Pastor’s Journal is a series of reflections by Canon Greg Goebel.
Scorn, used as a noun, is the feeling or belief that something is worthless or contemptible. Used as a verb, it describes an expression of contempt or derision.
Jesus Christ was scorned on the cross. People mocked him, spit on him, and derided him. He was declared worthless and contemptible and nailed to a cross with the criminals.
As a general rule, those who follow Christ should not scorn anyone, because our Lord was scorned.
Paul taught that we are to respect, honor, and love other people. Even people we disagree with. We should pray for the emperor, seek to make peace, and try to understand people’s hearts. Paul did this. He did show anger sometimes, he was assertive against evil and sin. But he never scorned.
I have sensed scorn in my own heart. I’ve scorned others before. When I was growing up the word “liberal” was a terrible pejorative. If you were called a liberal, you were called that with a smirk, a knowing smile, or a sad shake of the head. I scorned liberals for many years.
Scorn was heaped on secularists, public schools, rock musicians, celebrities and most Democrats. Eyes were rolled, sighs were breathed, and heads were shaken. I wore this scorn like a badge of honor. It marked me as a true believer who really understood. It helped me feel that I wasn’t part of that sad, contemptible group of others.
This was all in the context of a Christian church community. These were people who loved on me, and were genuinely caring people who served the poor and the outcast. And yet such was, and is, the culture of conservative Christianity that scorn is an acceptable sin.
Yet every person is made in God’s image. Most of the people around us are simply trying to do the best they can with what they have. Many of the people that we disagree with have personal, heartfelt reasons for their beliefs.
And no matter how tempting it is, scorn is a terrible tool for persuasion and evangelism.
No one likes to be scorned. No one listens to a scorner. No one really respects a scorner.
Scorning is usually borne from insecurity. Yet we are supposed to be secure in Christ. Scorning others is evidence that we aren’t as secure in him as we like to think we are. We need to put others down and mock them in order to assure ourselves that we are in the right crowd.
Jesus didn’t need to scorn his accusers. He didn’t scorn or mock the disciples for abandoning him. He didn’t scorn Judas or make fun of Pilate. He didn’t label people, attack people, or laugh at people. He had some tough words for the Pharisees, that’s for sure. But even then he honored their position as religious leaders. He showed them respect.
Why did Jesus refuse to mock and scorn? Because love doesn’t do that. Love doesn’t dehumanize people. Love seeks reconciliation and understanding. Love seeks healing. Love seeks salvation.
Scorn abounds today. From our President to some major Christian leaders, scorn is a daily occurrence.
Foreign nations are mocked and insulted, immigrants are labelled and despised, dramatic scare tactics are used to try to prevent people from hearing other people. Republicans are derided, Democrats are held in contempt.
Pastors publicly paint a picture of their political opponents or social interlocutors as evil, scheming, devious monsters who are preying upon our children.
And people who try to speak out about the scorn and its contradiction of Christ himself, are scorned too!
Yet there are gentle, kind people around us too.
I came across this example of a person who is choosing to scorn scorn:
When I was an atheist it was very helpful for me to remind myself that people smarter than me believed in God, and as a religious person it’s been very helpful to remind myself that people better and kinder than me don’t.
— Nicole Cliffe (@Nicole_Cliffe) May 2, 2018
Nicole took the time to see atheists as human beings. She was happy to acknowledge the humanity of people who think differently than her. She allowed herself to remember that she too once held those views. Yes, she disagrees. Yes, she advocates for faith in Christ. And yet she refuses to scorn those who don’t.
How refreshing compared to prominent pastors that call atheists evil, or state that all muslims are potential terrorists, or that secularist are plotting to take over the country. Some mock the Black Lives Matter groups or the #MeToo movement. I’ve often been in private conversations where these groups are discussed with derision and smirks, rather than an attempt to understand.
There is not a place for exaggerated mocking, fear mongering, and scorning in the Church. We are, after all, followers of Christ who was mocked and scorned.
Most of the people around us are simply trying to live their lives. Many are trying to do some good and make the world a better place. We believe that Jesus Christ is the one savior of the world. We want to see everyone have a chance to hear the Gospel. We work for the common good, and oppose anything that would harm the vulnerable or weak.
Yet we can do all of this with respect in word and deed. We can show understanding without compromising. We can make peace without giving up our beliefs. We can advocate for the common good, not just for our own good. We can serve those in need alongside any person of goodwill, even those who are on the other side of some issues.
And we can face disagreements and state our beliefs without scorn, even when we have to be clear and firm, Just like Jesus did.
So I repent of the scorn I felt and showed in the past. I’m praying for the grace to be like Jesus and to love my neighbor as myself. Since I don’t want to be scorned, I can’t scorn my neighbor. Following after Jesus, I will go out to find out how to better show respect to the people in the world, because God loves them.
And I invite you to take an inventory as well, because scorn has no place in our lives as followers of Jesus Christ.
Greg is the founder of Anglican Pastor. He is an Anglican Priest of the Anglican Church in North America. He served in a non-denominational church before being called into the Anglican church in 2003. He has served as an Associate Pastor, Parish Administrator, and Rector. He currently serves as the Canon to the Ordinary for the Anglican Diocese of the South.