I have read a few headlines regarding people’s feeling towards the failure of Joel Osteen and his ministry to move more quickly to house the victims of Hurricane Harvey. Even from afar, it is clear that some people are mad at Joel.
No worries, I don’t plan to go on a rant about my opinion regarding the actions of this pastor or his ministry. I am in absolutely no position to draw a single conclusion about their motives, intentions, character, or mindset. The interesting thing is, I don’t believe many, if any, of the authors or sharers of this information are either.
Mind you, I almost got caught up! I was right there. Right on the edge of my seat ready to hit the gavel and declare a guilty verdict! Based on what, though? Better yet, for what? Was I really about to change my view of a man or craft a first impression of a man based solely on social media, news headlines, and talk from radio airways? Yes, I was.
Just in case I’m not alone in this, I’ll continue.
I realized in that moment just how easy it is to judge from a distance. It is so easy to slander someone we can never touch. It is so easy to criticize from your tablet, television, or cell phone.
What I wonder is this: is it ever ok to put others down? Is it ever ok to hate? Is it possible for someone’s actions to justly declare them a fair target of that “unwholesome talk” mentioned in Ephesians 4:29?
What if the answer is “no”?
What if our role is to, instead, pray for the person of interest? What if we are to communicate a concern for their feelings and the condition of their heart? What if we’d be better off believing and hoping for the best in others, especially those we truly know very little about.
It may very well turn out that the “Joel” in your life is actually not a bad person. What if their actions were misinterpreted? What if they were actually being smart, not selfish? Wise, not wimpy? Cautious, not callous? Just . . . what if?
My point is this: as Christians, let’s be careful about our exceptions to the God given command to “Love your neighbor.” Rich celebrities are not an exception. Poor people belonging to that other political party are not an exception. That other race is not an exception.
The next time you are invited to a character bashing, name slandering, gossip saturated tongue lashing, consider being a no-show. Consider not reading that article, not watching that roast video, not “liking,” “sharing,” or “tagging friends” on that post. Consider turning the channel, leaving the room, or changing the topic. Consider praying.
Maybe the “Joel” you’re mad at is not the pastor of a church in Houston, TX. Perhaps the “Joel” you’ve written off is a neighbor you heard something about and you don’t even know if the source was credible. Perhaps it’s a relative your aunts told you was “up to no good” 40 years ago and you have since heeded their advice to stay away, never having heard their story. Maybe your feelings, opinions, and actions have been predominately shaped by the feelings, opinions, and actions of someone else.
Here is some good news! You have my permission to get to know people for yourself. It is possible that once you get to know them, you will realize there are sound reasons to keep healthy boundaries. Do that. But love and respect them as you do so. And when getting to know them is not an option, love and respect them from a distance. This does not mean you have to agree with them, buy their books, join their church, listen to their station on the radio. This does not mean you have to vote for them, invite them over for dinner, and schedule playdates with their kids.
It DOES mean you choose to build them up rather than support efforts to tear them down. Directly or indirectly.
Why? Because God said so.
“ . . . ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ . . .”
Mark 12:31 New International Version (NIV)