In 1 Peter 2: 12 we are commanded to, “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Peter goes on to tell us that our good deeds include showing proper respect for everyone. And still later he reminds us to follow the actions of Jesus who did not retaliate when he was insulted and mistreated at the cross.
Recently, a friend was mistreated due to her faith. Actually, the mistreatment was based on assumptions rather than facts. The one doing the mistreatment made false allegations about my friend’s beliefs and attitudes. This was in a professional setting where my friend expected to be treated as any other and not singled out like this. Thankfully, the episode was brief. But what if it wasn’t? How should we respond to mistreatment for reasons of faith?
Some things we shouldn’t do:
1. Sarcasm and biting back. One of the things that bothers me in the political arena is the amount of sarcasm and belittling used against each other. Not that this behavior is new–it isn’t–but it does seem more intense than before. It would seem that the goal for liberals is to catch conservative family values defenders not living up to their standards. And conservatives put down liberals for being open to anything and everything (except conservatives). When attacked for reasons of faith, let’s not spend our time making public comments about the missteps of our accusers.
2. Say nothing at all. Silence isn’t always wrong but it may not be right either. It can be good to overlook some mistreatment as a mercy to the attacker. Sometimes when we know someone is having a bad day or is themselves a recipient of mistreatment, we may choose to overlook hateful comments. However, saying nothing as a matter of course may also eliminate an opportunity to speak truth in love to the offending party.
What can we do?
1. Deserved or undeserved? First, we can check to see if we have brought an attack on by our own behavior. If we have, we ought to address the matter right away. If the attack is not the result of our own foolish actions, then this is not about us but about God. Hopefully, this little bit of assessment can take the personalized part of the pain out of the equation.
2. Work to understand. Where are these comments coming from? What might be revealed behind the hurtful statements about our attackers experiences? It is possible that their attack comes from a bad experience from another person of faith who did not represent well the true meaning of Christianity. We can then validate their pain even if not their expression of it.
3. Speak the truth in love via a point of contact. Look for the value that you share together. Speak to that issue first. Often, some issue of respect, justice or shared concern can be a point of contact to engage an attacker. MLK wrote a letter from his jail cell in Birmingham, AL to white evangelicals who had written to ask him to stop raising tensions via nonviolent protests. He begins with a point of contact–their shared faith, their genuine good will and sincerity regarding their concerns. He attempts to speak their language first about the necessity of prophetic voices among God’s people. Surely he moves on to accuse them of inaction and maintaining the status quo–thus not caring for all of God’s people. But he ends with invitations to dialogue more and even requests that they forgive him if he has overstated their complicity in the problem of Jim Crow. In professional worlds, we may begin with discussions of shared ethical standards. We may want to point out failures by our accusers to keep their own standards, but first we need to establish common ground.
4. Bless, do not curse. Look for ways to bless and/or encourage an accuser if at all possible. Find reason to offer mercy rather than retaliation.
5. Activate, do not withdraw. In professional settings, use the existing system well so you can to gain a hearing, and not just for yourself. Remember, the Apostle Paul uses his Roman citizenship to seek justice against false accusers and abusers. Using his right to appeal to Caesar enabled him to speak to numerous individuals and groups that he might not otherwise have met. It was this simple act that God used to spread the Gospel to Europe and then to the whole world.