A press release on the website of Westboro Baptist Church reads: "Thank God for 14 more dead troops. We are praying for 14,000 more."¹ Strident members of this small Midwestern church (not affiliated with any Baptist denomination, despite its name) believe God is angry with America for tolerating homosexuality … therefore, God is killing off the military and causing natural disasters. Church members refer to these tragedies as GodSmacks, delivered by a vengeful sovereign who hates sinners.
Meanwhile, Westboro's hypercritical words and ways are deeply disturbing to most people. For example, church members picket the funerals of dead servicemen and women while holding signs that read "Pray for More Dead Soldiers." According to their website, members have participated in more than 47,000 pickets in over 850 cities in the past two decades.²
So what's going on here? This highly offensive behavior all begins with a "critical spirit" – an excessively negative attitude characterized by harsh judgments. Sadly, the belittling attacks of the WBC members have become the very standard by which they are being judged in the public arena.
Realize, criticism breeds criticism, whereas compassion breeds compassion. Jesus Himself said, "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Matthew 7:2 NIV).
Faultfinders Focus on Failures
Anyone can develop a critical spirit by focusing on the failures of others, and obviously no one is without fault. But faultfinders feel justified in playing dual roles: both judge and jury. Meanwhile, those being judged feel unjustly criticized … compared … condemned.
God, on the other hand, never focuses on our faults in ways that wound our spirit. Instead, His goal is to bring positive – though sometimes painful – conviction to motivate us to change. His plan is that we be conformed to the character of Christ. The critical spirit displayed by members of this caustic church in no way reflects the love of Jesus or the compassionate Spirit of Christ.
How do we discern between a critical spirit and a caring one? Here are nine key distinctions:
CRITICAL SPIRIT CARING SPIRIT
• Condemns the person as well as the action • Condemns the action, but not the person
The Bible makes the following contrast – "The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing" (Proverbs 12:18 NIV).
• Focuses on others' faults • Focuses on our own faults
Jesus uses an exaggerated word picture – "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Luke 6:41 NIV).
• Ridicules others • Encourages others
Proverbs 11:12 (NIV) says – "Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue."
• Makes judgments based on appearances • Makes judgments based on facts
In John 7:24 (NIV), Jesus presents this imperative – "Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly."
• Assumes the worst about others • Assumes the best about others
Jesus uses many questions to convey … the obvious – "Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?" (John 7:51 NIV).
• Tears others down without seeing their • Builds others up according to their
unmet needs inner needs
The apostle Paul makes this point plain when he says – "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (Ephesians 4:29 NIV).
• Publicly criticizes others • Privately confronts others
Matthew 18:15 (NIV) is clear about confronting in private: "If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over."
• Reacts pridefully when given advice • Responds positively when given advice
The wisdom of Solomon is seen in Proverbs 13:10 (NIV) – "Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice."
• Lacks mercy toward others • Extends mercy toward others
James, the brother of Jesus, brings us this challenge – "Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:12-13 NIV).
Notice how Jesus instructs His followers to examine their own faults before attempting to find fault in anyone else. For example, when the religious leaders want Him to approve the stoning of a woman caught in adultery, Jesus invites anyone without sin to throw the first stone. Not a stone is thrown. Then, rather than condemning the remorseful adulteress, He sends her on her way to "sin no more."
Yet today, members of this negative, unorthodox church espouse that "God hates sinners" … but the truth is God loves sinners! However, He does hate sin because it deviates from His perfect plan for our lives.
Christ's Mercy – To Save Sinners
Consider the powerful words of the apostle Paul: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life" (1 Timothy 1:15-16 NIV).
Nowhere in the Bible is one sin designated as the worst of all sins. In fact, God has a laundry list of sins that He wants to rid us of: "The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like."³ (Notice the words hatred, discord and dissensions, which ironically these church members are known to contentiously promote.)
We don't have to be members of a stone-throwing church to be resented and reviled by others. All that's needed to be a stone thrower is to spew out criticism with a hardened heart.
Ultimately, people with a critical spirit judge others with condemnation, while people with a caring spirit speak the truth with love. What a warning from Jesus to us all: "You … have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself …"(Romans 2:1) Ouch!