How Should We Respond to Those who Teach Harmful Beliefs?

This is the last post in the series on 6 Religious Beliefs that Cause Tremendous Harm. These are misguided beliefs that take us away from the Good News of Jesus to a life burdened with fear, condemnation, and religious baggage that prevent us from sharing the love of the Father to those who need to hear the Good News.

We have seen how these mistaken beliefs cause pain and seriously harm to believers, non-believers, and the church:

  1. That the Father is an angry, harsh, vindictive God
  2. That God will send people to eternal punishment and torture in hell
  3. That the Bible is somehow inerrant in every word
  4. That God wants us to live life based on religious rules
  5. That evolution is false and the Genesis creation stories literally true
  6. That God disapproves of and condemns gay people

Because of these beliefs certain believers inflict tremendous pain and damage on people—and they consider they are doing God a great service.

teacher of harmful doctrines

How Do We Respond to Those who Hurt so Many People?

How do we respond to leaders and teachers who go about hurting people Jesus loves? In my opinion, there is one overriding response we must have to haters and hurters—we must love them. Even though they can be fountains of hate, condemnation, and pain we must still love them. This must guide all our responses; otherwise we are in danger of becoming haters and hurters ourselves, and this is not what Jesus asks of us when he said we should love people—all people—even haters and hurters.

In March of last year, World Vision announced a decision to allow those in legal same-sex marriages, who otherwise met the organization’s faith requirements, to work for the charity. It was not an endorsement of same-sex marriage, nor was it a rejection of traditional marriage, which World Vision affirms. Rather it was a recognition of the broad-based support of American churches that have differing views and practices on the matter.

The knee-jerk reaction was terrible! Conservative evangelical leaders called on followers who supported World Vision to withdraw their support, and more than 10,000 needy children around the world lost their monthly sponsorships. Within 48 hours World Vision capitulated to the pressure, and the evangelical leaders gleefully proclaimed victory—at the expense and pain of more than 10,000 needy children around the world.

In horror, a number of prominent Christian bloggers declared that they were ‘Done with Evangelicals!’ They were Done! I was also distressed with the heartlessness of putting a symbolic principle ahead of the welfare interest of children; it hurt me deeply.

But how could I be done with conservative evangelicals? They are my brothers and sisters—callous and hurtful though they may be.

Jesus Gave Believers Only One Command

Jesus taught us how to live and to share the Good News, but he gave believers only one command; it is found in John 13:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

This is not about loving our neighbor or about loving people of the world. It is specifically about loving other believers. 1 John 2 reflects a similar message. The writer says:

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.

I think this is consistent with the heart of Jesus that believers love each other. We cannot make someone love us back, but we can love them anyway. But our love must be genuine; we cannot say we love the conservative evangelical in some vague way but hate their sin. This is the same thing evangelicals say when they are condemning and excluding people.

Do Believers Embrace these 6 Dangerous Beliefs because they are Evil?

As a fundamentalist, I embraced all six beliefs—with a passion; I have never known a fundamentalist, or very many conservative evangelicals, who didn’t embrace all six. We would go out of our way to hurt and condemn people using these terrible, hurtful beliefs? Why?

And what was the motivation for leaders to teach these beliefs?

I think there are three answers to consider:

  • We believed them because we were taught by leaders we respected
  • We acted on them because they were part of our buy-in to a flawed religious worldview
  • We taught them to others because we thought they were true

I did all those things. I was a champion in assaulting people with the message of an angry God who condemns people to eternal torment for not observing his religious rules and believing the ‘clear’ truth of his inerrant Bible. When people resisted, I sometimes became downright intimidating in my arrogance and condemnation.

Some point out other motivations for conservative leaders like power or money but, though these might come into play, I don’t think they are motivations for teaching harmful beliefs. I think leaders teach them because they actually believe them, and they sink to condemnation and inflicting pain on those who don’t measure up because of fear. They are afraid of God, and they are also afraid they will be responsible for not warning people about God’s harsh doctrines.

So they attack and marginalize those who disagree with them or don’t measure up to their expectations. But they are not innately evil; they are misguided and burdened with religious baggage. Our response should not be to attack and marginalize them as they do others. We should not respond with contempt, condescension, disparagement, or mocking. Instead, we should see them as the Father sees them—broken people who need healing from their great burden of religious baggage.

