A friend once stopped by my office and handed me a bumper sticker that promoted a local Christian organization with which he was affiliated. “Here,” he said, “put one of these on your car.” I’m not a big bumper sticker kind of guy. Never have been. If you want to wallpaper the rear end of your car with a bunch of plucky witticisms that over simplify complex issues, who am I to judge? But it is a profoundly bad idea to plaster the name of your Christian organization on the bumpers of cars that are going to be piloted by people who drive like the Devil.

I didn’t say any of that to the guy who handed me the bumper sticker. All I said was, “That’s the tackiest thing I’ve ever seen – that gaudy red – those blocky white letters. It’s just ugly.”

He said, “Really. My wife designed that bumper sticker.”

“Well,” I said. “Let’s go put one on my car right now.”

This post is not about bumper stickers, though I still think they are a bad idea. It’s about careless criticism. And it puts me in a rather awkward position. I’m about to write a blog that criticizes people for being critical. The potential for hypocrisy is strong with this one. Nevertheless . . . .

If you want to get a lot of FB likes or retweets or Instagram hearts, say something negative about the church. The snarkier the better. I’m not talking about the potshots of atheists who comb through the Bible looking for contradictions. Those are easy to find when you read the Bible without bothering to consider genre, date, authorship, intended readers, context and about fifty other factors. I’m not even talking about the self-righteous finger wagging of journalists who don’t really give a rip about what Jesus said until a public figure – who also happens to be a Christian – gets outed for a moral or ethical sin. Then the journalists suddenly become Bible thumpers.

No, the bashing I’m talking about is the kind that comes from people who sit in the pews, break the bread, sip the wine and sing the songs on Sunday. Apparently, it’s a thing to log onto your favorite social media platform and take a swipe at some other Christian sibling or sub-group who hasn’t achieved your level of enlightenment. It’s a thing, but it isn’t new.

I’m old enough to remember the punchy articles that were written by folks in my particular tribe (the Churches of Christ) about people like John Allen Chalk, Rubel Shelly or Lynn Anderson or churches like Madison, Woodmont Hills, or Homewood. And of course, we had to take shots at all those Texas churches because seriously.

It’s almost like beating each other up is a flaw in our denominational DNA. In the old days, the punches all seemed to be right jabs – that is, they all came from the more conservative among us. Maybe it’s just because of who I do and do not follow on social media, but these days we appear to be throwing more left hooks. It’s us liberals who are doing most of the punching.

But it’s not just our fellowship. Last week, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention published an op-ed piece in that champion of all things Jesus, the New York Times, explaining why, after events at the recent annual meeting, he was leaving his denomination. Many Christians celebrated his very public withdrawal of fellowship. The first thing that came to mind when I read it was what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:1 – If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people?

Perhaps you are wondering what all this has to do with the bumper sticker story I started with. Nothing. Nothing at all. Except for the part where the guy told me that it was his wife who had drafted the design I had just disparaged. He probably didn’t like that bumper sticker any more than I did. But he loved his wife. Like Jesus loves the church. Jesus loves his bride. He doesn’t just love the part of the church that thinks like you think, votes like you vote, worships like you worship. He loves it all.

Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley once scoffed, “I could believe in Christ if He did not drag along behind Him that leprous bride of His, the Church.” It was a clever criticism. Mean, but clever. And truer than we’d like to admit. The church is a leprous bride. But Jesus is faithful. He loves his church.

We ought to love us, too.

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