QUESTION: I’ve belonged to a local church since I was a child and am active in church activities. My problem is with an individual, who is also a long-time member of the church. We both belong to the same men’s group. He is very critical and “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for me was when he criticized our pastor’s sermon this past Sunday. He said he spoke too fast, rushed to finish the end of the sermon, and that people couldn’t follow his message and even solicited opinions of others to validate his own opinion.
I also get my hair cut where he does and he criticizes how the barber cuts his hair. I told him to go somewhere else, but he hasn’t. And, one more thing, he makes critical comments about his wife to others constantly. I try not to be angry, but it’s difficult when everything that comes out of this guy’s mouth is a criticism.
Is there a way to deal with him kindly that will help him understand what he’s doing?
~ Frustrated Christian
Dear Frustrated Christian,
Unfortunately, some people are either born critical or it develops from the family they grew up in.
Criticizing one’s pastor, especially in a public environment, is not only disrespectful but also tasteless. It sounds as if this man needs to criticize based on some insecurity he has and wants an audience to support him. Most likely he feels that this is a way to get affirmation and support.
Criticizing others in church, or anywhere, is gossip. The Bible is clear that it is wrong to gossip about anyone, especially our church leaders. When I find myself privy to gossip I have learned to call it out gently, but in truth. It is not inappropriate or unkind to do just that. You could say something along the lines of, “Bill, I need to tell you something. It makes me uncomfortable when you talk negatively about our pastor, mutual friends and your wife. I do not want to hear it anymore. You are a nice man, but when you criticize others is makes me uncomfortable. It is not befitting for us as Christians to talk like this, nor for any of us to listen. Please do not do it around me anymore.”
This may be difficult for you to do, but once you say it, you will feel good that you spoke the truth. Difficult conversations like this not only help you to put a boundary up against poor behavior, it also has the potential to challenge another to growth and godly behavior. And if your friend accepts the correction and changes in this area, you have done your duty as a Christian by keeping a brother on track.
Rev. Kimberlie Zakarian, Licensed Psychotherapist
Kimberlie Zakarian Therapy, Montrose
Dear Frustrated Christian,
I don’t know enough about your situation to fully advise you. What I’m about to share with you are general biblical principles for dealing with a situation like this.
You need to prayerfully, carefully and compassionately apply it to this situation. Having said that, let’s be honest about this individual’s actions – it’s malicious gossip. Obviously, there is a place for honest, forthright criticism; but this is not what you are describing. This is gossip and the Bible is quite clear about what you should do. If I have a concern about someone, I go to that person in private (Matthew 18:15) and share my concern with him. In doing so, my goal must be to help that person and, if need be, heal any problem in my relationship with him. If I discuss this concern with anyone, prior to discussing it with him/her, then that too is gossip and it is wrong.
So, in answering your question about how to respond when he criticizes another in your presence, I encourage you to do the following: First, ask him if he’s talked directly to the pastor, his wife or whoever, about his concern. If he says no, (which he probably will) then encourage him to do that and show him Matthew 18:15-17. If he says he can’t or won’t, then offer to go with him to talk to the criticized person. If he still refuses, then let him know that you won’t be listening to any more gossip from him. All of this can, and should, be done in a kind, but firm manner. In reality, he is creating a toxic environment in your men’s group and probably in your church. If he continues to try to engage you in his complaints, you should discuss your concerns with your pastor and be willing to confront this person with the pastor.
This is not an easy thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do. This individual may or may not respond positively to your confrontation. “If he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Matthew 18:15b. If he doesn’t respond positively, you can still be part of helping to create a healthier climate for your men’s group and church.
May God give you wisdom as you seek to resolve this matter.
Pastor Bill Flanders
QUESTION: In light of all the other problems I’ve seen in the Spiritually Speaking column, this may sound inconsequential; however, to me it is a problem. When I moved here to the Crescenta Valley in 1996, I received address labels from a charity. I thought that was great! New address – new address labels. So I sent a contribution, and then began getting address labels from every charity that exists. I think I have enough address labels to last beyond my lifetime. Although I have favorite charities and my church where I contribute regularly, I don’t have the money to give to everyone who sends labels and I feel guilty. Then I received some kind of a little flimsy tote bag that I didn’t want and don’t need. A couple of weeks later, I received a note asking if I received the bag and the essence of the note was, “And why haven’t you made a contribution?” Major guilt set in, so I sent a small check.
Can you help me sort this out in a way that will relieve the nagging feeling I get every time I receive labels or an unsolicited item in the mail?
~ Guilt-ridden Granny
Dear Guilt-ridden Granny,
Sometimes, as spiritual people, we tend to set aside “right discrimination.” I think Jesus sums it up best in Matthew 10:16 when He says, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye wise as serpents, but gentle as doves.”
We need a little of that serpent wisdom to deal with this world, to recognize wolves dressing as sheep to prey upon good hearted. We hear of some charities that keep upwards of 95% from donations. For such questionable organizations, that percentage yield is a good deal in exchange for giving a free sheet of paper address labels costing a few pennies. These are designed to prey upon your conscience and sense of human decency. For many raised in a Christian tradition, these guilt gifts can be very effective. Many of these groups have shared lists of names they sell to one another. It appears you have been plagued by them to the point of exasperation.
Do not respond to feelings of guilt. God is not going to judge you if you do not give to these organizations. They may ask in God’s name, but that doesn’t mean God agrees. Feel no guilt that comes of fear. If God won’t condemn us, why should we condemn ourselves? Secondly, God gives us free will. We get to choose whom we bless with our money. Go the extra mile to find who is worthy of your charitable donations. There are many worthy organizations that would appreciate help and you can see the good of what you give at work. Local food banks and homeless shelters are examples.
Thirdly, set your own charity budget and stick to it. Giving is meant to be out of love, and within the bounds of our reason and abilities. So, in short, Jesus tells us to be aware that there are fraudulent people who are willing to deceive and prey upon His people. He tells us do not be a victim, to have some of that “serpent wisdom.” He also asks us not to let this negativity and deception harden our hearts. We should remain gentle like doves. Following His example, let us do what good we can in this world out of love, according to our choice and ability.
Anthony Kelson, Religious Science Practitioner
Dear Guilt Ridden Granny,
Your frustration and everyone else’s reading this column says your complaint is not trivial. It really is the reason so many are reluctant to get involved in the first place. When you contribute, even when you don’t get address labels, or a calendar or some such other random item, you also get onto lists.
Because you have responded before, you will be asked over and over again. You have demonstrated to those who know how to manipulate that you are a good bet for this kind of manipulation. They do not care about you or taking advantage of a kind person. They are in the business of raising money. They get a percentage of the take. That is all.
The next time you receive unwanted items of this sort, give it back to the mail carrier with a large REFUSED written across the front. Even if you make the mistake of opening it, simply tape it up before you write refused. If the mail carrier won’t take it, toss it in the round file (that means the trash) and never think about it again.
In the Talmud, in Megillot 13b, it says to always be honest except when you know you are being treated unfairly or being cheated. The all too common situation you find yourself in is manipulative and unfair.
Give according to your heart, not according to the calculated guilt inducing tactics of those who would like to control you.
Rabbi Janet Bieber