Witness

For People Exhausted by the Negative Perception of the Church

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Several months ago, Josh Radnor’s film “Liberal Arts” made its way to Netflix. Having loved “How I Met Your Mother” (I mean… who didn’t?) I was excited to give the film a watch.

I was stopped in my tracks by a line Elizabeth Olsen’s character “Zibby” delivered.

“You think it’s cool to hate things, and it’s not. It’s boring. Talk about what you love and keep quiet about what you don’t.”

Talk about what you love and keep quiet about what you don’t.

That line struck me in a deep way.

In the film, the line was mostly addressing being artistically and culturally snobby for no reason, and belittling tastes and views that you yourself don’t share. Regardless of how it’s used, this line illustrates how unnecessary a negative comment can be when you can share your same view by championing what you love.

It’s Easy To Be Negative

Cultural negativity didn’t just start in the comment sections of social media platforms. The idea of what is most commonly known as “Negativity Bias” has been studied for years.

In 1965, Norman H. Anderson from the University of California, San Diego published his findings  on the topic to the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

In short, Anderson found that when interacting with other people, we disproportionally shape our impression of those people by what we deem as “negative” traits.

Let me put it in even simpler terms…

When we meet someone, every one thing that bothers us about them will hold more weight in our final judgement of them than it’s positive counterpart.

Let’s say you and I meet at a wedding reception. We’re seated together. We’ve never met each other before. As you get to know me, there is a constant evaluation process going on as to whether or not you “like” me.

Positive: You like how I’m dressed.

Negative: I talk a little too loud.

Positive: I seem polite to my wife.

Negative: I keep checking my phone.

Positive: My conversation seems genuine.

Negative: I keep messing with my hair, and then grab the communal butter dish without washing my hands.

Now, according to Anderson and others, those “negatives” will play a heavier role in your overall perception of me more than the “positives” will.

This notion of Negativity Bias can be applied to more than just our interactions with other people. It can be applied to our perceptions toward a place, a time, a season, or even a social topic. Our negative experiences and perceptions outweigh our positive experiences and perceptions.

Church gets Defined by Negative Traits

Using the example above, and the ideas presented by Anderson and others, it’s not hard to comprehend why the cultural impression of the church is often negative.

Whether you’re a believer or not, there is always a grand balancing act when it comes to the traits of the church. The negative traits will overpower the positives. Given the nature of relationships within the church, these negative traits pick-up steam and potency, giving the positive traits an even more daunting task.

Let’s use my own personal rubric of church traits as an example…

The church strives to enhance the relationship between God and Man. Positive

The church has a spotty history with social issues. Negative

People in the church have loved me. Positive

People in the church have hurt me. Negative

The church has given me opportunity for relationship. Positive

Some of my church based relationships have fallen apart in big ways. Negative

The list can (and does) go on, both with positive and negative traits.

If you isolate the last two traits I listed… which one do you think weighs heaviest on me? Which do you think keeps me up at night when my mind goes idle? The excitement of all the new friends my church home can bring, or the emotional turmoil of damaged relationships?

Answer: Damaged relationships. Hands-down.

I would submit that, truth be told, you feel the same way.

Negativity Is Like Taking On Water

Much like dumping buckets full of water off the side of a capsizing boat, overcoming church-yolked negativity is a huge task with life-altering potential. The only way to keep the boat from sinking is to toss out more buckets of water than you’re taking on.

For every wave of negativity that floods the boat, you need a seemingly infinite amount of buckets thrown back out.

The church needs that seemingly infinite amount of positive press to outweigh the crashing waves of negativity. It starts with us picking up our buckets.

Until the New Heaven and New Earth come to be, there will always be people on the boat that choose to not pick up their bucket. There will always be some that find it amusing to poke holes in their bucket before they start scooping. The only thing you can even remotely control is how well you’re using your bucket. Your words. Your actions.

The church needs positive press to outweigh the crashing waves of negativity. Click To Tweet

Negativity is Not Necessity

My wife is a music teacher, and she was recently talking to me about an acronym used in schools, PBIS. It stands for Positive Behavioral Intervention & Supports. The acronym is used in many ways, unique to each school setting, but the thrust is typically the same. Assess, support, and direct using positivity.

Sticking with the school theme, here is an example.

A) “No running in the hall”

B) “Please walk in the hall.”

The implied rule is the same in both phrase A and B. You are to walk in the hall, not run. A states the rule with a focus on the negative, B states it by promoting the positive. In choosing B over A, the rule is expressed and the overall tone of remains positive.

Imagine if we applied that to our own, everyday lives.

  1. “This rainy weather is crappy.”
  2. “I really prefer sunny days.”
  1. “I hate diet cola.”
  2. “Regular cola is probably my favorite soda.”

As mundane as those phrases are, imagine a day filled with A phrases versus a day filled with B phrases. Think of the mood being set.

Apply this to church and “church-y” topics of discussion.

  1. “Greed is evil and leaves you idolatrous.”
  2. “Generosity is good and promotes a heart of compassion.”
  1. “The ways of the world are wicked and selfish.”
  2. “The ways of Jesus are good and loving.”

This is not a petition to promote “prosperity gospel” that never touches on the hard-topics, so please don’t see it that way. Just imagine, though, what it would be like if we addressed the “A” phrases, but elaborated on the “B” phrases and not vice-versa. There will be a time when a teacher has to tell a certain child why they should walk in the hall, but encouraging walking infers running is not best.

Imagine if the church addressed the evil, but celebrated the good. To do so, we the body of the church need to celebrate that good. We need to celebrate what we love instead of shouting what we hate.

In the stormy seas of life as a believer in the church, it is guaranteed that we will take on the crashing waves of negativity. We dispel it by the bucket-full when we talk about what we love, no matter how big the waves look in comparison to the bucket in our hands.

Imagine if the church addressed the evil, but celebrated the good. Click To Tweet
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