Pope Urges Giving Up Meanness for Lent; Baptist Pastor Agrees, and There’s Room for the Rest of Us
The Wired Word for the Week of April 8, 2020
(originially developoed for the week of March 8, 2020)

In his Ash Wednesday address, Pope Francis urged his listeners to give up, among other things, insulting others on social media. His comments remind us that the Bible regards kindness as a godly quality. Dr. Susan and I believe that “kindess” is a year round quality not just confined to the lenten season. So kindness will be the topic of our next class. 

In the News

Speaking to thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for his general address on Ash Wednesday about things to give up for Lent and beyond, Pope Francis urged his hearers to quit insulting people on social media.

While the pope’s primary audience is Roman Catholics, his words in this address apply broadly to all who seek to follow Jesus. In fact, a similar message appeared in the February 20 blog entry from Gary Thomas, a teaching pastor at Second Baptist Church Houston. The entry was titled, “Why Are Christians So Mean?” 

Lent, the pope said in his remarks, “is a time to give up useless words, gossip, rumors, tittle-tattle, and speak to God on a first name basis,” he said. “We live in an atmosphere polluted by too much verbal violence, too many offensive and harmful words, which are amplified by the Internet,” he said. “Today, people insult each other as if they were saying ‘Good Day.'” 

“We have become used to hearing everything about everyone, and we risk slipping into a worldliness that atrophies our hearts,” the pontiff said.

In his blog, Thomas quoted Christian writer Dallas Willard, who said that Christians are mean in proportion to when they value being “right” over being “like Christ.”

Thomas supported his remarks by quoting from Romans, which, he said, “sets up a high standard for believers, telling us to ‘be devoted to one another in brotherly love’ (12:10), ‘never be wise in your own sight’ (12:16) and keep in mind that ‘love does no harm to its neighbor’ (13:10).”

No harm. To anyone,” Thomas added for emphasis.

This means, said Thomas, that “in our relations with anyone we are to be devoted to their overall welfare, to not be overly confident in our opinion, and to never do anyone any harm. There’s no room here for any ‘Bible-believing’ Christian to be mean.”

“What a different world this would be if, indeed, we were ‘devoted’ to everyone’s welfare,” Thomas added, “if we were humble in our own opinions, and committed to not do anyone harm — no gossip, no mean-spirited denunciation, no slander.” 

Pope Francis, referring to Jesus’ 40 days of fasting and meditating in the desert, also said, that during Lent, Jesus is “calling us into the desert,” and that Jesus “invites us to listen to what matters. To the devil who tempted him, he replied: ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,'” Francis said.

“… more than bread we need the Word of God,” the pope said, “we need to speak with God; we need to pray.”

Not all Christian denominations observe Lent per se, but all of them tell us we need the Word of God and that we need to pray.

More on this story can be found at these links:

Pope Francis Asks Followers to Give Up Trolling for Lent. The Verge
Pope Francis’ Lent Advice: Put Down Phone, Pick Up Bible. CNA
Why Are Christians So Mean? Gary Thomas 

Applying the News Story 

The difficulty with kindness is that it needs to be practiced on a person-to-person level rather than as something we direct toward God. Thus, being kind can feel too mundane to be a spiritual discipline. 

But kindness toward others is indeed a spiritual practice and thus, is the topic of this lesson about growing in the Spirit.

The Big Questions
Here are some of the questions we will discuss in class:

1. What elements of your speech, social media comments and other interactions put you, as Pope Francis said, at “risk of slipping into a worldliness that atrophies our hearts”?

2. When have you spoken or behaved in a way that might be defined as “mean”? How, if at all, do you justify such speech or behavior?

3. Is doing no harm to anyone a Christian principle? Why or why not?

4. Is it true that “Christians are mean in proportion to when they value being ‘right’ over being ‘like Christ'”? How important is it to you to be “right”? How important is it to you to be “like Christ”? What do you do when those two things are in conflict? 

5. Whether or not your denomination observes Lent, in what ways does your church call you to a life of holiness?

Confronting the News With Scripture and Hope
We will look at selected verses from these Scripture texts. You may wish to read these in advance for background:

Proverbs 11:17
Micah 6:6-8
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Colossians 3:1-17

In class, we will talk about these passages and look for some insight into the big questions, as well as talk about other questions you may have about this topic. Please join us.