For Christianity in Time of War, There are No Painless Choices

By Robert Oscar Lopez Published on March 21, 2017

We need only to reread the New Testament to see, in stunningly resonant imagery, what awaits a follower of Jesus in a world full of unbelievers. As many of my scholarly friends debate Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, I offer my own viewpoint, which might or might not conflict with a Benedict Option, depending on how one parses it.

My view comes from the advice of Christ and His disciples: Christianity is a contact sport. It is, in fact, war. So it has been, from the beginning — a war waged in the spiritual realm.

A host of recent books and articles have lamented that American Christianity is at a nadir and may vanish entirely within two or three generations. Fortunately, the Bible’s inerrancy and sufficiency guarantee that we will not lack for advice. Ecclesiastes counsels perspective, while Psalms and Proverbs offer us plentiful reasons not to view the depravity of the 2010s as unique. While Jesus still wore a mortal body, He said, “This generation is an evil generation” (Luke 11:29).

Wartime presents many options, but all are painful. The lack of a painless choice does not mean that we are being forced into one set course of action. God gives us free will. We have had it since the Garden of Eden.

Wartime Options

What are Christians to do when we face so much cultural animosity? The temptation in such times is to seek comfort in a setting where it seems that enemies cannot harm us. But that defies Jesus’s own commands: “Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and salute no one on the road.” (Luke 10: 3-5).

To love Christ, we know, is to be at war with a world that does not want Him to deliver it from its sinful ways.

The New Testament does not shrink from characterizing a Christ-driven life as a war, and this world as a battlefield:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Eph. 6: 10-13)

To love Christ, we know, is to be at war with a world that does not want Him to deliver it from its sinful ways. But the tactics of spiritual war are far less straightforward than the principles offered by Sun Tzu and Carl von Clausewitz.

The Fog of War

If loving Jesus means fighting for Him, then the Christian must accept one glitch as a constant challenge: the “fog of war,” when the enemy, in our case the devil, is difficult to identify. Consider a pagan example: Book II of Virgil’s Aeneid. As Troy burns, Aeneas loses most of his fellow Trojans to other Trojans who mistake them for Greeks in nocturnal, urban combat:

But here, here first, from the temple gable’s height
We met a hail of missiles from our friends
Pitiful execution, by their error
Who thought us Greek from our Greek plumes and shields
Then with a groan of anger
Seeing the virgin wrested from them
[Greeks] from all sides
Rallied and attacked us. (48)

It would be helpful if our war were always a case of us acting as David against the devil as Goliath. Unfortunately we more resemble Aeneas, watching his own city razed while he must fight not only the violent trickery of the enemy but also the foolish errors of his own side. Life offers no safe space into which the Christian can retreat. Wherever we go, Trojan horses can find their way into our sanctuaries and fumblers in our ranks can do just as much damage as nasty foes.

An even clearer indication of our likely battlefield comes from the Gospels. Jesus Christ’s crucifixion comes after a triangulated conspiracy, rife with infighting, among Roman authorities, high Jewish authorities, and an uncontrollable mob, not to mention traitors within Christ’s camp.

The Jewish experts who “love salutations in the market places and … places of honor at feasts” (Luke 20:46-47) work with collaborators and “spies” (Luke 20:20) among Jesus’s friends and among the masses to bring Jesus before the Roman provincial authorities. The latter initially do not want to take any action against Him: “Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.’ The Jews said to him, ‘It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.’” (John 18:31).

The Jewish authorities avoid the physical execution. The Romans avoid direct responsibility for the verdict first by claiming that the laws are inscrutable to them, then by offering to free Jesus after only whipping Him. But then the mob demands that the violent Barabbas go free and Jesus be crucified in his stead.

The famous lines, “Crucify Him!” are chanted neither by the Jewish authorities who mastermind Christ’s downfall nor by the Romans who must carry out the killing. It is a large crowd of people with forgotten names, driven by passions and so diffuse in their collective will that no obvious culprit is identifiable.

Wherever we go, Trojan horses can find their way into our sanctuaries.

