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What to do when Christians and Churches Behave Badly

What to do when Christians and Churches Behave Badly

February 17, 2024


The Church is Full of Hypocrites and Judgmental People

“The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their

completeness. But… The strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians—when

they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug … when they are

narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.” – Sheldon Vanauken



Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to

pervert the gospel of Christ.” Galatians 1:7

“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow

be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:3


“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock … I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come

in among you … Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth … So be on your

guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with

tears.” Acts 20:28-31

Fake Disciples and Hypocrisy

The Church is filled with people who aren’t 


Matthew 7:15-16

“Watch out for false prophets. They come

to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly

they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit

you will recognize them.”


Matthew 7:21-23

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord,

Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,

but only the one who does the will of my

Father who is in heaven …”

“So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

Revelation 3:16

The Church is a place for sinners – not 

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins … For it is by grace you have been

saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that

no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which

God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:1, 8-10



“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32



“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread

and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the

apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and

possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the

temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,

praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily

those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47


The Problem of HYPOCRISY


But, even when we do repent and apologize for these acts, we are still left with an awful list of atrocities to explain

and answer for. What does one say to these?

The answer lies in a second level of discourse with an eye toward facts rather than conspiracies, stories, or mythologies, and as we do, we will see that the portrayal of the atrocities of Christian history by skeptics is littered with exaggerations, historical revisionism, and misunderstanding.

This is why one of the greatest tasks confronting the church is, as Oxford historian Alister McGrath says, not to run from the realities of history but “to rescue Christianity from misunderstandings” of it.

First. The widely held view that religion is the primary source of the great killings, conflicts, and atrocities throughout history needs to be challenged head on as it is simply not true. To do this we must look at the facts versus mythology. I had a conversation with a university-educated young man recently who was convinced that the moon landing was a conspiracy. He argued that it didn’t happen. NASA set up a sound stage and hired the late Stanley Kubrick to direct the landing (which then led to a hidden confession through symbolism in his film The Shining). He argued that the film footage of the landing itself exposes the conspiracy, since the American flag planted on the moon remained stiff and this would never have occurred in a gravity-free environment, etc., I pointed out the fact that NASA has enough bright people on staff to realize that it would be necessary to put a stick behind the flag so it would remain stiff on the moon before they ever took off. He just stared at me.

The world of facts is admittedly sometimes less interesting than myth (take America’s obsession with theories of 9/11 as an ‘inside job’), but it is nevertheless a more important world than myth, at least when it comes to history. It is hard to keep up with all the charges people throw at the church. Mythologies are built over time and sooner or later we just absorb them into our cultural consciousness and become hesitant to challenge them. But it is essential to do so.

The Crusades and the Inquisition

Take the Crusades and the Inquisition for instance. To call these “religious wars” wherein ‘the church’ was slaughtering tens of thousands of innocent Muslims is a misunderstanding. At the time of the Crusades and the Inquisition, Western Europe was fighting complex geopolitical wars while being culturally Christian (with Catholicism in great places of power in Europe at the time). Church and state were not separate. Europe would wage their national wars under a Catholic banner, and thus people conclude that these are examples of Christianity trying to expand by way of the sword. But this was not the case. These fights were geopolitical battles -nationalistic endeavors, not religious ones. This was not about the expansion of the spiritual kingdom of God, and the heart-felt conversion of people to Jesus, but about Europe doing what Europe did – expand, and rule. Andnow it did so while being vaguely Christian in its exoskeleton.

The Roman Empire

Similarly, the ROMAN EMPIRE officially became Christian under Constantine in the 4th Century because he converted to Christianity. However, Rome continued to expand the Roman Empire through conquest and violence. Christianity was absorbed and hijacked by the agenda of the Roman Empire. Rome did not become a force in a religious war, it just continued to do what it had always done – fighting geo-political battles to expand its worldly kingdom. The opposite of everything that true Christianity is about. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus taught (John 18:36). No matter what religion or God the Roman Empire served, the outcome would have been the same.

Catholics vs Protestants – War in Northern Ireland

Take a modern example, like Northern Ireland. Timothy Keller points out “It is often argued that over the last many decades, the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland are fighting a religious war. But the reality is they’re not fighting over transubstantiation, Paedo-baptism, or the doctrine of justification by faith. Their fight is for autonomy, retribution, and who gets to run the country. These are not committed followers of Jesus wanting people to have purer doctrine: these are political freedom fighters.” Throughout history, we observe ongoing political wars with which Christianity is associated. And while we may find Christianity influencing a culture, a country, and its leaders, what we do not find is the church waging war against others. We find people, or political institutions that claim to be Christian, waging war against others. We must admit however that people and institutions, which do this, haven’t understood the first thing about Christianity.

