Engaging CultureChristian Media

Name Calling: Why Do Christians Do It?

We’ve seen it over the years – discussions and disagreements in the Christian community that start out well, but then slide into name calling. I’ve seen it over the “worship wars,” creation versus intelligent design arguments, the emergent church, and more. But even after all that, I have to admit to being a bit shocked at the level of venom the discussion of the Noah film generated. As I mentioned in my posts, there is much to be debated about the movie. I would have made different creative choices, and there are many decisions the director made in the film I don’t agree with. But in spite of that, I simply recommended that Christians see the film – especially before they launch a petition drive against it, create an online campaign, or call for a boycott.

I expected to get a reasoned discussion, and some people did exactly that. From both sides of the debate many people posted serious, thoughtful, and respectful arguments either to see it or not to see it and why. What I didn’t expect was the amount of name calling. Since I posted my original blog on the movie a few weeks ago, and a few others since, Christian readers have called me:

A false prophet
A joke
A fraud
A “special breed of stupid”
A moron
A secular humanist
A coward
A shill
My understanding “sucks”
Part of “satanic Hollywood”
I’m working hard for the devil
A heretic
A sell out
I could go on, but you get the idea. A few pitied my “lost soul” and one person emailed me and told me to “Enjoy my 30 pieces of silver.”

All because I recommended Christians use Noah as an opportunity to engage with the culture, not withdraw.  Keep in mind these comments were from Christians, trying to defend their view of the Bible. They also had no issue making sweeping assumptions about me and my motivations (although we’ve never met and many admitted they’d never heard of me before the blog post.)

For the record – I have thick skin, and I can handle it.  I’ve taken plenty of heat for my views over the years, but I’m used to getting them in arenas that are generally more hostile to orthodox Christian thinking – places like the Huffington Post or on secular news programs. And this has been especially frustrating because I know some atheists and undecided readers follow my blog. What must they think when they see Christians ripping each other apart so viciously?

So the question becomes:  Where in the Bible does it encourage us to use name calling in our discussions about our faith? I’m all for passion, urgency, and wit, but in spite of their serious disagreements, did Paul call Barnabas a moron, or Peter a joke? Was Paul a sell-out when he started teaching that Gentiles didn’t have to be circumcised? When Peter had a vision of the unclean animals, people argued with him, but I can’t find evidence they called him a coward or a lunatic.

I’m all for vigorous debate, but when did it become OK to call our Christian brothers and sisters such nasty names?  Let me know what you think.

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  1. Hi Phil – The answer is simple. Name calling is fine when you are attempting to destroy the greatest evil of all time, namely the Noah film (just edging ahead of Satan and his minions). The end justifies the means. I’m sure the Bible warns about the coming of this terrible calamity, perhaps in the Message version anyway.

    (PS This is sarcasm, in case anyone is foolish enough to take this at face value. Obviously the Noah film isn’t the greatest evil of all time – that dubious honour belongs to Celine Dion).

  2. I want to say something snarky, Phil, but that would put me in league with the “experts” of all things biblical. I read an article last night from TIME that someone gave me that mentioned you. I think the main person was Bock? Excellent article but also telling when he mentions how many had no clue about Noah’s drunkenness after the Ark. We (Christians) can sometimes be the most asinine people on the planet. And we wonder why someone is not interested in Jesus?

  3. The only time I can think of name calling is when Jesus referred to the religous sects as a “brood of vipers”.
    If people feel convicted about seeing the film, then don’t go. If someone wants to see it for whatever reason then they should go right ahead. By trying to demonize it you just create more buzz and bring more box office dollars in, than if just follow your own convictions and let other people follow theirs.

  4. As an agnostic atheist who reads here, I don’t judge Christianity by the actions of angry internet posters. I feel like there is too much blurring of lines between political theatre and religion, and even though that tends to breed a nasty “un-Christlike” attitude from many, there are also numerous Christians who genuinely and passionately do the best they can in life and it can be just as frustrating for them to be lumped in with the horrendous actions of their spiritual brothers and sisters. I think it’s good to raise the question, Phil, but the “Christians” you are referring to are not going to change. It’s easier to label you as a false prophet and deafen their ears than to accept that perhaps they might have been in the wrong. Hardened hearts need deep inner reflection, and until that happens there isn’t much hope of those attitudes changing.

