How to Respond to Haters as a Christian

Anger_by_Dosso_Dossi

Since all Christians are called to be God’s witnesses at all times, we must know how to respond to haters when they question or ridicule us for our beliefs. Christians are being marginalized and viewed as extremists on many important social and political issues simply because we believe in the Bible and accept its teachings. As America is increasingly becoming less Christian, more people are becoming openly anti-Christian.

None of us likes to be despised or rejected for our beliefs. Still, we must not compromise on biblical truth, nor neglect to tell people about our Lord and Savior.

The Tussle by Dosso Dossi

(This is not how to handle conflicts).

Since God calls us to be His witnesses, we can’t simply go into defensive mode and ignore those who disagree with us. Instead, we all must know how to respond to haters when they question us and ridicule us for what we believe.

I will explain in this post how we can often avoid being attacked in the first place. I’ll also tell you what kind of people we can safely ignore; and how we can quickly defuse tense situations. The information in this post can not only help you on the Internet and social media, but also when talking with people face-to-face.

Though it’s unfortunate that Christians are becoming a persecuted minority in the West, there’s a silver lining when unbelievers go on the offensive. They give us the opportunity to show Christ’s love by responding with compassion and kindness. Even while they accuse us of being intolerant, they show by their words and actions who are the real haters.

Paul’s admonishment to Timothy describes the attitude we should display toward all people:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth…
2 Timothy 2:24-25

I’ve come up with four steps which cover both keeping the peace by avoiding arguments, and dealing with any conflict that may occur.

1. Try Not to Provoke People

Even if you only intend to address other Christians, you should assume that non-Christians will also be reading or watching your public posts in forums such as Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, and YouTube.

Many Christians don’t seem to appreciate the fact that Jesus called us to be peacemakers (Mt. 5:9). Peace must begin on a personal level, in our hearts and in our relationships (Jas. 4:1). Paul wrote, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Rom. 12:18).

In the interests of keeping the peace, I would suggest that we shouldn’t write or link to something that might appear to stereotype, disrespect, or show intolerance toward homosexuals, liberals, Muslims, or any other group of people. We need to be sensitive toward all unbelievers. We don’t know what bad experiences they may have had with Christians in the past. Don’t add to the perception they may have of Christians as judgmental people who don’t have the love of God in us.

We should also be careful when mentioning controversial topics such as:

  • Hell (an inflammatory topic, no pun intended)
  • Young-earth creationism (especially if you believe in this)
  • Evolution (if you don’t believe in this)
  • America having been a “Christian nation”
  • Christian dominion, or taking back America for Christ
  • Other religions
  • Feminism (whichever side you’re on)
  • Politics

I’m only suggesting that we be careful, not that we refuse to discuss these topics. People on the other side of the issues, even if they’re mistaken, feel as strongly as we do. We can’t lead people to Christ by offending them in matters that aren’t directly related to the cross of Christ. I explained the need to not abandon the offense of the gospel in How to Witness Without Compromise.

2. Don’t Take Offenses Personally

If you’ve done your best not to offend people, but someone still reacts in a discourteous manner, don’t get upset. The person probably has nothing against you, even if appears that way. Think about it…

  • Do you stereotype and hate people such as gays or Muslims?
  • Do you want anyone to be arrested, enslaved, or killed because of their group identity?
  • Do you want to subjugate women and make them obey men?
  • Are you anti-science?
  • Do you think the government should enforce Old Testament criminal laws in our time?
    You surely don’t support any despicable position such as the ones above. They’re based on extreme examples and outdated stereotypes. The demagogues who spread hatred depend on caricatures like these to dehumanize and demonize us.
    To be fair, there are also Christians, as well as people with large Christian audiences who spread hatred. Please keep your distance from them. Guard your heart (Prov. 4:23).
    If you find it difficult to care about some people because of their beliefs or practices, repent and ask God to change your heart (Mt. 6:15). It’s not our job to judge people who don’t know Christ (1 Cor. 5:12-13).
    Every Bible-believing Christian accepts some truths that are not politically correct. For example, we confess that whatever the Bible calls sin is sin; that Christ is the only way to God; and that unbelievers will face an eternity apart from God. Even though this isn’t what everyone wants to hear, it doesn’t mean we “hate” anyone.
    Some people will be offended by any Christian who upholds the Bible’s teachings, worships God, and isn’t ashamed to discuss their faith. So, again, try not to take it personally.

