Why Don’t People Like Christians?

Do Christians deserve their bad reputation? Do Christians even have a bad reputation?

Most Christians believe that those outside the church have a low view of them. And on top of that most Christians believe that low view is justified. We are inundated with statistics about the high divorce rate among Christians, the irrelevancy of the church, and how, more than ever, young people are leaving the church and never coming back.

But are those statistics accurate and reliable or are they more urban legend? Bradley Wright, a professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut, argues that the data show that American Christians are in the middle of an unjustified self esteem crisis. In his book Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…And Other Lies You’ve Been Told ($3.99 on Kindle), Wright takes a closer look at the truth about Christians’ beliefs and behaviors and how the rest of the world views them. The results might surprise you.

He suggests that negative views of Christianity are perpetuated because those stories sell newspapers and get clicks on websites. Digg.com is a user driven news website in which readers vote for stories that they like and the more popular stories are featured more prominently on the site. Wright tells how two stories posted on the same day and sharing the same format and length but radically different titles experienced different fates. One story was titled “Atheist divorce rate is lower than Christians’” and the other “Christian divorce rates are lower than atheists’”.

Which story received more votes (or “diggs”)? It wasn’t close. The story that portrayed Christianity negatively was one of the top stories of the day receiving over 3500 “diggs” while the story portraying Christianity positively (and as it turns out more accurately) received less than 12. Why? According to Wright it’s because “Christians acting like Christians” isn’t nearly as exciting as “Christians gone wild”.

Sometimes Christians are guilty of perpetuating false narratives about themselves. Discovering why is as easy as following the incentives. Imagine you are putting on a conference (or selling a book) about reaching young people with the gospel. Won’t you be tempted to put on the brochure advertising the conference “Young people are leaving the church like never before” rather than “Young people are leaving the church in about same numbers as previous generations”? It’s easier to sell your product with scare tactics.

What’s the harm of getting this wrong? What’s the harm of perpetuating negative myths about Christian behavior? Is this something we really need to stop? Do we need to stand up and say, “This just isn’t true!”?

1. Wright points out that negatively slanted statistics demoralize Christians. “Why should Christians give their all to God’s work in churches if churches are failures?”

2. The bad news might also decrease our desire to share our faith with friends, co-workers, and neighbors. “We invite our friends to good restaurants, not bad ones; interesting movies, not boring ones; so why would we want to bring others into a church that is portrayed as ineffective and sinful?”

3. Do we really want to motivate ourselves and others with fear…especially fear that’s based on inaccurate information? Is fear going to provide the kind of motivation that lasts?

Now sharing all this negative data would be fine if it were true. But it isn’t. That doesn’t mean that Christians (and churches) don’t have some serious and significant issues that they need to deal with. It just means that it’s not good for the cause of Christ to portray things worse than they are.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to try to share some of the insight I gained from Wright’s book. If you’re interested in what the data say about the state of Christianity and the way Christians are perceived in the wider culture, you might want to read it for yourself.

One Comment

  1. Thank you for the post. While it certainly is the case that Christians screw up, I don’t appreciate it when Christians only express criticism towards the church. I myself don’t find constant criticism to be very motivating.

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