    1. Yes, there is a hesitancy among ‘Christian culture’ to question one’s beliefs. Almost as if we are scared about the potential answers. As for me, I question my faith all the time, and find that the answers actually make my beliefs stronger.

      1. Which is one of our greatest abilities as human beings (reflection and reasoning skills). It’s one of the reasons I like to read what people with different ideas have to say, to see if someone has looked at an issue through a lens I never thought to try.

        1. have you ever just thought to look into the Bible and read it with an open mind about who this “God” of the book is? I’m not talking just skimming through it but actually reading to see what He is all about? I’m just wondering because I always look for differing opinions myself and try to understand them.

          1. Striving to look at all things with an open mind is something I very much try to do (doesn’t mean I’m always successful). Since I come from a religious background, it was an “open mind” that first led me to where I am today. When you say God of the book are you referring to the Christian God?

          2. I am referring to the God spoken about in the Bible, Creator. I came from a religious background myself but a lot of it didn’t make sense. I sort of “put it all aside” and just checked things out for myself.

  5. My perspective on the protests against the Noah movie. While I’m not a fan of the Noah movie I think James offers us important wisdom about how we conduct ourselves.

    “The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” – James 1:20.

  6. Spot on and we do a HORRIBLE job at agreeing to disagree and still be in unity without all the name calling.

    As far as Noah goes, I think I’ll wait until the $2.50 movie or even DVD. I just read too many negatives from Christians and non-Christians alike and one of my pet peeves is to spend full price at the theater on a bad movie. If I get a hint of a 60/40 or 50/50 chance of it being a good or bad movie IMO, I’ll wait until the cheap theater or Redbox. I loathe spending money on bad movies.

  7. A tool. Don’t forget that they called you a tool.

    I am so appalled by the behavior these self-styled “Christians” that I begin to question whom they really follow. After all, “By their fruits you shall know them.”

    To be honest, if it weren’t for God, I’d be ashamed to associate with most Christians. I have no desire to hang with people whose behavior is so rude, unthinking and nasty. And I can’t see why anyone would be attracted to Christianity when that’s the public face of it.

    Hang in there, Phil. It’s just a movie. And God is still God.

  8. This reminds me of something Sarah Beach said when she worked on the TV show “Jeopardy” — whenever they got hate mail, it was always from Christians.

  9. The name calling & mockery was definitely going both ways– from those promoting the movie & those against it. Russell Crowe was rather offensive in an interview calling Christians against the film “stupid” among other things. Christian blogs mocking those who don’t want to see it as “afraid” with imagery of them clinging to their guns & Bibles… and yes, running for the hills. lol. I get why the dialogue diminishes to that- emotions run high & the overwhelming urge to defend a position. I just hope this latest “outburst” by all sides results in some self-evaluation and maturity. Above all, we should be able to disagree and still maintain some semblance of Love.

  10. I do think it’s a terrible display when Christians act so badly, and hurtful to those like you on the other end of the attack.

    As for the movie, I’ve read several reviews and recaps. I feel comfortable that I know enough about it that I don’t want to support it at all. I can still engage without seeing Noah by asking others what they thought about the movie and explaining my reasons for not wanting to see it.

  11. Phil, I think that it would be wise if “the church”, would put a lot more effort into preparing approriate responses to what they deem inappropriate. How we say it, matters just as much as what we say. Otherwise our voice will be reduced to that of Charlie Brown’s school teacher.

  12. As I recall, Phil, two effective ways to influence are to entertain… or to irritate. Though Maher obviously utilizes both, it seems many in the righteous camp have a stronger grip on the “I” than the “E.”

  13. A good word, Phil. I know firsthand, thick skin or not, it is no fun to be called names. To be likened to Judas for recommending Christians see the movie is really shocking. I appreciate your thoughts and insights, even when I don’t agree with you. If you are “a special breed of stupid”, I need to get in on some of that. Your creativity, eye for excellence, and drive to move things forward for the Kingdom of Christ is a testimony to your heart for the Lord and keen intellect.

