An Open Apology

“Who are you to condemn God’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him tell them whether they are right or wrong…” (Romans 14:4)

Sometimes, I think I’m right. Some of those times, I am wrong. And some of those times, that hurts people. Here is my apology.

A few weeks ago, a video started trending on social media showing a clip of Victoria Osteen talking about worship followed by a clip of Bill Cosby saying “that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life!” A short time after that, the same Osteen clip was paired with the scene from “Billy Madison” in which the trivia host rails on Billy for his inept response, saying, “At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought.”

Guys, Bill Cosby is always hilarious. This 90’s kid still thinks “Billy Madison” is hilarious. The clips are funny. So I shared them.

And that’s where I was wrong.

The truth is, I have been critical of the Osteens for years. Actually, it’s been since about 2006, when I took a sociology of religion course in college and used their relationship and ministry as a case study in one of my papers. (Because that made me some sort of expert on their spiritual state??)

Do you remember that time, when you were an arrogant, inflated 21-year-old college student with a good education that was a little too big for your britches, and you acted like a moron? I think we’ve all been there. You know, that #facepalm moment (yes I just hashtagged within a post) when you look back and want to punch your former self in the face. Did you also happen to carry a little bit of that obnoxious egotism with you for the next 8 years? No? That’s just me then? Well, crap.

We could waste spend a lot of time dissecting scripture and contemporary cultural contexts to reasonably guesstimate exactly what each Biblical author really intended to say with each passage we want to use to support our theologies. However, for every well-constructed argument we make, there is an equally- if not better-constructed argument for something else to the contrary… or at least different. That’s what Paul was getting at when he wrote to Titus to chill out with all the petty religious bickering:

“Do not get involved in foolish discussions about spiritual pedigrees or in quarrels and fights about obedience to Jewish laws. These kinds of things are useless and a waste of time.”  (Titus 3:9*)

And again to Timothy:

“Don’t let people waste time in endless speculation over myths and spiritual pedigrees. For these things only cause arguments; they don’t help people life a life of faith in God. The purpose of my instruction is that all the Christians there would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and sincere faith.” (1 Tim. 1:4-5)

Did you get that? The purpose of Christian instruction is that Christians would be filled with love. Not that Christians would be RIGHT and show everyone else that they’re WRONG. Not that Christians would brag about their unpopularity as “suffering for Christ” while criticizing the popular guy for being a little TOO popular. (Jealous, anyone?) The purpose of Christian instruction is that – NEWSFLASH – Christians would act like Christ.

So how did Jesus handle people who weren’t him doing awesome things?  Let’s take a lesson from the Man himself:

“John said to Jesus, ‘Master, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he isn’t in our group.’
But Jesus said, ‘Don’t stop him! Anyone who is not against you is for you.’” (Luke 9:49-50)

What was that?? DON’T stop him? Oh, well, I’m sure Jesus would hate on people who were being stupid and outrightly rejecting him. Lucky for us, just a few verses down the folks in a Samaritan village did just that, and we get to watch Jesus go all fire and brimstone on them:

“And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?’
But He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.’ And they went to another village.” (Luke 54-56, NKJV)

Not what you expected, eh? As it turns out, the only people Jesus was ever rude to were the religious elite who were more concerned with pointing out everyone else’s flaws than serving God with love. Those were the Pharisees, and I have been one of them. Because of my sinful nature, I have felt morally superior by tearing down those who are different than I, even those on my own team. I was wrong, and I’m sorry.

For the record, I get what Victoria Osteen was saying in those clips, even without the context. Obedience to God, worshipping Him, serving Him… Those are not things we do because God needs our help to accomplish His purposes. God uses them to teach us humility, and we do them to respect our rightful place as mere mortals in the presence of the Almighty God. When we recognize this truth… that’s what makes God happy, amen?

“Who are you to condemn God’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him tell them whether they are right or wrong… For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God. And other people will approve of you too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.” (Romans 14:4; 17-19, NLT)

Thanks to my friend Priscila for pointing out this shortcoming in me a few months ago – sorry I didn’t learn my lesson then. Thanks to my friend Brenda for teaching me that love and community is often more Christlike in a strip club than in the church… and we need to fix that. Thanks to Victoria Wine, who I have never even met, for posting about the Christian critics on facebook and making me realize that I needed to write this public apology. Thanks to Philip Wagner, whoever that is, for writing this blog that put me to shame. And thank you all for loving me even when I mess up. I love you. I need you.

*All Bible quotations are taken from the New Living Translation (NLT), unless otherwise noted.