Not too long ago, I was living in a third world country while working in a humanitarian mission organisation.
During my time with that organisation, I was subjected to public gossiping, false slander, hidden bullying and one particularly memorable shouting session in which a person aired all their grievances against me in full vocal volume. In my own home. On my day off.
I kept my front door locked after that.
I definitely had a rough time in a third world, anti-women, anti-whiteenvironment. It took its toll. But the steady depletion of my confidence and sanity didn’t just come from living amidst violence and chaos and layers of rubbish and filth.
My real wounds came from other missionaries, within my own mission organisation. They are the ones who gossiped, slandered and shouted me on my way to a breakdown.
The irony of being a missionary and avoiding missionaries does not escape me.
Sometime later, back in my home town and hoping to climb the ladder back to normalcy, I ventured into a new public space in order to pursue some writing aspirations. This was also a Christian space – a café in fact, whose Christian owners are passionate about creating a community and culture in which Christ is honoured and people are loved closer to him.
The menus and décor greetings from staff are sprinkled with their earnest wish to engage and uplift, to welcome and to love. My coffee sessions and quiet presence in a corner were sprinkled with gossip, jealousy and outright misogyny.
It was Christians doubting my abilities and worth, judging me on a few quick glances, and talking about me instead of to me.
The irony of being a Christian and avoiding Christians does not escape me.
Are all missionaries on a mission to take down other missionaries? Are all Christians feeling smug satisfaction when another one-who-does-not-act-like-me bites the dust?
Of course not.
For every missionary who felt the need to use me as a verbal punching bag, there were another ten who brought goodness and kindness and joy into my existence.
For every Christian who doubted my worth, there were another dozen proclaiming my value loud and proud.
There are so many good people in the ranks. So why do God’s people hold such a negative presence?
I am sickened by the sheer volume and vitriolic tone of the picket signs that are constantly marched across the arenas of Facebook, Twitter and the like.
Abortion is screeched at multiple times, homosexuals are condemned in every second post, and church politics are a continual boxing ring of sharp jabs and punchy retorts. The problem is that none of these are black and white issues. Each is layered with complexity, pain, and the uniqueness of every single circumstance.
To tar them all in one foul swoop is as naive as it is nasty.
You may not like what I do. I may not like what you do. But it only becomes protest-worthy when we set about to take each other down; when hate is the only game we play.
It is disgusting on the mission field. It is disgusting in a church café. It is disgusting to wallow through a cesspool of posts and comments and pages all intent on one thing and one thing alone:
I will destroy you, because you are not like me.
World wars have been started on this basis alone, yet here we are flinging the mud around all over again like it’s not packed with bullets and un-pinned grenades.
The worst part is that so much of this negativity is fired out in the name of Jesus. But you never really hear him spouting off at prostitutes or shaming lesbians or stoning unfaithful marriage partners.
Every time someone tried to point a finger at someone else, he told them to look in the mirror first. Because God knows – and we should have learned this by now – that there are bigger problems in the world than whether or not someone's sexual orientation disagrees with you.
If you must speak out, then speak out against hate crimes. Against gossip in your church.Against marginalization in your community.Against misogyny in your cafe.
Because such things are not okay.
Spreading jealous slander is not okay, missionaries. Spitting hate to whoever is different is not okay, Christians.
Teaching your children to hate and smite and be trite in your footsteps is even less than okay.
It’s time to back off.
It’s time to shut up.
It’s time to stand down.
It’s time to find some real world problems (poverty, misogyny, disease, child slavery etc. if you need some starters), and then to go and do something about making it better.
Let us not be marked as the people whose language is gossip and slander. Let us not be seen as the community who serves bread and water with one hand, while the other hand pounds nails into someone’s bleeding cross.
Let us not be the crowd guaranteed to bring fear and shame.
It’s time to wear love as our name instead.
Emma is an Italian-South African with a New Zealand passport and an international heart. She spent years running a puppet ministry and directing student choirs, before going on to serve with Mission Aviation Fellowship in New Zealand (7 years) and Papua New Guinea (3 years).
Emma’s previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/emma-mcgeorge.html