someone to fill in a seat in the church. Christians are very cliquey. I have seen those who live a completely different life than what they portray at church. Sort of like a “wolf” in a sheep-skin. They treat other people not very nice. I have witnessed those who has the means to help in action say instead: “I will pray for you”. (I mean, hello, it’s nice that you will pray for me, but would’t it mean more if you actually help me instead!) It’s like a Christian passed by a beggar in the street and said instead: “I will pray for you” instead of giving that beggar food.

    I may have become a cynic but in my experience sometimes non-Christians seems to be nicer and more caring — maybe because their conscience is stronger. While for Christians — maybe they think that it doesn’t matter how much they sin (or do something bad), God will always accept them and their life is secure in heaven — thereby their real actions actually do not reflect the real christian virtue as Jesus has taught in the bible.

  9. Jim,

    I just stumbled over this blog today. I am a member of First Baptist Church in Hopewell (although I do watch your church on TV when I am unable to attend my own) and I wish my pastor had a blog like this. 🙂

    Anyway, I just want to respond to one of your points in this post. I believe gays and lesbians, as well as those outside the church, often wrongly accuse us of hating them because we rightly state that homosexuality is a sin. I don’t think they understand the concept of loving the sinner but hating the sin. But, then again, many of us don’t do a good job of that, i.e., we project to the world that we hate the sinner as well.

  10. Jim,

    There are several reasons why I stopped going to church.

    1. I was tired of being treated like the odd man out and being surrounded by people who acted like they were “holier than thou”, who against the Scripture cast judgement on their fellow parishioners and said one thing but did another. Yes, it may sound like I’m casting judgement in return. Yet, I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. But once was shame on you, twice was shame on me…so I left the church and never returned.

    Proverbs 20:6 Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?

    2. Hypocrisy by the pastor; when the pastor says one thing (tries to look like he’s faithful to God) yet behaves like his allotment from the congregation is the only thing that matters to him.

    3. God’s Word…is the message delivered by the pastor truly God’s word or his own take on the matter? Jesus Christ died for my sins. Man is fallible, yet we rely on a man (our preacher) to guide us to eternal salvation. Why can I not close myself up in a room somewhere and pray to God to find the answer to my questions?

    Too many times, I’ve heard the congregation saying “I’m proud to be a Christian” enroute to a putdown of someone “and I’m going to be saved because of it…and YOU aren’t”. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins. Luke 16:15 And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.

    This kind of hypocrisy has turned me off of worldly churches and has made me turn to my own Bible and my own room and a quiet time to commune with theChrist the Lord and with God; to ask of Him my questions and receive answers from Him, not get them diluted second-hand by a middle-man.

    Can anyone answer me those doubts…and concerns?

    Yours in Christ…

    Hugo Chikamori

  11. Hugo: I’m sorry you’ve had this kind of experience, and I hate it that those kinds of experiences are all too common. Please keep trusting Jesus, no matter how badly the church has represented him, and please don’t give up your search for a church where the Gospel is preached and people are trying to embody the spirit of Christ. Such churches exist.

    Blessings of peace and healing,


  12. well sigh i used to believe this all the the time but really there are not hypercriticall im tired of ppl saying that there is not one perfect cristians god understands if we mess up! i have always call cristains wanna be cristains cuz we all want to be perfect fro god but we mess up sometimes is that so wrong si it? every body knows from rite to wrong but does it once in a while and every one does somethings that they have told others not 2 do why dog on just cristains? i mean why not every one?!!!!!!!!!!

  13. I’m a Catholic from Italy. I was an atheist and almost died: seraching, I’ve found out that Jesus is saving me. I really believe that SEARCHING is the important attitude, wherever you believe in God or not. And searchng means also listening, chosing. Not every chritsian is perfect, NOBODY is perfect: we’re all human being walking towards a happy life.