3. Assess Who You’re Dealing With

Before you can know how to respond to criticism, you should try to assess what kind of person you’re dealing with. There are two kinds of people who may go on the offensive in this way. The first are people who may be having a bad day, or may have misunderstood you. Generally, we should try to engage these people in conversation because they’re “real” people.

The Princess and the Trolls

The second type of person is what’s known on the Internet as a “troll.” A troll is often an anonymous individual who, in this case, may only want to criticize Christians, the Bible, and God Himself. Trolls may pretend that they want to better understand us. In reality, they only want to provoke us, twist our words, ignore our best points, discredit us, change the topic as they please, make their own points, waste our time, and slander us. That’s their idea of fun, but I’m sure it’s not yours.

The Princess and the Trolls by John Bauer

That’s how Satan works, but we’ll succeed as Christ’s witnesses by doing the opposite.

Atheists can often be seen trolling the Internet and social media. However, anyone who has a problem with Christianity could be a troll. Even a fellow Christian may act like a troll if they have doctrinal differences, and only want to attack your beliefs.

Again, try to find out as quickly as possible what kind of person you’re dealing with. Non-trolls may appear to be trolls when you first meet them, and vice versa. Even so, if the person’s first remark appears trollish, you may want to proceed directly to “B” below. This will depend on your available time, your priorities, and your mood or temperament.

A. Ease the Tension

Don’t assume that everyone who appears to be a hater is actually a troll. If you’re uncertain, the Bible gives us a way to quickly defuse a tense situation. It works better and quicker than any medicine.

I must warn you that this will seldom be easy. For me, this can easily be the last idea that comes to mind unless I make a deliberate effort to remember this verse:

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

A gentle answer is effective because it disarms the antagonist. It confounds them when you don’t respond to their harsh words with harsh words of your own.

Here’s a word picture to help you remember this. Imagine that someone is trying to take you on an up escalator. In this case, up is not the way to heaven! It’s the way to escalated anger, tensions, and stress.

Troll on an escalator

Troll on Escalator

If you reply to a rude person with harsh words, you’ll join them on their “up escalator.” But if you respond with gentle words, you’ll deescalate the situation. In effect, you’ll be inviting them to join you on the “down escalator.”

The best way I’ve found to give a gentle answer is to assume that the other person has somehow misunderstood me. Even though this may feel like lying, how can we be certain that we weren’t misunderstood? Let’s try not to assume the worst about other people.

The method of responding with a gentle answer almost always works. However, if the other person still wants to be argumentative, go to “B”. Otherwise, proceed to #4.

B. Don’t Respond to Trolls

If another person is being disrespectful and only trying to goad you, don’t bother responding any further. Nearly everyone will understand, and anyone who supports a troll may well be like-minded.

You’ll be following the standard rules of “netiquette,” which say the best way to deal with trolls is to not feed them. Proverbs 26:4 also tells us, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him.”

Instead of going away quietly, the troll may accuse you of being unable to defend yourself. Be confident in who you are, and don’t take the bait.

4. Follow Up As You’re Able

If you defused the situation by responding with a gentle answer (“A” above), you’re now in a position to engage in a meaningful, productive conversation. The purpose of this blog post has been to get you to this point so that you know how to respond to haters.

I can’t advise you on what to say next since that would depend on the situation. From my experience, however, a web link to a sensitively written article or blog post can speak volumes and save me the time I might have spent trying to convey the same message.

Perhaps you could write one or more articles yourself to explain the issues that you feel most strongly about. Be sure to tactfully address a broad audience, not only the people who already agree with you. You can post that article to your blog if you have one, or submit it to an article directory.

Non-fiction writing is a discipline that forces us to do research, think carefully, and clarify our thoughts about issues. This can benefit you, not only your readers.

Closing Thoughts

When someone offends you, a Christian response almost certainly won’t come easily. As I’ve explained, your best choice will be either to ignore the offense or to respond with a gentle answer. The sin nature doesn’t want to do either. Therefore, unless you have saintly conversation skills, you should probably take a few moments to relax and think before saying anything. Submit to God; ask Him for wisdom; and He will help you with the situation.