This crucial event in the story of Christianity is maddeningly convoluted. Who killed Him? When I was growing up, mentors told me the crucifixion had to happen this way, so that we would know that God died for all humanity’s sins. Providence demanded that guilt be so dispersed that Christians would have to conclude that every human being is just as guilty as anyone else. Those in the mob who failed to stand against the others are, in this reasoning, just as guilty as Herod, Caiaphas, or Pilate. Inaction, complicity and apathy exist on a spectrum alongside bloodlust, slander and violence. All who live in this sinful world partook in the deicide.

The early church father Athanasius of Alexandria provided a similar rationale in On the Incarnation, written in the fourth century. For Athanasius, every detail of Christ’s tribulation served a distinct purpose in persuading the stubborn and ignorant mortal mind. Athanasius writes:

Death came to the body not from him but from plotting, that he might destroy that death which they brought upon the Savior (Inc. 24).

In this interpretation, “plotting” had to be the key factor in the death, rather than a mere physical attack. Humans retelling the story must see how much harm is done through evil motives and wicked persuasion. If Christ died with a simple blow from a violent bully, our imperfect minds might not notice the sins rooted in our interior lives and cultivated in our complicated social interactions.

Perhaps the contorted plot leading to Christ’s death is also meant to instruct Christians about the nature of fighting the devil. The “wolves” are not only those who openly hate us but also those who are supposed to be on our side.

How Christians Must Fight

Many of the best lines about this spiritual warfare come, again, in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Paul writes, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. ” (Eph. 4: 26-27). Christians are to remove from themselves “ bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander,” as well as “malice,” “sexual immorality,” “impurity,” “greed,” “coarse and foolish talking” and “crude jokes” (Ephesians 4:31, 5:6).

At the same time, however, Christians are not to allow enemies or supposed comrades to dupe or undermine them. In the same letter, Paul says, “Let no one deceive you with empty words,” and “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Ephesians 5: 6–11).

Christians will feel torn, unsure of what to do, doubtful of whether they are comforting their brethren out of Christian love or cowardly complacency, uncertain whether they are rebuking others out of hypocrisy or righteousness.

The fog of war inevitably gathers. In that fog, we know prayer is a proper response. But other “options” may seem difficult to gauge. In a culture full of impurities, do we choose silence, lest we become crude? Do we avoid the “fruitless works of darkness” by staying away from wherever those works are carried out?

In choosing military analogies I risk the criticism that I am confirming the stereotype of evangelicals as dangerous gun owners who might become violent at any moment (of course, I also just published a book called Wackos Thugs & Perverts.) The martial vocabulary predates me by quite a bit, however, since “culture wars” are wars.

As people debate how to grapple with losses inflicted by culture wars on our side, the one firm stance I can offer is this: we did not choose the culture wars we had to fight. These are ancient battles. My daily excursions through Twitter remind me, in so many surprising and exciting ways, how many are willing to stake their jobs, businesses and liberty to defend life, chastity and countless other Christian causes. If we embrace pessimism and retreat, that is our free choice. We are accountable for it. We still have other options.

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  • Timothy Horton

    What are Christians to do when we face so much cultural animosity?

    A good starting point would be to do an honest self-appraisal and figure out why Christian behavior has generated so much animosity, especially among people younger than 30. Is it possible your 2000 year old book got the science wrong and non-hetero orientation isn’t a conscious choice or the legally undefined “sin”? Is it possible your continued attempts to deny women the legal rights to their own bodies are ticking off too many people? Is it possible most people don’t agree your “religious freedom” gives you the right to harm others by ignoring laws you don’t like? Is it possible people are sick of hearing you whine about Disney and YouTube and Google and every other media outlet which doesn’t present your narrow-minded view of morality?

    Comedian Tom Green once made an astute observation:

    “If you run into an a-hole in the morning, you ran into an a-hole.
    If you run into a-holes all day, you’re the a-hole.”

    Most people are more than willing to live and let live when it comes to religion. That doesn’t seem good enough for some Christians who have a compulsive need to control and force everyone to behave exactly as they think they should.

    • DCM7

      In other words, people who oppose the truth will only tolerate those who stand for the truth if they change their tune and stop standing for the truth — which, of course, they know better than to do.