  14. When we could hide behind the anonymity of the Internet and feel secure in spewing our unfiltered thoughts.

  15. The negative and ungraceful responses you have been getting are from people that have what I like to call the “Spirit of the Pharisees”.
    Like the Pharisees, they are full of “Righteousness” but lacking in Grace. They believe that their opinion is the only right opinion and anyone who thinks differently is an unholy heathen who is damned to hell for eternity.
    (I’m exaggerating, but not by much)
    The bible says that they will know we are Christians by our love, not by our righteous indignation.
    We need to understand that Righteousness comes from what God has done, not from what we have done, or not done.
    (Or by what movie we endorse or don’t endorse.)

  16. Phil, I’ve known you for several years and you are truly one of the most honest, open, caring, creative and REAL people I’ve ever met. These people are attacking someone who CARES, who works hard in Hollywood to represent Christ and has an amazing family doing the same. Thank you for your heart and for making us all take a closer look at how we destroy our witness with our words.

  17. Haha, You should post some sort of “Blessed are the persecuted” article just to see the responses. You could even add that you are promoting the film as a method to evangelize Aronofsky in some sort of twisted “missionary dating” way. We’d all know it was tongue in cheek but the responses would be great 🙂

    I enjoy good debate with people who oppose my view and can dialogue about their perspective while maintaining respect for mine.

    By the way, my buddy Wade Bearden wrote a followup review of the movie now that he has seen it. You should check out his article and shoot him a word of encouragement for doing a great job with http://wadebearden.com/appreciate-noah/

    1. I read it too and thought there were some good thoughts in Wade’s blog… Thanks for sharing it…

  18. Phil, I think you have been right on target with your comments about the film Noah. My husband and I went to see it and it did not offend us at all. As a matter of fact, it had some spiritual symbolism that no one has brought out in any of the reviews I have read. I am a committed Christian but I find that a majority of the Christian Community are the most judgmental sect of believers I have ever been associated with. If something does not fit into their little box of doctrine or Denomination (there are 100’s of “Christian Denominations out there!) then you are a heretic or not a Christian. It’s time for Christians to realize that we serve and awesome God whose ways are not our ways and His thinking is not our thinking. He can use whatever means He needs to reach people that need to know HIM. Heck, that is what He did with Noah, Abraham, Moses, US, etc…. As far as it being about environment, we need to take care of this planet and be good stewards of everything we are blessed with on this Earth for the time we are here. The term “The Creator” I no issue with because do we really know what Noah called God at that time? Really? We only know what is written in the scriptures and they weren’t written at that time. So, I think this should be a time that we as Christians listen to what GOD is telling us today and maybe we can get revelation to what HE is preparing for us in the future that we should be prepared for! Just saying….

  19. You expected “a reasoned discussion” from Christians? I think it feels safe for Christians to takes ‘sides’ on major issues because we then know that at least the people in our little circle all agree. We would rather think as a group than think for ourselves. Because if we disagree – even a little – with our group, then the rest of the group will turn on us. (I saw this in ‘The Walking Dead’ last week.)

    1. A Mennonite once told me that their congregation would rather split their church into two separate churches than argue amongst one another because they felt that arguing would resolve nothing and they should simply take their separate paths when inner church conflict arose.

  20. This was the most saddening part of the whole Noah discussion for me – and gave me flashbacks of a time when I was highly criticized by Christians in the public, online forum of the Internet. Christians hurting other Christians is my hot-button. That’s why I started the “Noah” conversation on my FB page – not really because of the movie – but because I wanted to defend a person that I *know* is a Godly man with a great heart and only wants to reach people for Christ. We’ve only met a dozen times, Phil, but I do know your heart. It should be obvious to anyone who takes the time to get to know you through your writing and your actions. I IM-ed you to try to offer some encouragement because I know that even with a thick skin, dealing with Christians who don’t know how to Biblically communicate in a debate can still hurt you.