  14. I was a believer once, raised a Christian. After my mother and father divorced when I was five years old, my mother and I moved away. A year or so later my mother found another man who she was seeing for a while and he moved in. Not much longer after he moved in, my brother was sent to a military school down in Arizona when he was 14 or 15. At that point the man who my mother was dating started beating me on a near daily basis. I prayed nightly for the beatings to stopped but they didn’t until my brother came back and the man was kicked out about 2 and a half years later.
    Then when I was 9, my father got in a bad car accident where he drifted off the road, and wrapped his van around a tree out in the middle of nowhere off the highway. The wreck resulted in him having a broken neck, being paralyzed from the chest down. He was hospitalized for a total of 9 months in which my mother and I were there almost every day until school started back up for me because the hospital was 2 hours away from where we were living. My mother and I prayed for him every night. His heart stopped a total of 12 times, luckily he was brought back each time. The church my grandparents attended started a fund to try to help cover some of the medical bills that the insurance wouldn’t cover. (almost 1 million USD in medical bills) The church raised thousands of dollars in my father’s name, not a penny was given to our family to help with the medical bills. Instead they claimed my family turned down the aid and badmouthed the church.
    About a year after my father was hospitalized, my aunt Heather’s melanoma cancer came back in full force and killed her within a matter of weeks. The Catholic church she frequented started a fund to help my uncle pay for the funeral and lone-behold, yet again not a cent was seen and we were shunned from the church due to claims of us talking bad about the church and it’s people when not even a week later the pastor has a brand new Corvette.
    I am 17 going on 18 now and my father is still paralyzed but alive. I have seen a lot in my life go wrong when sadly the victims believed heart and soul that Jesus would heal them or save them, all the while I’ve seen more and more people giving money to the church to supposedly help the community when all the money is selfishly hoarded and spent at the head of the churches luxury. Why do you think these famous pastors and priests drive Bentleys and own helicopters? Religion is merely a scam in this day and age, too many people holding their faith as a trophy above others and turn their “holier than thou” noses up at the rest of us claiming we are heretics and sinners who will go to hell when supposedly “god will save all” telling me to follow this and follow that when in Leviticus 19:19 it states: “Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.” and in Leviticus 19:27 it states: “Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.”
    That is where the hypocrisy claim comes from, if one claims to follow the Bible and be a “true” Christian, practice everything instead of picking bits and pieces to follow just to hold it above everyone else. I gladly believe there is nothing and we came from natural selection and evolution. Praying bears the fruit of disappointment and nothing more in my experience. If I just so happen to die and come upon the pearly gates for judgement I will reap what i have sewn but I believe what I believe until I am given solid, physical proof, because quite frankly, religion has dug quite a hole for itself in my book. Even without even counting in famine, war, disease.
    Another thing I don’t understand is how marriage is held on such a pedestal as a holy and pure thing and divorce forbidden in the bible but 2 people who hate each other can get married and it’s perfectly fine in your eyes, yet two people who are in love with each other are forbidden because a book who was written by many men (not your god) says so? Marriage isn’t sacred to those who claim it is because marriage is truly about love and devotion. Not about just being between a man and a woman. (common response) “Oh, but homosexuality isn’t natural, it’s not in nature!” Bullshit. My dog Tasha tried to hump my black lab Shadow all the time. (both females) And you don’t see angels and demons running around and a giant man in the sky granting your wishes and pulling your puppet strings but that’s real? another point on hypocrisy.
    Sorry I trailed off there but all valid points to how I truly believe that religion is merely a scam. This is purely what I believe, comment if you like but I believe what I believe same as you.

  15. Jacob: You’ve had some heart-breaking experiences in your life, and some horrible encounters with so-called Christians. I’m sorry. I think if I had lived through what you have I would feel exactly the same way about religion. Please try to remember that all religion is man-made, and that all men are sinners. Religion is our feeble, broken, sinful attempt to reach the God who made us and loves us. We fail at it most of the time. The good news is that God loves us anyway, and reaches out to us in spite of ourselves. I think he’s reaching out to you right now, and maybe in a quiet moment you could say, “OK, God: I’m here…you’re here…let’s talk.”

  16. Some great points on this blog. I also have been disappointed with religion. After a while it felt like I did not know whether I was coming or going. My born again friends think they are better than other protestants, the protestants one-up the catholics and on an on it goes. If you are not having relations, then you are gay yet if you are in a relationship they make comments about pre-marital relations. Judge, gossip, slander yet that is going against what Jesus represented. So I have decided to have my own personal relationship with Him and live my faith. I will leave it up to God when I die and hope to be a kind, caring person in this life.

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