      “Non-hetero orientation” isn’t a simple choice per se, but it can and should be overcome; and many people, whose existence you would stubbornly deny, have taken the tough but right road to doing just that — and have been far better off for it. That you would deny or fail to understand that doesn’t change a thing.

      “Legal rights to their own bodies” is huge straw-man, and I’d be surprised if you actually don’t know that. The question isn’t just “their own bodies,” but taking responsibility for the actions of “their own bodies” that create *another’s* body.

      No “harm” is done to others when unjust laws are opposed. All that’s done is that false rights are not allowed to trample genuine rights.

      Finally, it’s not about “controlling and forcing people to behave” as anyone “thinks they should.” It’s about knowing what does and doesn’t work, and pushing for what does.

      Your arguments are classic examples of someone not comprehending — and probably not wanting to comprehend — the position they oppose.

      • Timothy Horton

        “In other words, people who oppose the truth will only tolerate those who stand for the truth if they change their tune and stop standing for the truth — which, of course, they know better than to do.”

        We’ll put you down for a zero in the honest self-appraisal department.

        Most people don’t accept your particular narrow religious views as any sort of ultimate “truth”. If you can’t or won’t recognize that simple fact you’ll continue your slide into irrelevance. The faster the better.

        • DCM7

          It speaks volumes that your response amounts to little more than name-calling and doesn’t attempt to engage with any of the points made. Well, I’ve been having discussions like this long enough to know that this is what I can expect.

          The truth given by our Creator is the truth, regardless of what I, you, or “most people” think. It can be discovered and embraced, or denied, misunderstood and misrepresented. But it’s not affected by popular opinion, and it can’t be made “irrelevant.”

          “The faster the better.” — I’d like to see you give up everything you owe to the influence of Christendom. I bet you’d be surprised to find what that actually consists of. If you think the loss of that influence would be good in any way, you’ve been lied to big time — and believed it.

          • Timothy Horton

            It speaks volumes that your response amounts to little more than name-calling and doesn’t attempt to engage with any of the points made.

            People have been trying to engage with your “points” for years but you only transmit, never receive.

            You think your narrow religious views are “truth”. A majority that’s getting wider all the time disagrees. It’s a pity because Christianity does offer some good things, like guidelines on how to treat your fellow humans. Then we have the fanatics like you who insist on controlling all aspects of everyone else’s lives instead of just living your own. When, not if, your narrow views drag Christianity into being a failed second-rate religion you can only look in the mirror to see who to blame.

          • DCM7

            Ultimately, just more name-calling. No one who really knows what the people you oppose are about would recognize them from your description.

          • Timothy Horton

            LOL! More self-righteous whining.

            “Why don’t they like me??”

            “Well, you insult and degrade people, try to control them, give yourself special favors for starters”

            “No, why don’t they like me??”

            “I just gave you three big reasons.”

            “NO! NO! It can’t be my own fault!! Why don’t they like me??”

            (eyeroll) Whatever.

          • Autrey Windle

            You should definitely MOVE TO FRANCE!

          • Triple T

            “Well, you insult and degrade people, try to control them, give yourself special favors for starters”
            Sounds an awful lot like the three most employed strategies of the gay “marriage” crowd when trying to shove what they want on people who disagree with them.

          • Timothy Horton

            LOL! Great Pee Wee Herman “I know you are but what am I?” response.

          • Mr. M

            I can’t with the tea being spilled!!!

          • Autrey Windle

            You should MOVE TO FRANCE

          • Mr. M

            You should MOVE TO RUSSIA IF YOU WANT THESE KINDS OF “FAMILY VALUES”

          • Gary

            Is it unfair that the laws seek to prevent you from driving drunk, or driving through town at 90mph? We do that more to keep you from harming others than to keep you from harming yourself. If you want to engage in immoral sexual behavior, or murder your unborn children, you can legally do that. Have at it. Christians are not trying to run your life so much as they are trying to keep you from running theirs.

          • Autrey Windle

            Amen!

          • Triple T

            Fanatics who insist on controlling all aspects of everyone else’s lives, you say? Surely, then, you would include in this group those who would sue to put somebody out of business who will not participate in something he considers immoral?