    I was saving this for a book I’m working on, but I can’t help but sharing a very dark evening for me. I had written something stupid about my book on media ministry being “the first highly-technical book written on the subject.” It was foolish pride on my part, but a colleague who had written a similar book (more from a philosophical POV with a little tech thrown in) took great offense at what I said and we got into it through email. We were both being prideful. During this period of my life I was on a ton of unnecessary medications for physical and mental health issues I was dealing with. I was *not* in my right mind. The argument and the “name-calling” from both sides sent me into a tailspin. I had become self-abusive and that night it became worse. I literally cursed Christians (I’m not one to curse at all) as I laid on a staircase – crying uncontrollably and cutting myself with a piece of glass (the “cutting phase” of my illness stopped after discontinuing a particular medication – pinning that problem down to an adverse reaction to an anti-psychotic medication I had no business being on). Around 2 o’clock that morning, I called my pastor at his home and simply asked, “Why do Christians hurt other Christians?” My pastor, knowing what I was going through, didn’t offer an answer, but rather called 911 and the next thing I knew there were police, fire engines and an ambulance to cart me off. My pastor did *not* visit me during my (one of many) week’s hospital stay. And to this day I still don’t have an answer to my question.

    This experience was a one-on-one situation. In the public arena a former Christian colleague, with whom I had a falling out, actually had his pals write negative reviews of my book on Amazon. Probably the worst public attack was by a former moderator on my forum who took it upon himself to write a seven-part blog series on what a bad person I was. It was libelous, but didn’t mention my name directly – although he dropped enough hints that it was obvious. The blog posts still exist, but over the years the author toned down his anger (I never knew exactly what I did or said to make him angry at me) and has tweaked the text to generally discourage people from social media (before it was even called that) because of how awful the leaders of forums – (un)namely me – can be. But I have the original, lambasting posts and to this day I don’t know why this fellow Christian felt the necessity to publicly try to humiliate me – and the words still sting. I was nothing but good to this person. I helped support him financially when out of work and he even got a job because of my ministry, which lead him to meet his future wife. And yet this brother in Christ spent a great deal of time and effort to hurt me in a very public way. Why? What did it accomplish? How does berating another child of God help the Kingdom in ANY WAY POSSIBLE?

    So, back to you, Phil. Consider it research for my book (which is about the way Christians and the Church react to and treat Christians who are in physical/mental/spiritual pain). I see it happening to you and you have done nothing to deserve it. Does *any* Christian deserve to be attacked like this? It’s nowhere near the Biblical way of handling disputes. This new age of communication has unfortunately given the Christian army – or “Christian” army – a whole new way to shoot our own wounded (or a Five-Star General in your case).

    It’s the worst possible witness we can offer the world. I imagine the lost and the seekers looking at the way you’ve been treated by our own and I’m physically nauseous when I think about how non-Christians must perceive us. It just gives them more ammo to call us hypocrites. How many souls have been potentially lost because people have publicly derided Phil for simply doing what God has called him to do? Civil debate is one thing, but the name-calling and the nasty comments are completely contrary to God’s Word.

    So, to those out there with nothing better to do with your time than write these things and dare call yourselves representatives of Christ, think long and hard about this: What’s doing more damage? The movie “Noah”? Or the un-Christlike – downright sinful – things you have written about a solid man — a true child of God? Without spending a dime, you who write before you think – or better yet, don’t even pray about what you are going to write – have probably done more damage to the Kingdom than any $130 million dollar movie could ever do. How can you possibly live with that?

    Do you really want to do something by THE Book? Apologize to Phil, whom I know will forgive you, and ask God to forgive you. Phil can take a lot of “dung”, but he still has feelings. I’ve reached out Christians that I’ve hurt in the past and asked for forgiveness. I’ve even asked for forgiveness when I didn’t do anything wrong. That’s what the Bible instructs us to do.

    So who among you are Christian enough to do that?

    1. This is sad, and unfortunately, I too have been there. Such behavior among Christians can really cause a crisis in faith and be a stumblingblock to others. I hope Phil stays encouraged and people with humble spirits continue to lift, teach and learn from one another.

  21. When our kids were growing up, we always made it a practice to talk afterwards about the movies we watched just to clarify what parts of the story matched up with our beliefs, and which parts didn’t. We did this in order to help our kids think critically about what they see on TV and in movies. In the process, I think we taught them to appreciate a good story even if it we don’t believe every detail of the story. Seems like this is a good practice for any movie, book, school assignment, or Sunday morning sermon.

