Listen: Author Philip Yancey chats to Hope 103.2’s Clare Bruce.
After seeing Christians tear one another apart on social media, Philip Yancey has issued a challenge to the community of faith: “Please, act like the people of Jesus”.
The respected Christian author has written a blog post reminding believers that they’re called not to win arguments—but to love.
And he’s echoed the same clarion call in an interview with Hope 103.2.
“There are times when we have to fight, but when we fight, we use different weapons, we use weapons of grace,” he urged listeners.
Yancey’s message was sparked by an incident last year, in which he became a punching bag for Christians who disagreed with his point of view on US politics.
The author had just given an interview, in which he pointed out Donald Trump’s moral flaws. He questioned why American Evangelicals were hailing the man as a hero. And when the secular press broke the story, it ignited a war of words on his Facebook page.
- Read Philip Yancey’s Blog Post Election Reflections: Bridging The Gap about the US Elections
- ‘Remember, Jesus Was a Refugee’ – Philip Yancey on Immigration
Normally one to avoid the spotlight, Yancey’s name hit the list of Top Ten Trending topics on Facebook—second only to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s divorce.
“I learned I was a ‘sodomy-loving, baby-killing, pinko communist, Muslim sitting on $20 million’,” Yancey told Hope 103.2. “Those are the kinds of accusations I got.”He was shocked and saddened to realise how ungracious believers could be, and how closed to other opinions they had become.
“It concerns me deeply that so many American evangelicals are looking with one eye only,” he said. “We’re called to be two eyes, we’re called to be what the Book of Hebrews calls ‘resident aliens’ here. We have a commitment to this earth, to the government…but we also have a stronger allegiance to a different kingdom, the kingdom of heaven.”
Have we Lost the Art of Kindness and Grace?
After his rattling experience, Yancey believes Western society, even Christian community, has lost the art of civility and grace. He’s calling believers to return to the values of Christ and love others, even when they disagree.
“As the culture grows more secular there are going to be some issues that Christians care about deeply,” he said, “and yes, there are times when we have to fight. But when we fight, we use different weapons, we use weapons of grace. We can’t go around name-calling, we can’t go around demeaning our opponents, we can’t go around hating. That’s not what we’re called to do.
“You have to treat others with respect and care, even when you disagree.”
“In fact Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, bless those who persecute you.’ And you can’t do that if you’re waving placards, calling people hateful names…If we do it by the same tactics that the other side does, we become just like them.
“You have to treat [others] with respect and care, even when you disagree on really important issues. We were primarily called to ‘shed love and grace abroad’.”
Follow The Example of Martin Luther King, Jr
Yancey said the civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King Junior was a good example of how Christians need to act in a debate.
“[Luther King] would say, ‘My goal is not just to win civil rights…my goal is to create a beloved community, and I have to somehow love the white man, I have to somehow love even the sheriff who’s hitting me on the head …and if I can’t do that, then I’ve failed my master, Jesus’.
“And because he stuck to that, he didn’t fight back…he did probably the most sweeping social change that our country has ever experienced.”
‘I Was a Racist, and Only Love Changed Me’
Surprisingly, Yancey says he was once very racist himself, having grown up in the 1950s and 60s in a Southern Christian church community that supported racial segregation.
What changed him?
Not hot-headed activists decrying his ignorance—but gracious leaders like Luther-King, and the African Americans who befriended him in college.
“You know, the heart has to change first, really, before most people are open to their mind being changed,” he said.
“I think [change can happen through] small groups of people who get together, who are committed to Jesus, and yet have different views, to articulate them, to look at the Bible directly, to study books which go into those issues…it’s a great way to start changing first hearts from the grassroots, and then minds.”
Be Loyal Only to Jesus
When it comes to politics, Yancey encourages believers not to follow any one party blindly, but instead to filter policies through the words of Jesus.
“I counsel Christians, ‘Don’t put all your eggs in [one] party basket, that’s a dangerous thing,” he said.
“In some issues, like care for the poor, care for the environment, sexual equality, some of those [left-wing] things, Christians have a moral basis for those. But on other ones like abortion, like life issues, some of those are traditionally conservative [right-wing] positions.
“We don’t make our choice based on what our party decides, we make our choices based on scripture, and especially what Jesus makes clear about those issues.”
Don’t Be Driven by Fear
Yancey urges people of faith to let love guide their views and their discussions, instead of reacting in fear.
“As I have studied church history, and seen the triumph of the church against overwhelming odds in culture after culture, it’s because people are committed to a God that dispels fear,” he said.
“We Christians need to concentrate on bridging the gap, not widening the gap.”
“Look, okay, there are bad things happening. There’s terrorism, there’s the fear of the other, there are wars going on. But we believe that our God is a redemptive God, and if we stand on his side, He will give us the resources to cast out fear.
“And it’s done through love, it’s not done through giving in to the fear. That only hardens, that only polarizes and divides, and that’s why I think we Christians need to concentrate on bridging the gap, not widening the gap.”
Commit to Kindness on Social Media
Kindness, love and grace need to season the way we act on social media too, Yancey says.
“If every Christian in the world made a commitment, ‘I will always respond in a way that I think would please God on social media’, it could change the nature of it. If nothing else, people would look at our responses and say, ‘Hey, I like the way they are, better than the way I am’.
“I think that’s how our faith spreads.”