Let us address the false doctrines and their dangers, but let us do it in love and with respect; they are burdened with heavy baggage and need healing—not contempt and exclusion. They are our brothers and sisters, not our enemies.

In this series:

6 Religious Beliefs that Cause Tremendous Harm
The #1 Most Harmful Belief Among Christians—Angry God
4 Ways that Believing God is Angry and Harsh Hurts People
The #2 Most Harmful Religious Belief—the Inerrant Bible
A More Realistic Alternative to Inerrancy of the Bible
4 Huge Ways Believing the Bible Inerrant is Tremendously Harmful
How Legalism Stunts Our Spiritual Growth
How Should We Respond to Those who Teach Harmful Beliefs? (Today’s Post)

Six religious baggage issues

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Photo Credit 2: Christian Evolution
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37 Responses to How Should We Respond to Those who Teach Harmful Beliefs?

  1. Dick Ford says:

    “There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.” – Chapter 5 of To Kill a Mockingbird

    “You are too young to understand it … but sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of – oh, of your father.” – Chapter 5 of To Kill a Mockingbird

    Like

  2. Beth Caplin says:

    I know I’ve asked this before on another post, but since it’s been brought up again, do you think hell is a real place to be avoided, but our perception of what it’s actually like may not be what mainstream Christians think it is? I’m as disturbed by hell as the next person, especially given that everyone in my family is destined to go there, apparently. But I am having trouble reconciling the point of Jesus’ sacrifice and what he supposedly saved us from if not eternal damnation.

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    • Marc says:

      Beth, Jesus saved us from eternal death, not eternal torment. The lake of fire associated with the hell that follows the last judgment, is being prepared for Satan and the demons, not human beings. The most ancient Christian traditional understanding of the Harrowing of Hades is that after His death on the Cross, Jesus Christ preached the Gospel to those in Hades who had been sinners in this life, and the hope is that most of them repented and entered Paradise. The effect of the particular judgment that happens when the spirit and soul enter the spiritual realm upon the death of the body is likely the same. All will hear the truth about God and their relationship to Him. Most will repent and enter into the communion of the Church in Heaven. Those who reject the love of God will perish in the lake of fire with Satan and the demons. This lake of fire is likely the presence of God Himself. For those who receive God’s love and reflect it to others, His presence is illumination and joy. For those who hate God and His rational creatures, His presence is a consuming fire of annihilation and eternal death. I suspect that you will more likely celebrate the reunion of your family in Heavenly Jerusalem, than mourn their second death in the lake of fire..

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Beth, this is a legitimate question that bothers a lot of people. It bothered me until I felt I had to examine the reasons some people believe in hell as a place of punishment. I was surprised by what I found–the Bible does not even teach the things we think of when we think of hell.

      After I became a blogger, I demonstrated this in a series that can now be found at https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/books-and-resources/hell/. I apologize that this page is still in rough development, but the articles are easy to access.

      You ask a second very good question: if we are not saved from damnation, then what are we saved from? The answer is two-fold. We are saved from alienation and fear in this life but, more remarkably, we are saved from death. Because of the work Jesus did we have access to resurrection and eternal life. So I agree with Marc that Jesus saves us from eternal death–not eternal torment; however I don’t believe in a lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels–this is just apocalyptic imagery found only in the symbolic book of Revelation.

      I hope this is helpful. If not, I am happy to discuss it further.

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      • Marc says:

        Tim,
        If you dismiss the lake of fire as just apocalyptic imagery found only in the Book of Revelation, How do you explain Matthew 25:41?

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        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          You raise a good question Marc. Both Revelation and the story in Matthew 25 mention the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. This allusion comes from the Book of Enoch that was part of the popular oral and written literature in the time of Jesus. I discuss this more fully at “Hell and Enoch in the New Testament” https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/hell-and-enoch-in-the-new-testament-writers/.

          In the case of Matthew 25, notice that the story of the Sheep and the Goats is third of three parables Jesus told in Matthew 25 about those who assume they are serving Jesus but are surprised to discover they had misunderstood what he wanted.

