Is Criticism Killing Christian Community?

{By Ellery Sadler}

I stared at the screen. They had to be kidding me. Someone did not really pour their heart and soul and time and money into this film.

But they did.

What I was watching was not just a bad production with stilted lines and poor camera angles – this was someone’s baby, someone’s dream.

And the same is true when we listen to a pastor’s sermon or read a writer’s book or view the creation of any artist. The thing we see is part of them. A tiny slice of their soul on display.

Criticism can kill community like nothing else. Partly because it is usually wrapped in the guise of honest opinion or it’s the superior advice of a self-proclaimed expert or the higher morals of the person in the next pew.

Vulnerability is the essence of art itself. And criticism can bury deep.

criticism and christianity

Christians are some of the most critical people on the planet, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

We judge the tattoos and earrings, almost as much as we judge the ankle-length skirts and long hair. We judge the rampant immorality portrayed in a Hollywood film, almost as much as we judge Kirk Cameron for smoking a cigarette in Mercy Rule. We judge the gay guy, almost as much as we judge the pastor who has a drink with dinner.

I was reminded of all this when an article from Focus on the Family’s Boundless blog wrote a piece pointing fingers at an article a friend of mine wrote a couple months ago.

Thomas wrote an article outlining why courtship wasn’t working for some people, and his thoughts on how we could change that. What surprised me most was not what he wrote, but the intense backlash he received from multiple people in the Christian community. Why is it when we disagree, we can’t seem to disagree in a compassionate Christian way? In this case, why do we have to revert to calling his ideas ‘naïve’ or ‘unbiblical’ or ‘offensive’? His article is just one out of countless examples where we tear each other to pieces over something that is not a moral issue.

Somewhere along the line we gave ourselves the authority to criticize. We’ve set our personal opinion up like it’s God’s opinion and squelched many an artistic soul or new idea in the process. We’ve become the most cut-throat, critical section of society and I don’t think it’s accidental.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. You know that. I know that. And you can bet that the devil knows it too.

What better way to cripple the church than turn Christians into cannibals? We devour our own.

But there is a different way.

Should Christians be gullible, overly-optimistic people who never offer differing opinions or love all art simply because it’s art? No. Badly made movies really are painful to watch. Poorly written books are hard to sludge through. Sloppily thrown together work is, well, sloppy. I’m not saying we should excuse laziness or little effort. But I do think that we could scale back on our criticism.

Excellence is worth striving for.

Laziness shouldn’t be tolerated. And each person should create to the best of their ability, as unto the Lord. For some, that means painting a picture that will hang in the Louvre one day. For some that means finger-painting with a two-year-old. For some that means studying photography or finance or medicine. Whatever talents you’ve been given, use them. And use them well.

Whether you reach fame and fortune isn’t important. God didn’t put us here to be famous. He put us here to be fabulous.

I think each of us has an inborn ability to make and create beautiful things, to think of new ideas, to explore, to invent, to blaze new trails. Because we were made by the Ultimate Inventor.  We are His crowning creation and to be honest, we are pretty cool. But fabulous for you may not be the same as fabulous for me. And before ‘Warning: Relativism’ flashes on your screen, I’m not talking about morals. I’m talking about creativity.

Creativity isn’t confined to artists. Every single person on this planet is an artist. All you have to do is find your canvas.

So just because you think you could make a better movie or write a better book, doesn’t give you the license to crush someone else’s creation. We need to respect the effort a little more, honor the work that went into it, and appreciate the piece of the artist’s soul that was poured out on the page.

We need to hold off on the rules for improvement and encourage the hearts of the people creating. I think there is incredible power in excellence. But there’s also power in a community where people are allowed to try and fail and try again and be encouraged on the journey.

Let’s create that kind of Christian community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. AMEN….there is enough ugliness in the world without us Christians heaping more on each other. I am often amazed at how hard it is to actually do the things (write an article, take a photo, shoot a movie) that I might like to be critical of. If we all respect the effort and risk a bit more…..maybe our interactions would be more helpful and less critical

    • I completely agree, often the hardest part is the actual doing. Ideas are easy, but execution of those ideas is where the risk comes in – and Christian should applaud that risk, not condemn it. Thanks for commenting!

  2. I wonder how comfortable most of us would be treating someone like this if we had to do it in person? Would I be so harsh if I could see Thomas’ expression when he heard my words of constructive (so-called) criticism? Somehow I doubt it….I suspect that many of us are only lobbing these grenades because we enjoy the safety of the anonymous web.

    • Hi SaraBeth,

      This is such a fantastic point! I think you are so right – it would change everything if we could see the people’s faces when they read our comments or heard our ‘critiques’. The internet is a very powerful tool. Thanks for reading InsideOut and commenting!

  3. A well written and thought out opinion Ellery!
    I think there is a lot of truth to what you’re saying, and although I disagree with a few of your points I absolutely agree with the vast majority of this article. Until recently I couldn’t handle criticism all that well. However, as I grew as a christian, I’ve learned to accept and even appreciate criticism. I believe as chisrtians looking at the fruit of a fellow believer we have to be considerate of 1 Corinthians 3:2 “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.” We have to be constructive.
    I don’t think some people realize just how necessary it is!

    Great article Ellery!

    • Hi Austin,

      Thanks for commenting! I’m so glad you enjoyed this article. I agree, we should be open to the ideas of others and willing to listen. But like SaraBeth was talking about, I think criticism is probably given in a more loving way if it is given in person and not via the internet. And 1 Cor 3:2 is a great point, we should tailor our critiques to the level of faith/maturity of the believer we’re talking to. Thanks for reading InsideOut & for commenting!

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