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.
(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)
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 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.
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
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.
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.