          The parable of the Sheep and Goats is not an insight into end-times details; it is just a parable to demonstrate that Jesus wants us to care for other people. This is an important element of Jesus’ teaching and many people downgrade it in practice by focusing on other things (like rules and doctrinal statement for example). I think the parable is very appropriate today for those who judge and condemn others instead of showing them the love of the Father.

          It is only reasonable that Jesus sets the parable in the Enochian scenario that was so familiar to his audience, but that does not mean he validates Enoch’s writing as an accurate portrayal of the future.

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          • Marc says:

            Tim,
            Your interpretation gymnastics have no support in the broadest of Christian tradition. Your ongoing self delusion and rejection of any traditional authority puts you at great risk. I hope that you will repent, and come to your senses before you find yourself facing the fearful judgment that you claim does not exist.

            Like

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Marc, I really appreciate your concern for my eternal destiny. But I cannot bring myself to change a parable that was told to demonstrate one particular point into a prediction of the details of the end-time.

            Like

          • Chas says:

            Tim, I’m with you wholeheartedly on this, the only true authority that someone who is in the Presence of God needs, or has, is God Himself. There could be no higher authority!

            Like

  3. sheila0405 says:

    I think sometimes one has to separate him/herself from those who hurt them with these beliefs. My own family members have really hurt me with their doctrines. Much of that hurt centered around what was going on with my father, mostly, the last three years. After the funeral, I do not plan to be around those who are so hurtful. It’s not because I don’t love them; it’s because I don’t see the point of being pummeled every time I am around them. Arguing is a pointless exercise, as it only leads to more anger. I fly below the radar with them, and, now that my dad is finally no longer living in a dangerous environment, I am liberated from baggage being dumped on my head all the time.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Sheila, I understand what you are saying. My fundamentalist family is not very supportive either, though we are able to have conversations now with only occasional warnings and condemnations.

      It is important to forgive people, and I am sure you have; but it is not necessary to make ourselves vulnerable to their condemnation and abuse. It is like a wife who is repeatedly abused by her husband; she can forgive him but at some point she must get a restraining order for her own safety and peace of mind. There is no reason to ignore the fact of abuse (or condemnation), and you can’t make people stop doing it if they choose to do it.

      I appreciate your recent expression of relief: “I am liberated from baggage being dumped on my head all the time.” I am glad for that part, though I am so sorry for the loss of your Dad.

      Like

      • Chas says:

        Tim, while we can forgive people in our minds, by no longer being resentful of things that they have done, or said, because we now understand why they did that, is it possible for us to forgive completely unless the one who caused our pain is able to acknowledge that they have caused us to suffer and have apologized for it? The conclusion here is that we might have to explain how we have suffered and why we think they found it necessary to do/say what they did, because they might not be aware of a) having caused us to suffer, and b) why they did/said what they did. Sorry that seems so complex, but often people’s motivation is also complex, often coming directly, or indirectly, from their own suffering.

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        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Chas, I have concluded that forgiving another person is not contingent on their apologizing or even admitting they have hurt us. Forgiveness changes us–not them; and if we can only forgive them if they apologize, then they still have power to rob us of peace. We cannot be controlled by another person’s persistence in justifying their actions. It is our prerogative to let go of the anger and resentment they cause within us.

          However, forgiving does not mean we ignore the likelihood that they will hurt us again, and we do not have to make ourselves vulnerable to them. Forgiveness does not give them a clean slate, as though nothing ever happened. We are wise to forgive but to keep our eyes open against further abuse.

          It is nice to be able to have a heart-to-heart talk to explain how someone has hurt us, but if they are not open to what we say then such a talk will only intensify their opportunity to judge us and hurt us.

          I hope this is not too rambling, but the point is we can forgive and get beyond the hurt no matter how uncooperative the other person is in the process. Resentment will eat us up and may not have any impact of our self-justified abuser.

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          • Chas says:

            Tim, I think that we can conclude that, although we may be able to forgive, so that we no longer feel bitterness toward our tormentor, we cannot be fully reconciled with them and have a fully-restored relationship with them unless they have understood what suffering they have cause us and have told us that they are sorry for what they have done.

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          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Chas, what you say is reasonable; but I have found that in important relationships I can restore the relationship by recognizing the brokenness of the other person and trying to see from their perspective.