          • Timothy Horton

            “Why don’t they like me?? It couldn’t possibly be my fault! Why don’t they like me??
            (eyeroll)

          • Triple T

            This doesn’t answer the question of whether or not you would consider those who would sue to put somebody out of business who will not participate in something he considers immoral among those you would consider fanatics who want to control everyone else’s lives. An answer, please.

          • Timothy Horton

            I already answered about a dozen times. If someone can’t follow the laws they agreed to when they opened their business then they find another business. That goes for all business owners, not just Christian homophobic bigots. Not my problem you don’t like the answer.

          • Triple T

            How can one agree to follow laws that didn’t exist before the business opened? Same sex “marriage” laws were passed about two years ago. The flower shop in Washington was open long before that.

          • Timothy Horton

            When you are granted a business license you voluntarily agree to follow all existing laws and future laws or you get out of the business. Every business in the state agreed to those conditions except your whiners who wanted special permission to ignore the law. They lost.

    • Gary

      No, it isn’t possible the Bible is wrong about how the universe and life came to exist. A lot of people just don’t like the truth, and want another explanation. But they can’t find one that is possible.

      It makes no difference what your “sexual orientation” is. God outlawed all sex outside of heterosexual marriage. Violate God’s law, and face the severe penalties God imposes.

      • Timothy Horton

        No, it isn’t possible the Bible is wrong about how the universe and life came to exist.

        How about a fallible human’s personal interpretation of the Bible? Any chance that could be wrong?

        • Gary

          Not if you can read.

          • Timothy Horton

            What if two people who can both read just fine have a different personal interpretation of the same passage? Because it happens all the time.

          • Gary

            It means at least one of them is wrong. But the Bible says, in different places, that God created the universe and life in six days. That’s impossible to misunderstand. Not believing it is different than misunderstanding it. Those who disagree with it just don’t believe it.

          • Timothy Horton

            Except there couldn’t have been a 24 hour “day” to begin since the sun supposedly wasn’t created until the fourth day. Looks like you’re adding your own personal interpretations. That means you can be wrong.

          • Gary

            God does not need the sun to have 24 hours. Every Christian believes that God created everything we know in six 24 hour days because that is what the Bible says. It says it in both Testaments. It isn’t my own personal interpretation. Christians believed it thousands of years before I came along.

          • Timothy Horton

            Every Christian believes that God created everything we know in six 24 hour days because that is what the Bible says.

            That is simply not true. There are plenty of Christian theistic evolutionists who accept a 4.5 billion years old Earth with evolution occurring over the last 3.8 billion years at least.

            You do highlight another reason Christians look so bad to scientifically literate people. We get literalists like you trying to force Creationism (now rebranded as “Intelligent Design”) back into public school science classes. Dumb down your private religious schools as much as you want but you don’t get to screw with science literacy in public schools.

          • Gary

            There are people who claim to be Christians who believe all sorts of things. But real Christians believe the Bible. And the Bible is crystal clear that God made everything in six days.

            I’m not trying to force Creationism into any school. I don’t care what you believe. I do object that evolution is taught as science when it is philosophy, but I expect that sort of dishonesty from people like you.

          • Actually, no, not every Christian believes God created the world in six 24 hour days; not every Christian believes that’s what the Bible says in its original genre, context, and authorial intent.

            But that’s irrelevant to the current discussion. Here’s why. Some passages in the Bible are harder to interpret than others. What the Bible says on original origins is subject to dispute because it’s written in a historically situated genre, we’re reading it from an extremely different historical context, and people differ as to how much difference that makes.

            What the Bible says about sexual morality is not like that in any way. We know the genres, we know the contexts, and we know enough about what was going on in the multiple historical contexts in which the multiple passages were written. We know enough therefore to be able to reach a reliable understanding of what it says and what it intended to say when it was written.

            So in other words, so what if there are passages in the Bible that aren’t interpreted the same by everyone? What the Bible says about sexual morality has been universally agreed upon.

            Universally, that is, among all scholars until the beginning of the sexual revolution, when individuals with an obvious axe to grind came along and found ways to read other meanings into the text.