It may seem like I oversimplified the situation by giving you only two possible ways to respond. However, the “gentle” response allows for an infinite number of options. Do you have any suggestions for how to respond gently? Feel free to comment and/or share this post.

  • Justin Foster

    Very humbling post. I was open-air preaching on the train last night, and I perhaps should have waited for God to give me new words. I got up in the fashion I usually do in one of the spaces across from the train door exits and began by reading a Scripture and then catapulting from that. One lady began filming. I felt the Spirit moving at the beginning, but as I continued I couldn’t sense that it was God leading me anymore. I should have stopped.

    After about 5 stops, that same lady stood up and told me to shut up. I ignored her and later her husband told me to shut up also and threatened to throw me off the train car. I told him, ” You can throw me off if you want. Christ said that if they hated him, they will hate me.” He smiled and said, “ok,” making a muscle with his right arm, in some macho-fashion. Not too much later he stood up and walk towards me and stood about 24 inches away from me telling me to get off the train. I looked at him and said, “There’s an MTA operator right there. Are you going to break the law and throw me off the train?” He said, “No, I’m not going to throw you off, but can you shut up?” I said, “If you want me to shut up, call the authorities; you aren’t the authorities.

    I concluded the message and spoke blessings over the MTA operator who was seated to my left for not telling me I had to stop, since I was technically breaking the law, and I pronounced blessing over anyone who believes the Word. Then i said a prayer and got off the train.

    Even though I know I should have waited for the Lord to give me the appropriate message, I’m glad the Spirit helped me to respond to the two individuals in a non-aggressive way. I’ll seek more wisdom and revelation from God on how to preach the Word in different settings and audiences. I don’t want to be monotonous.

    • Martin

      That’s really inspiring that you’re bold enough to preach in public like that. I was once part of a church where people preached in public. The Internet makes witnessing easier, but some Christians seem ashamed of their faith even here, where we don’t have to get up in front of people. Also, you took the risk of being on video. I know you aren’t ashamed, and have no reason to be, but maybe I’ll see you on YouTube! 😀
      May God give you wisdom in what to say, Justin!

      • Justin Foster

        Thanks for the encouragement and for your prayers! Where are you located by the way? Yea, it’s intimidating to speak in public, but God is much more intimidating! I just pray the church experiences the Biblical revival necessary to sweep through the land before the return of Christ. Really appreciate your blogs so much. May God continue to bless and make you even wiser!

        • Martin

          I know what you mean about God being “intimidating.” We ought to be motivated by both the love of God and the fear of God.

          As I understand it, Christ will return for a glorious Bride. I don’t think the Church is fulfilling that prophecy. I want to see God work in our generation, and not pass us by. We will all see Jesus soon enough! This life is short.

          Thanks much for the compliments. I live in Baltimore, Maryland. I would like to meet other Christians in this area.

  • Casey Scott

    “We can’t lead people to Christ by offending them.” …Uh, no. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some really, truly helpful stuff in this article. But the idea that you can lead someone to Christ without offending them (at some point) is patently absurd. Now, hear me out: I’m not saying we should go looking for opportunities to offend people, or to do so needlessly; but is it even possible to say to someone, “you are a sinner in need of the grace of God expressed in Jesus’ death and resurrection for you” without offending that person? Ideally, they will come to that conclusion on their own, but it usually takes someone bearing witness to it before most folks will admit their sinfulness and need for grace. On some level, EVERY time you share the message of the Cross with someone, you’re offending them because you’re telling them, “Your sin offends the holiness of God, but the good news is that He did something about it!” In Galatians 5:11, Paul flat out tells us that the message of the Cross is – by definition – offensive. Again, I like most of what I read here, and it offered some very helpful suggestions for Christians to be more winsome in their witness… but at the end of the day, you will never get past the fact the Gospel message of Grace is offensive to the pride and selfishness of fallen human beings.

    • Martin

      I have no problem with this criticism. I changed the wording as follows: “We can’t lead people to Christ by offending them in matters that aren’t directly related to the cross of Christ.”

