Andy Stanley and the Unforgiving Tweeters

Some Twitter Christians are handling this Andy Stanley apology very poorly, but it shows our typical unwillingness to truly forgive.

If you’re unfamiliar with the situation, Andy Stanley is a preacher who, in his weekly sermon video, appears to have gotten a little worked up about the topic, and made a jab at parents who take their children/teens to smaller churches. He calls them selfish for wanting to go a small church “where I know everybody,” instead of a larger place where they have enough teens for separate middle and high school groups.

His local church, North Point, has a huge network of congregations, and is one the largest, if not the largest, depending on how you count. Mega-churches are commonly the target for criticism, typically in an ignorant and stereotypical way about the faceless, vague idea of a “mega-church.” So, I’m sure he’s in the position of defending North Point’s size, methodology, and decisions quite often.

That’s not necessarily an excuse, but a possible perspective of where his head might have been. And the point of this sermon was to defend the practice of church, why God designed it, and why it’s beneficial. So someone hears that comment, starts posting for all to see, then in our typical 140-character attention span, we hear only what the headlines read: “Andy Stanley says you’re selfish for going to a small church.”

WHAT?! You’ve got to kidding me? I go to a small church. Well not really, but I maybe once did or know someone who does and just the fact that someone would say that really offends me! Or the fact that someone might be offended offends me.

Even though there may be an element of truth to what he said, the way it came across, especially in the sound bite format that most people will see, does sound harsh. It sounds judge-y. I could retort by listing a dozen positive or necessary reasons for going to a small church. Regardless, he obviously went too far.

He admitted it went too far.

So he apologized.

End of story. Goodnight, folks. See ya next time.

Well, no. Not if you’re still bitter from what he said. Responses are all over the map. Some thank him for his humility. Some remain angry at his arrogance. A few are taking their overall opinion of him and this just adds fuel to their fire. Many demand that he do something more, like take the video down, apologize in a lengthy explanation, go to a small church to apologize in person. But is that forgiveness?

I forgive you, but…

To use the obvious example from Jesus, “How many times should we forgive, 7 times?” “No, 70 times 7.”

…unless you don’t think they’re really sorry.

…unless you’re still angry

…unless you haven’t had a chance to speak your mind

I gave up on internet-arguing years ago. Back in my more politically vocal years, I remember going at it a few times with people polar-opposite of my opinion. And I’m happy to say that I won them over and they’re a completely different person now!

You feel the weight of heavy sarcasm, I hope. Nothing changed. Rarely, very rarely do you find healthy conversations from differing sides online. People seem to lose their decency filter when behind the security blanket of a computer. Hardly anything you see in a comment section would actually be said in a face-to-face conversation. Or at the very least if you shared an opinion, you would pause and make an attempt at being polite.

We can’t get out of our own way. He said some wonderfully, amazing things through the full sermon. Things that many people really need to hear. Especially right before this debatable line. But we naval-gazers aren’t interested in what’s best, we like the drama, we have something to say, or our feelings are hurt.

The worst part is that dude actually apologized! Someone was actually humble enough to admit that he was wrong. No sugar-coating, either. And that’s not good enough for us?

I hope the comments are nothing more than internet trolls. Our response should be different (if a response is even necessary in this case). If we were to use the Forgive 70 x 7 formula, or the Golden Rule, or love others as you love yourself, any of those would change our reaction. Personally, if I said something wrong, then apologized, I would want everyone to about forget it. But I wouldn’t expect them to. I expect to be punished and belittled because that’s just how people are sometimes. So imagine the impact a positive, forgiving response would create. In real life, imagine the bond and friendship that could be formed by truly putting another’s interests ahead of your own. Forget yourself, do the unnatural thing, and truly forgive an apology.

Ironically, the Discussion Guide the church provided for this lesson included this statement: We build churches because the church encourages us to embrace a mandate that could change everything: love your neighbor as yourself.

Karma and the Law of Reciprocity

Karma, as we generally understand it, does not exist. How many times does it take to learn that it’s not going to happen? We’re tantrum-throwing children, stomping our feet screaming, “BUT?! I did good! Why is this happening to me?!”

It appears the stomach bug is making the rounds in our house. The baby had it on Sunday (all overnight of course), then my daughter on Thursday. Hers was actually overnight as well, but chose to go to the bathroom on her own, record the time, 1:30am & 4:15am, and let us know in the morning (have we raised the perfect kid?) Then my wife on Saturday.

I guess that leaves me….(dun dun duuuun!!)

Friday was a lovely day and she took the kids for a walk on the greenway, patting herself on the back for getting everyone some exercise and fresh air. Then the next day, barely able to sit up without getting dizzy, she jokes that this shouldn’t be happening cause she was trying to be healthy. And I totally get it. Instinctively you anticipate a reward for doing well. I suppose this is how we were raised: punished for poor choices, rewarded for good ones.

A couple weeks ago I had a similar reaction. School’s were still cancelled for snow. I made it into work early, got some stuff done, went to take my Big Brothers Big Sisters “Little” to lunch, ran into a guy I hadn’t seen in a while who was going through a tough situation and I hope I spoke some words of encouragement to him. On my way back, a car appeared to have broken down right in front of me and the guy was trying to push it across traffic into a gas station. I put my flashers on and helped him push it across. (You haven’t truly exercised till you have pushed a car).

This is where I beam with pride in my day’s accomplishments and wait for it to start raining money and candy from the sky.

I’m waiting…

Any moment now, I’ll get a surprise bonus.

Maybe they’ll call about that contest I entered.

I’ll settle for no traffic on the way home.

Still waiting…

Sadly, the rest of the night was pretty standard. Guess it could have been worse, like some kind of anti-Karma!

A couple years ago I had worked overtime a couple nights for a big project and had just wrapped up on a Saturday. I left to go unwind with friends at a restaurant. While taking the exit on a freshly drizzled off-ramp, I lost traction and flipped my truck. Um, dear Karma, you got it backwards. I worked hard and you forgot to reward me.

I do believe in natural consequences. Unfortunately, it seems negative consequences are more common than positive rewards.

Something inside us thinks that the world somehow owes us for doing a good deed. It’s only fair that I should be treated as well as I have done.

The Law of Reciprocity “basically says that when someone does something nice for you, you will have a deep-rooted psychological urge to do something nice in return.” Maybe “Law” is too strong of a word. If it were a Law, I suppose when I helped the guy push his car over I could’ve waited around for a little tip in return. But maybe it inspired him to do something nice later on that day. Maybe.

I typically feel great when someone does something nice for me. But not always. A compliment could make me feel awkward and shy. Someone paying for my meal could leave me feeling cheap or lower on the totem pole. I remember on a chorus trip, our director stopped the bus to ask a guy on the side of the road for directions. He insisted on showing his appreciation with a little cash, the guy tried to refuse and quite frankly appeared insulted by the offer.

So the cosmos doesn’t automatically reward us for positive actions. And people won’t necessarily return our good deed with one of equal or greater value. So why keep fighting the good fight?

You may still get a reward, just in a different form. Contentment. Satisfaction. A clear conscience.

This is how the golden rule got its gold.

Not: Do to others so that they will do the same to you

Not: Do to others as they have done to you

Do to others… whether or not they do, even if they don’t, even if they don’t deserve it, as if what they do doesn’t even matter… Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Whether you are rewarded is not the point. Whether you have been treated well thus far is not the point. Your goal is to be kind, be generous, be loving, regardless. This is true selflessness. It is not about you, it’s about how you are to others.