            The fact that a text can be interpreted differently by different people doesn’t mean it says nothing. It means that it’s possible for some people to get it wrong. The fact that some people can get it wrong doesn’t mean it’s impossible for some people to get it right — and to be able explain why their interpretation is right. I could suggest several books if you want that explanation.

          • Timothy Horton

            What the Bible says about sexual morality has been universally agreed upon.

            That is simply false also as there are a large number of Christians who have no problem with same sex marriages or divorcees getting remarried. The latest polls show 54% of Christians now accept SSM.

            I know you want to believe your personal interpretations are the only correct ones but so does everyone else with different opinions. That’s the reason there are so many different religious sects, each with its own interpretations.

          • Did you notice you quoted me out of context?

          • Timothy Horton

            Did you notice the context didn’t matter for the false statement you made?

          • The “false statement” is qualified in the next sentence. You’ve represented it as what I think about the topic, when my thoughts about it include the qualifications I went on to write. This is not debating in good faith on your part.

          • Gary

            The six day creation week is referenced and confirmed in several places in both testaments. People who dispute it don’t believe the Bible.

          • Gary, that’s simply not true. Christians who dispute it believe the Bible actually says — and intends to say — something other than six literal 24 hour days.

            This is an old conversation I’ve had hundreds of times. I don’t intend to have it again here. I’m just reiterating for the record that you say here is factually wrong in the case of many Bible-believing Christians.

        • Corinthian

          Is it possible that your fallible human personal interpretation of Christianity is wrong? Why presume others are wrong when they are no more fallible than you are. It’s illogical.

    • Triple T

      It might also be time, as we’ve discussed before, but you may want to stop believing everything you read online and everything you want to be true. You can correct me if ‘m wrong, but I suspect you haven’t set foot in a church recently.
      I attend weekly. The under 30 age group makes up a proportionally expected part of the congregation. It is the same way in other churches I know of. To say that Christian behavior has generated this huge amount of animosity among this age group simply isn’t true.

      • Timothy Horton

        LOL! This is where I show you the statistics from the Gallup and the Pew Research Center showing a slow but steady decline in church attendance over the last 50 years with an accelerated rate of decline from the Millennials. Then you cover your eyes and go LA! LA! LA! I DON’T SEE ANY STATISTICS!.

        The interesting thing among the Millennials is the percentage who say they believe in a Supreme Being hasn’t declined. It’s just that they’re abandoning the formal Church due to its rigid unbending ways.

        • Triple T

          In this section alone, you’ve quoted from Tom Green and Pee Wee Herman. You may not have noticed this, but these are not the finest minds this country has to offer.
          It’s hard enough to take you seriously under normal circumstances. You make it ten times worse by using MENSA members like these to try and make some sort of point.

          • Timothy Horton

            In this section alone, you’ve quoted from Tom Green and Pee Wee Herman.

            Those gentlemen have made some astute observations about the bigotry and hypocrisy often found among Fundy circles. Not my problem you volunteered to be their poster boy.

          • Triple T

            Only in your world is “I know you are, but what am I” an “astute observation” made by a “gentleman”. I can’t wait to see your next reply. Great philosophers such as Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and Beavis and Butt Head have a wealth of material for you to choose from, I’m sure.

          • Timothy Horton

            Pretty funny how you’ll whine and grasp any straw to show you’ve such a victim while ignoring the whole point of the conversation. I’ll accept that’s your way of admitting you have no rebuttal and are just looking to save some face.

          • Triple T

            The rebuttal was immediately under your original remark about some sudden mass desertion of Christianity you believe is happening. I, who I all but guarantee am in a better position to see who attends church services than you, pointed out to you that this isn’t the case based on what I see every week. You, as usual not wanting to accept the facts that you’re wrong and that you don’t know everything about everything, insulted me by accusing me of making noises I don’t recall making.
            You are correct in that the rest of this is just me pointing out that you make yourself sound ridiculous by quoting from a man who was arrested for indecent exposure in a movie theater, and another who wrote, sang and made a video for a song about putting his butt in some non-traditional places.

