Standing in the Enemy’s Shoes
By Bob Welch, Copyright Christianity Today International
In addition to holding down a newspaper job, I was teaching a Reporting 1 class at the University of Oregon when I encountered the most irascible student I’ve ever taught. She questioned nearly every grade I gave her. She claimed I was not doing enough to help her succeed. She berated me in front of the class. Enough was enough. I asked her to please stay after class.
“You don’t seem to like me,” I said. “Can I ask why?”
“Because you’re part of the liberal media,” she said. “You’ve got the rest of the class conned, but not me.”
“And why’s that?” I asked, puzzled by what I was hearing.
“Because I’m a Christian,” she said smugly. To which I wanted to say: “Uh, let’s just keep that our little secret.”
In that instant, I knew what it was like for non-believers to encounter Christianity at its ugliest. I knew what it was like to be “The Enemy.” In fact, I’ve been a Christian for more than 30 years, am an elder in my non-denominational church, and have written four books and dozens of magazine articles with Christian themes.
From my vantage point as a journalist, I’d say a large reason non-believers view Christians negatively is simple: Christians often behave negatively. All Christians? No. Much good goes on in the name of Christ, good that rarely makes headlines. Certainly some non-believers have biased perceptions of Christians. But incidents like the one with that student build walls between believers and non-believers – and are more common than I’d like to admit.
A news aide at our paper says the most difficult people to deal with are church secretaries.
A youth league basketball coach I coached against was a buzzer-to-buzzer screamer and pouter. After one game, I asked someone what the guy did for a living. “Oh, he’s a pastor.”
A high-ranking official from a Christian institute our newspaper had featured called and, for ten minutes, berated me for the story, which I had edited. I mentioned that a man who works at the same institute-let’s call him Greg-attended my church and had really liked the story.
“So you, uh, go to the same church as Greg, huh?” the official said, obviously surprised.
“Yes I do.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t realize you were ‘one of us.'”
It was fine and dandy for him to treat me like pond scum when assuming I wasn’t a believer; but when he realized I was, he pushed full throttle on the charm-thrusters. And what of my student? Would she have treated me so cruelly had she known I, too, was a member of “The Club”?
If the fruit of the Spirit-love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control-does not get modeled to the world at large, then why should we be surprised if the world sees Christians as unloving, joyless, impatient, unkind people?
I realize that even if we do treat non-believers with the “gentleness and respect” Peter refers to (1 Pet. 3:15), the world may still turn its back on us and the One for whom we stand. But furthering Christ in our communities begins with the realization that being the salt and light means acting in such a way that people will notice a positive, not negative, difference about us. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven,” says Matthew 5:16.
Not long after the incident with the student, a well-known pastor in our community was killed in a plane crash. The paper did a first-rate job of reporting his memorial service, and the Christian community flooded the newspaper with thank-you calls. The managing editor, startled by these myriad “good deeds,” sent out an all-staff message saying that in all his years in the business, he’d never seen so many people respond so positively to our coverage.
That’s how Christians will lose their negative reputations: by seeing non-believers as Christ sees them, not as “The Enemy” or people unfit for “The Club,” but people like us. People who need a pat on the back, salt to season life’s staleness, and light to see through the darkness.
Reprinted from Moody, July/August 2001. © Bob Welch. Used by permission. Bob Welch is a columnist at The Register-Guard in Eugene, Oregon. Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today International/Today’s Christian magazine.