I never see it coming. I write something I think is compelling or provocative, and no one seems to care. I toss off something I don’t give much thought or energy to, and it gets 3,000 hits. I posted “Crybaby Christians,” and thought I might get some push-back about it being mean or offensive. What I got today were a slew of emails essentially defending immaturity and selfishness. Not what I expected.
I am going to post quotes from a half-dozen emails, which give me a little more time and space to explain myself and to (hopefully) make a case against immaturity as an acceptable standard for Christian behavior.
“you confuse maturity with a liberal plot to destroy our church. “Liberal” is just a code word for “sinner.” Liberals look at the way they want to live life, then they try to make a case for the Bible supporting all their wanton ways. You make it sound like Bible-believing Christians are “immature” and liberals are “mature.””
Actually, I was cautious and intentional to state that there is immaturity all along the theological spectrum, and that neither side can claim for itself superiority over the other. In fact, the need to claim superiority is a sign of immaturity. The exclusive judgmentalism that operates from the position that “our way is the right way and all other positions are wrong” is a childish and underdeveloped way of reasoning. Reinterpreting Scripture to make it mean what we want it to is immature no matter who does it, or what theology it is corrupted to defend.
“If you are right, you shouldn’t have to pretend you aren’t, and if other people won’t admit you are right, you should take whatever steps are necessary to make them admit they are wrong. We are trapped in this weird post-modern idea that there is no right or wrong. This is ridiculous. When you know you are right, you shouldn’t have to waste time arguing with people who are wrong.”
Where to begin? Most developmental theories identify a shift from concrete to abstract thinking, and the ability to perceive and understand perspectives other than one’s own, as essential signs of cognitive growth and a maturing of interpersonal skills. In virtually no exchange of ideas and ideologies is one side 100% right and the other 0% correct. Mature reasoning allows us to see the value and validity of another person’s point of view. Immaturity is characterized by an inability or unwillingness to accept anyone else’s worldview as equal or superior to one’s own. Undeveloped human brains tend toward either/or thinking. Mature conceptual faculties allow for both/and, multiple perspective thinking.
“I think you confuse immaturity with passion and speaking from an emotional center. Just because someone is emotional doesn’t mean they are immature. A person may yell or shout because of how deeply they care about something. A person may be moved to violence because of a deep righteous commitment — to defend the powerless or to subdue a criminal. Are police immature? Was Martin Luther King (Jr.)? Sometimes the most mature people are the loudest and strongest.”
I don’t believe I made any assertion that maturity = lack of emotions. I did make a case for self-control being a sign of maturity. I would conjecture that what we are passionate about matters when determining maturity. A safe example might be sports fans. I see fun-loving adults painting themselves team colors, dressing up in frivolous costumes, shouting and cheering and enjoying a game. Some might look at this and question the maturity of people who act this way. But compare it with drunken fans who race through a community vandalizing public property and destroying possessions in a wild rage after their team lost. Is this behavior more or less mature than that described before? Most of what I was getting at was “more mature” or “less mature” behavior, and how our Christian faith calls us to maturity. I believe that people who are controlled by, or at the mercy of, their emotions are less mature than those who control their emotions and can interact civilly and respectfully in spite of their emotions.
“So, you are mature, and anyone who disagrees with you is immature? How dare you? You all the time say we shouldn’t be judgmental, that it isn’t very Christian, accept (sic) it is fine for you to do it. Who makes you the one who decides what it means to be mature and immature? I think it is very immature of you to call people crybabys.”
On one level, this person is right — calling people names is immature. I was attempting to be clever and to kind of make my point ironically, but I failed with this person. I also meant to raise the idea and offer a way for people to decide for themselves. The list I offered, and the suggestion I made, was so that each person could judge for him/herself what is more mature/less mature. Also, I am okay with people disagreeing with me. I have said many times before that disagreement isn’t the problem — the WAY we disagree is the real issue. Here is an unfortunately real situation to illustrate my point. A young woman pastor was appointed to a church, and a handful of older people did not warm to her or accept her. One small group in particular opposed her. They petitioned the Staff Parish Relations Committee to “get rid” of her, and stirred up a number of people to stop giving money to the church. She started receiving obscene-threatening phone calls in the middle of the night. It was discovered that the 47-year old chair of the Board of Trustees was the caller. After the police advised him to cut it out, he remarked to the young pastor that he hoped she wouldn’t make a big deal about it, because it would be a shame if something happened to any of her kids. This kind of behavior goes way beyond immature to pathologically psychotic, but at the very least — it is immature! Is it being judgmental to name it?
“So the immature run the church. They want to keep the church in the dark ages, and they are turning off a whole new generation of young people. They run the show and we just accept it? We don’t fight fire with fire? Have you ever tried to REASON with an out-of-control toddler? Have you tried to TALK a screaming infant into chilling out? Adults have to be the adults, and sometimes that means giving a time-out, sometimes that means taking away their toy, sometimes that means spanking. Being mature doesn’t mean letting the immature walk all over you, and that is what’s happening in the church today.”
I think this is a matter of definition and interpretation. I couldn’t agree more — the adults needs to set the tone. The mature need to define the parameters — but, no spanking. Maturity invites, immaturity imposes. Maturity educates, immaturity enforces. Maturity develops, immaturity declares. If maturity is seen as a privilege of position rather than a seat of power, things go well. When it’s all about power, problems emerge. There is a fine line between discipline and abuse. Maturity is about knowing how to use power, not viewing power as a right.
And now my favorite…
“I look at the list of qualities, and the way you are defining maturity and I guess you think Donald Trump is immature. He is decisive, and he yells, and he is clear on how people should act and what would be good for our country. He will take action, and he will do things that will make him unpopular, but that are right to do anyway. You would call him selfish. You would call him pushy. You would call him greedy. In other words, immature. I think someone who has the strength of character to act on his beliefs and values with integrity is the definition of maturity. If we had more Christian leaders like Donald Trump our church would be much stronger and healthier.”
Setting aside the politics for a moment, I will admit that never in my wildest imagination would I have come up with Donald Trump as a paragon of maturity. His inexplicable popularity has little to do with maturity — though I do think he appeals to people of a similar maturity to his own. And, I have a concern with defining maturity as acting on beliefs and values with integrity. If the beliefs and values are racist, sexist, unjust, selfish, destructive and/or small-minded, living them with integrity does not equal maturity. This is the problem, in the church as well as the world — that we allow values and practices of materialism, popularity, individualistic attainment, simplistic moralizing, and sarcastic judgmentalism (anyone watch The Apprentice?) to seep in and displace such qualities as charity, compassion, mercy, justice and grace.