      Personally, I’ll teach on anything that I learn from God’s Word. I would rather take the risk of offending people than to not tell them what they need to know. For that very reason, I need to intentionally try to focus on not offending people. I think a lot of conservative Christians must or should exercise similar restraint.

      Truth is more powerful than we know. It can be like a raging current, which we need to channel properly. I think it’s easier to know truth than to communicate it in an appropriate and understandable way.

      Also, haven’t most non-Christians already heard most of the bad or offensive news?…
      That Christ is the only way to God.
      That non-Christians will go to Hell.
      That homosexuality, along with millions of other practices, is a sin.
      That Christians are likely to be politically conservative.
      Etc.

      Overall, especially as Christians becoming more of a minority, I felt it was necessary to emphasize the need for greater sensitivity to what unbelievers are thinking and feeling.

      Truth and love are both essential. Ultimately, I think it’s about knowing the Lord, knowing His Word, and being sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

      This post is still unclear. The question is, what is or isn’t directly related to the cross of Christ? My next blog post will be on this topic.

      Thanks for your feedback.

      Update: I wrote a new post, actually a guide, on how to avoid compromise in our Christian witness. You can find it at http://www.premodernwisdom.org/christianity/how-to-witness-without-compromise/

  • http://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/ SLIMJIM

    This is pretty edifying. Thanks.

  • Cheryl

    Great article. Decades ago I gave Christian fellowship a whirl and found in my obedience to attending church services, praying with and attending gatherings, my fellow Christians were still highly critical and arrogant towards me primarily for not participating in dating the opposite sex. As a result, this caused me to wildly rebel and harass such people with angry letters exposing their lack of love and support that drove me away from God. It became clear as day these kind of Christians were into hierarchy’s while using God as a source of status and power over others. They came from the Hal Lindsey church in So. California, who later proved to be a false prophet and 3 time divorcee who left his Godly wife for his Bible study student.

    Many of us have been turned off by fraud Christians in our lives, it takes a real God experience to bring us back. We who experienced fake Christians and their status seeking behaviors know why so many people despise Christianity for this reason.

  • Cheryl

    I preface my last comment that I don’t entirely agree with this article since I follow the Holy Spirit coupled with His Word. We are not to cower when face with Satan and his attacks, we are to respond with His Word. If that offends people, so be it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003441637236 Angelie

      Hey There. I found your blog using msn. That is a very well written arlicte. I will be sure to bookmark it and return to learn more of your helpful information. Thanks for the post. I will certainly return.

      • Martin

        Thank you, Angelie! :)

    • Martin

      Cheryl,

      Do you think the Apostle Paul cowered before unbelievers? After all, he wrote that he became all things to all men. Like bamboo stalks, we can have some flexibility. There’s a big difference between bending and falling down!

      Even so, I don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression from this article. I also wrote this one on avoiding compromise in our Christian witness: http://www.premodernwisdom.org/christianity/how-to-witness-without-compromise/ This is a rational approach – to ask how can we find common ground with unbelievers, and to know the areas in which we must refuse to compromise.

  • Cheryl

    I’m sorry, I do have after thoughts I wish I could edit my previous post. We are to follow the Word of God and I don’t recall the ancient Christians ever refraining from standing up to non-Christians with such kinds of cowardice recommended. I have to disagree with part of this article, to follow the Holy Spirit and not be a coward to take a stand for Jesus Christ when it is within Scripture to do so in any given situation.

    • Martin

      H Cheryl,

      Sorry you had that bad experience with judgmental Christians. I agree that Hal Lindsey was a false prophet. I’m fighting against the heresies he taught, and what Tim LaHaye and others continue to teach.

      I understand your concern. My concern is that we not offend non-Christians from the start. Paul engaged the Athenians in dialog by starting out with beliefs that they all shared in common. I know the gospel tends to offend people. However, if we start out by offending people unnecessarily, there will be no conversation.

  • RON CRAM

    Interesting and helpful post. These are all things we need to keep in mind during this age.

    I’m focusing on changing the culture so Christians are not mocked and publicly ridiculed. Let me explain. The rise of the militant atheists (they like to be called “new atheists” but the only new thing is their militancy and mockery of Christians) began about 10 years ago when they (meaning Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens) published a series of NY Times best sellers on atheism. Dawkins’s book was called The God Delusion and claims all religious people are uneducated and superstitious. Hitchens book was titled God is Not Great and claimed all the evil of the world (racism, bias, intolerance, wars, etc.) were caused by religion.