          • Timothy Horton

            I pointed out major research polls done on the topic shows church attendance declining, most rapidly among young people. Your “rebuttal” was a worthless personal anecdote. The last time I posted results from a nationwide poll you whined the poll was somehow faked and didn’t show the real results. That’s the kind of childish evasions comedians like Green and Pee Wee make hay with. You keep making yourself look like a clueless churl then get mad when I point out the obvious.

          • Triple T

            I don’t recall whining. I already explained to you how statistics can be interpreted or skewed in different ways. If you don’t remember or didn’t understand, sorry, but I’m not explaining it again.
            Why is it that to you the a Bible verse can mean fifty different things to fifty different people, yet a poll that says what you want it to say is ironclad truth? I eagerly await the mental gymnastics you will use to give me a non-answer to this question.

          • Timothy Horton

            I don’t recall whining.

            Whining is all you do. If I show you statistics you whine the polls were invalid. If I show you research from the primary scientific literature you whine the scientists were biased or paid to produce false results. You whine and wave your hands so hard to dodge findings you don’t like it’s amazing you don’t get airborne.

          • Triple T

            Only if your definition of “whining” is “says things I disagree with”

        • davidrev17

          Tim, your “heads I win, tails you lose” mentality in dialogue, never ceases to astound me my friend! Talk about “rigid and unbending” – not to mention unyielding – or “stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, always resisting the Holy Spirit”??

          Yikes Tim! You’re a textbook example of one who’s playing a game of eternal/spiritual Russian-Roulette, of which one can’t possibly afford to lose! Why do you continue to put your clearly idolatrous self, in the place of the Creator/Originator, & Sustainer of your very life’s “breath”?

          For Pete’s sake: your worldview of metaphysical naturalism is STILL profoundly incapable, and/or unsuccessful at offering ANY credible SCIENTIFIC hypothesis to date, for the ORIGIN of this universe – let alone ALL of nature’s “mind-boggling, finely-tuned constants and quantities of chemistry and physics,” plus all of its “laws” – plus the origin of “life” itself, the “origin of mind,” as well as the perennially recalcitrant (meaning still UNsolved) issue in neuroscience, called “the hard problem of consciousness.” (I mean, just like the brilliant astrophycist/astrobiologist, Dr. Paul Davies has observed: “Just how did nature go digital”???) And I can STILL hear those pesky crickets, instead of examining a scientific answer of which should’ve been proffered & verified by now.

          Yet strangely, you et al. choose to remain ideologically, or philosophically CERTAIN (just how is that possible anyway??) that absolutely NO Creator God of the Judeo-Christian variety – had anything whatsoever to do with that which I just mentioned above?? Talk about a logically incoherent (or tail-chasing) fideistic a priori belief system?? That’s an explicit definition of blind-faith, if ever there was one!

          And your pejoratively dismissive description of professing Christians (in congregations), diligently attempting to live by the Word of a self-existent, transcendent, immutable Creator God – i.e., unchanging = “rigid and unbending,” see Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8 – is terribly foolish and reckless; especially when there’s NO foundation, nor evidence whatsoever, to even begin affirming your purely BY-FAITH worldview system-of-belief…because “SCIENCE [literally] MEANS NATURALISM.”

          Good day my friend!

          • Timothy Horton

            Psst davidrev17….here’s a hint….few things on the web make you look as stupid as threatening someone with Pascal’s Wager. 🙂

          • davidrev17

            I rest my case…as I said before: your vacuous, and clearly fideistic belief in NOthing, would make even the most radical, rock-ribbed Islamic homicide-bomber green with envy!! And as for Pascal’s Wager: one would no doubt need to demonstrate some semblance of logic, or rationality in their worldview beliefs, in order to grasp its still-valid, binding implications; and tragically, that removes you from consideration!

  • Gail Finke

    Excellent piece, thank you.

  • Timothy Horton

    A good starting point would be to do an honest self-appraisal and figure out why certain Christian behavior has generated so much animosity

    No one here is brave enough or self-reflective enough to examine for themselves the root causes of the animosity? You just know it must be 100% the fault of others and couldn’t possibly be any consequences of your own behavior, right?

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