            This is difficult, but worthwhile in important relationships. It is not worth the trouble in lesser important relationships or where the other person persist in hurtful behavior.

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  4. Bridget says:

    I agree with you. The problem I have is that I can’t just tolerate behavior, speech, or laws that I know will be damaging. It is the balance between loving them and preventing them from harming people with their words, actions and political power that is difficult.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Bridget, it is difficult. I cannot stand by and watch believers hurt people without taking a stand against what they are doing. They should be stopped and be held accountable if it is within our means to do it. Yet I can’t hate the hurters because they too are objects of the Father’s love. I hope for their enlightenment and reconciliation, but in the meantime I will speak out against their actions against their victims with my entire voice and being.

      It is difficult to maintain love and concern toward misguided individuals who hurt others with their hate and condemnation. It is difficult.

      Like

  5. michaeleeast says:

    Many conservative evangelicals are damaged people. And much of this damage was done in the name of God. They are riddled with fears that were drummed into them as children.
    So it is possible to feel sorry for them. To love them is to hope for their release from fear.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      You stated this very well, Michael. Thank you!

      Like

    • sheila0405 says:

      Excellent point!

      Like

    • Chas says:

      Because those fears still remain with them, they may well be very concerned about those who they think are mistaken, so they believe that they are condemning themselves to an eternity of suffering. We have to accept that their concern for us is real and comes out of their love for us, although their way of expressing it may feel like condemnation and hate from our side.

      Like

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        I agree Chas. I do not take offense when people try to save me from the imagined dire results from my beliefs.

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  13. Marc says:

    Tim,
    I have been critical of many of the positions you have taken on important issues of the Christian faith, but I really do appreciate your kind and good natured response to me and all those who post on your blog. I must confess that I had some recent discussions with fellow Orthodox Christians regarding why eternal torment is a terrible distortion of God’s character and the Scriptures, and many of their responses were not very kind or good natured. I am convinced that this is one of the most damaging baggage issues pervasive among all professing Christians, so I will continue to support your position on this important issue.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Marc, nobody can give me a greater compliment than you have with your comment on my “kind and good natured response to me and all those who post on your blog.” This is precisely what I try to do, and I am glad that it is noticeable.

      I doubt that anyone agrees with everything I have to say, but that does not mean that I value them less. I think everyone’s voice is important, and I am glad to have your voice as part of my blog.

      Like

  14. Marc says:

    Thanks, Tim. I think that ultimately God judges us on our capacity to set aside our agenda, and love each other, and in so doing, we obey His commandments to love God and neighbor. Regarding your list of baggage to be discarded, I would like to offer some comments: I basically agree with the first three points of baggage to be discarded. Regarding number 4, I believe that our Lord does give us guidance and “rules,” for living a life that will enable us to draw closer to Him. Regarding number 5, I agree that a literal understanding that rejects the scientific evidence for great antiquity is baggage to be discarded. I believe that old earth creationism conforms to sound science and preserves the historical reality of Adam and Eve, and the flooding of the lands occupied by the offspring of Seth. Regarding number 6, I would simply say that God hates sin, but loves the sinner. If we support heterosexual or homosexual fornication, we are impediments to God’s healing love. Only those who admit their sins can be healed by God. I would add an additional point of baggage Tim. Those who extort money from their followers citing the tithing laws of the Old Testament should be discarded as worthless baggage.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Marc, I agree with you addition of teaching people that it is God’s law that they must tithe to the church. This is self-serving and potentially abusive. In fact, there are many other baggage issues beyond the main six that I emphasize, and I talk about them from time-to-time; but if I tried to list them all it would dilute the impact of the list.

      One of those issues is dispensationalism–a recent and misguided understanding of end-time prophecy. It does tremendous damage, and I have spoken against it, but I will address it more thoroughly some time in the future.

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  15. I do not know if it’s just me or if perhaps everyone else encountering issues with your
    site. It seems like some of the written text within your posts are running off the screen. Can someone else please
    provide feedback and let me know if this is happening to them as well?
    This may be a issue with my web browser because I’ve had this happen previously.

    Thank you

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hello, MTH. Thanks for sharing this with me. No one else has yet reported this problem, so I don’t know if it is on my side.

      IF ANYONE ELSE IS EXPERIENCING THIS PLEASE LET ME KNOW!

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