    Actually, atheists are becoming Christians. But you don’t see that in the news much. The reasons they have begun to believe in God often have to do with evidence from science, history and new arguments from philosophy.

    I’ve written a booklet titled “Is Christianity True? Why Three Brilliant Atheists Became Christians.” It tells the conversion stories of Dr. Francis Collins, Dr. Allan Sandage and Lee Strobel. It’s pretty hard to believe only the uneducated become Christians when brilliant and award-winning scientists have converted because of the science.

    When enough people in the culture know about the evidence that is persuading these intellectuals, it should take all the steam out of the militant atheists sails. There is no reason to be against Christians when the facts are on their side.

    • Martin

      Thanks for your comment!

      That sounds like an interesting booklet. I’ve read Francis Collins’ “The Language of God” and Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ.” I recall that Lee was convinced by the evidence for the resurrection, as Josh McDowell was. I’m not familiar with Dr. Sandage. Anyway, this is great information to put in booklet form. Christians could give copies to their class mates on college campuses. Have you let some campus ministries know about it? I know a few Christian college students myself.

      If you want to engage in further ministry toward atheists, I can heartily and unselfishly recommend my book, Return to Genesis, for the chapters (11-13 & and 15-16) dealing with the age of the earth, the meaning of the creation days, the origin of evil, and the extent of Noah’s flood. Contrary to the popular teachings and to the impression left by most Bible translations, the Bible describes the flood as covering one region, not the entire earth. Besides that, Return to Genesis contains a lot of other great content. That book is my life’s work, so please forgive if this appears boastful. I’m thankful for everything God taught me, whether it was directly or through other people.

      For any young earth creationists who will read this, please understand that I was exactly where you are. I know this may be inadequate, but I can only offer one verse here. Through Adam, death spread only to “all men” – not to all the animals (Rom. 5:12). Hence, this must have been spiritual death, which leads to eternal separation from God (the “second death”).

      • RON CRAM

        It sounds like you have written an interesting book that is very much in line with Hugh Ross’s book “More Than a Theory: Revealing a Testable Model for Creation.” Ross was an astrophysicist at CalTech before founding Reasons to Believe. He is an old earth creationist who has turned creationism into a viable scientific theory that makes predictions.

        The Allan Sandage story is actually my favorite, in part because he never wrote a book about his conversion (although he did give interviews and wrote short articles about his beliefs). The thing that really sets Sandage apart is that he is the only man I know who started his spiritual journey because of a scientific discovery he made. When he discovered the universe was going to expand forever (no Big Crunch in the future), then that meant the Big Bang was a one-time event and nature does not do one-time events. Therefore, God exists. But which God, Sandage wondered? He was on a two year spiritual journey before he became a follower of Jesus Christ.

        My booklet is currently getting a final, professional edit. We may seek a publisher or we may self-publish. We are looking to work with campus ministries like Cru so that we can give away thousands of these booklets on hundreds of college campuses. Right now, students on college campuses are like the “hard soil” of Matthew 13. The soil needs to be plowed and broken up so the gospel seed can be planted. The booklet also strengthens the faith of students raised in Christian homes. Right now about 60% of these youth group kids walk away from the faith during their college years. By giving away millions of these booklets over the next 10 years, we think we will see a real change in the culture.

        • Martin

          Like Hugh Ross, I accept science, except for some of the evolutionists’ assertions. However, unlike him, I don’t try to interpret Genesis 1 as a scientifically accurate text. My poetry-based interpretation is more comparable to the “Framework” view of the late Meredith Kline.

          A common reaction might be, “If Genesis 1 is poetry, it had better be good!” What I excel at, by God’s grace, is in finding the Hebrew parallelisms and explaining the poetry.

          My book is self-published, meaning I get no outside support. If I may be so bold, it seems to me like InterVarsity might be the ideal publisher for you since they’re affiliated with campus ministries. CCC probably either does its own publishing or has an affiliate relationship with a publisher. Self-publishing could easily become a disadvantage for you, in my opinion. Anyway, whichever way you go with it, I wish you success in that ministry! :)