    1. We did the same Doug. The kids are going to see it eventually, so instead of trying to “protect” them, teach them discernment. Great thought, and thanks for posting!

      1. Absolutely true Phil & Doug! We cannot afford to have a fortress mentality with this generation. They will either do it just for the heck of it, or to defy you or just to see what it is all about! The best option is to use every opportunity as a teaching tool to teach this batch of kids. After all the Bible teaches us to teach/instruct/train/guide them “we sit down, we get up …”. You cannot dam a flood but you can channelize it! Better for them to learn from us as safe sources of reference than go out there and learn it all in the wrong way!

    2. I totally, totally agree. With my children, I read them books and shown them films I know many Christians would disapprove of (including Harry Potter – shock horror!) but I have in the process tried to teach them discernment, how to enjoy something whilst not necessarily agreeing with everything it stands for, evaluating a story’s message, and so on.

      Example: when I showed Spider-man 2 to my son (then about 7), an hours post film discussion on sins of ommision was prompted by the scene where Peter Parker decides to not use his powers anymore and selfishly walks away from a mugging when he could intervene.

      I am taking this same child (now 9) to see Noah tomorrow. Tonight we are re-reading the relevant chapters in Genesis in preparation, and I am very much looking forward to his take on the film (as opposed to mine).

  22. I really appreciated your take on the “controversy” about Noah. No one, Christian, atheist, humanist, or other viewpoint, needs to name call in defense of their viewpoint. As Shakespeare said, “Me thinks thou doth protesteth too much!”

  23. I was telling my wife the other day how sad I was, not from anything related to the movie itself, but from the negative reactions and name calling by people who claim to love Jesus. It’s sad when I see it on personal pages on social media, but it is really heartbreaking to see the hundreds and thousands of negative, malicious, and hate-filled comments that were made on pages like the “Official Noah Facebook Page” (I assume, created by Paramount).
    General Patton once said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” Maybe if we in the church began having more thoughtful discussion instead of uneducated name calling, we’d be better prepared “to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have… with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

  24. Wow – makes we want to say to the critics; ‘Guys – its only a movie’. Whilst there’s the usual discussion about the movie here by film critics, there’s nothing like you’re experiencing happening. One is tempted to use the oft quoted Australian phrase ‘Crazy Yanks’, but then that’s probably not helpful.
    Glad you’re bearing up Phil.
    Martin Johnson

  25. Wow, I ache at this. I have been on the receiving end of some very similar attacks. One day I was discussing certain theological issues in a thread when a man, who leads a ministry (I looked him up afterward), suddenly came on blasting me for being a “jewannabee” and a pharisee, and said that I crucified Jesus. When I decided “to bless those who curse me” his response was to damn me to hell. This was after I made very clear that I passionately love our Messiah and totally believe that salvation was only through Him. Oh, the best of it is in between all the hate-filled banter he reminded me how at least his doctrinal affiliation understood Grace, and were not bound by the Law. I was dumbfounded. Seriously? I wondered where exactly he exhibited any sign of the Grace he claimed to defend. I so wish believers would actually remember that Yeshua/ Jesus said the only way the world will know we’re His, is by our love for one another. Note, not our theology, not our perfect doctrine, it’s our love for one another. He also quite strongly stated that we cannot claim to love Him, who we don’t see, if we don’t love our brothers, who we DO see. So, in light of Phil’s post, where is the love brethren? Where is the love?

  26. Phil, I only met you once at Hillsong church years ago. I got the impression you are great guy. I’ve certainly followed your blog with great interest and learned many things from you. I know that God has put you where you are for a purpose, and I think you are fulfilling that purpose.

  27. I am so sorry for all you had to endure with the name calling by those so called Christians. But remember “not everyone that calls me Lord Lord will enter the kingdom but those who do the will of the Father”. There is to many that claim to be Christian but the shepherd knows his sheep. He calls them and they hear his voice. If those that called you names are Christian the Lord will rebuke them and have to apologize to you. Otherwise they are no better than the pharisees and if they mocked the Lord how much more they will mock us.

  28. I find name calling a form of bullying – a way to shut down discussion. What is needed is more discussion, not less.

    I saw Noah. Some aspects of the movie were SciFi fantastic and strayed from the written the record – but it also brought out some good points I failed to see in Biblical commentary.
    Keep Calm and Blog on!

  29. This makes me so sad. I believe any exposure to the Bible is a good thing. Filmmakers rarely stick to the story line of any book, as with recent Bible series on TV, but this will be the first time many people will have been exposed to the bible at all, and for this we should be grateful. Showing this vitriolic side however, is another matter and undermines Jesus’s statement “by this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love one for another”. I hope these people can square their responses with that and tell themselves they did what Jesus would have done. Somehow I doubt it…

  30. Just count it joy because they did the same thing to Jesus, and he still loved them, just don’t have to believe them or accept their hate. That isn’t Jesus that’s for sure.

  31. It’s never okay, but I think we’ve seen the name-calling become so much more flagrant in this age of social media & the ignorant presumption that we’re entitled to “say” whatever we please & “hide” behind that mobile device with virtually no accountability. But Phil, you’re spot on. Your sober-minded perspective is just exactly what I wish more Christians would not only value, but put into practice. It doesn’t shock me when the world labels us as total nuts. We tend to perpetuate the stereotypes! In any case, thanks for the always solid content. Reading your stuff makes me feel way less crazy in the head. 🙂

  32. “… We say that we’re not defending or promoting the movie but we always have an article about it, it’s always for the most part “pro-noah” and is very dismissive of people who voice concern for the movie. Is there dismissiveness on the other side? Sure, but those folks aren’t claiming to have an unbiased discussion. Are there other films we watch that are not Biblically accurate? Sure. Bruce Almighty is one that comes to mind. But there is no confusion there about the likely content of the movie. What you see is what you get. But it is much more misleading when the film is named for and implicitly claims to be about an historical figure from the Bible. If somebody tells me they saw the movie I’m not going to hassle them about it, I almost saw it myself. But why do we needed to shame people into watching admitted works of fiction in order to talk with them about the Bible? Do we know of no other way to share our faith than to marginalize those who in good conscience are standing for biblical truth?”
    – Capt. Bob Schmig

  33. Personally, if the other person’s intent is to win, not discuss. I won’t engage because as George Bernard Shaw wrote. “I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

  34. You’re not alone, Phil. My husband, Hugh, has been called just about every one of the names on your list. This kind of behavior–from Christians–toward someone whose life is devoted to helping people come to faith in Christ has been especially difficult for our two sons to handle. I like to point to that verse in Galatians 5 that tells us to “stop biting and devouring each other.” I can only imagine how much farther along we might be in fulfilling the Great Commission if we could simply treat each other with gentleness and respect, even when we disagree.

  35. Phil, we met briefly in Sydney many years ago, and though I have not yet seen the film, I wanted to drop you a quick line to say thank you for your articles and the openness with which you approach sensitive topics. For every unfavourable comment, I am very sure you have many more supporters who enjoy and think about your perspective on things. From the time I met you I have been one of them, and every post of yours that I read just convinces me of this more. Thanks again.

  36. As I read the comments I too, was frustrated for you, and for “us”. Your line ” And this has been especially frustrating because I know some atheists and undecided readers follow my blog. What must they think when they see Christians ripping each other apart so viciously?” really smarts, as sadly, it’s so true. I’m sorry for you that you’ve been beat up, but “blessed are you”. Thank you for all you do as you stand up for the Lord.

  37. So sorry to hear this Phil. Your words have been a huge inspiration to me over the years, and I am so grateful for people like you who are keeping it real and representing Christ in the industry on behalf of so many of us. As a TV Producer with a huge heart for Hollywood and the entertainment industry, it pains me to hear that our own people would treat you so unkindly. I am confident that there are significantly more believers who find encouragement and inspiration from your words, than the few who have nothing better to do than resort to playground tactics such as name-calling. We love you here in the UK, stick to the vision, we’re behind you!

  38. My heart breaks for you. I went to see Noah, and I loved it. It may not have all of the biblical accuracy, but it did have a God-given message. Phil, you are a real Christian to me than to those who thinks it is so wise to call you names. What you are experiencing is the same persecution Jesus went through with his own people in his own hometown. Thank you for speaking up about this.

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