Keller points out that “the heart of Christianity is that we are to be weary of the thirst for power and coercive

action toward others. This pining is antithetical to the spirit of Christianity, and Christianity has always worked better on the margins of culture, than in the seats of power anyways. It has always grown faster and had more impact on society among the poor, oppressed, and persecuted. This is seen most potently in how Christianity’s epicenter has continually moved over the last two thousand years. The hub of every religion on the planet has tended to stay in their culture of origin: Islam is primarily still Middle Eastern, Buddhism is primarily Eastern, Hinduism is primarily Indian, etc. Christianity is different. It began Jewish, and then moved to the Greek world, then to Europe, and the Americas, and now is primarily Asian, Latin American, and African.

Why? Keller says that in every case WHEN CHRISTIANITY ASSUMED A SEAT OF POWER, IT FELL ASLEEP. It stopped being subversive and it died. So, it moved. It grows and is embraced most powerfully in regions where it is on themargins, underground, and persecuted. This is what Jesus envisioned, and why Christianity should always reject powerto hurt and coerce others.

Christianity works most effectively not when oppressing or fighting people but serving them. “Love your enemies,” Jesus taught, “Pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Jesus never led a revolt – he went to the cross to absorb sin, on which he prayed for God to forgive his killers. That’s what is amazing about Christianity. It has a self-correcting ethic built into it to realign us with God’s ways when we abuse power. Anything that hurts or marginalizes people in the name of Christ is nothing more than a bastardization of everything Jesus himself was about.

The Witch Hunts

In his bestselling book, The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown claims that the church in Europe killed an astounding “five million women” during the witch trials, which spanned over four centuries.

In The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan makes a similar claim: “No one knows how many [supposed witches, the church] killed altogether—perhaps hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions.” That is a big perhaps. Sagan cites no sources because he has no idea. Scholars contest that this number is highly implausible, as there were only 500 million people on the planet at this time, which would mean that the church systematically wiped out 1% of the entire population of humankind thinking they were all witches! Sagan of course cites no sources for this number, and the most reasonable conclusion is that he has no idea. So how many women did the church kill during this time under the banner of the witch-hunts? Most scholars today contend it is an estimated 40,000-60,000 (20% of whom were men). This is a substantial number, and to be clear, a horror and a mark on the church’s record, but factually is a far cry from Sagan and Brown’s bloated and exaggerated millions.

The Salem Witch Trials

The American version of the hunting and killing of witches by the church, popularly associated with ‘The Salem Witch Trials,’ is similarly exaggerated by skeptics who claim there were thousands of women sentenced to death, but the reality, historians tell us, is that there were actually “fewer than twenty-five. Nineteen were sentenced to death, and a few others died in captivity.” If one adds up all the deaths during the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Witch Trials across both Europe and the Americas Christians killed between 200,000 – 250,000 people over 500 years; a devastating number, but, again, not the numbers that have worked their way into modern mythology. And when we recognize that many of those are in the context of warring armies, the number is that much more understandable.

Does Religion Poison Everything?

In his book, God is Not Great, atheist Christopher Hitchens contends that, as his subtitle says, “Religion Poisons

Everything.” The violence and hatred in our world, he says, come almost exclusively from religion, which “is not unlike racism,” but “is an enormous multiplier of tribal suspicion and hatred.” His solution is atheism, claiming that an atheistic view of life will remove all the divisive reasons humankind kills and oppresses. This is an argument I hear often. But there are several problems with it that are well documented among historians, and scholars.

In fact, in the past hundred years, the most violent and horrific regimes humankind has seen have been atheistic in conviction and not religious. Joseph Stalin’s Russia, Mao Tse-Tung’s China, The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and of course, Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution” across Europe were all driven by Communist, Marxist, and atheistic philosophies, and rejected organized religion and belief in God as a central tenant of their system of belief. It was out of that secular, non-religious, worldview that came the most horrific violence the world has ever seen, and on a scale unheard of.

Atheistic regimes in the last one hundred years:

  • Hitler killed 6 million Jews, Gypsies, Christians, etc.,
  •  The Khmer Rouge (Cambodia) killed 2 million of their own people.
  • Stalin (Russia) killed 20 million through mass slayings and labor camps.
  • Mao (China) exterminated an estimated 50 to 70 million of his own people.

All together these non-religious convictions killed one hundred million people in one hundred years. Contrast this with the so-called Christian conflicts throughout history: Christianity killed 200,000 people over 500 years. That’s 1% percent of what these regimes did in just a few decades! When we adopt a philosophy wherein the answer to violence and oppression is less religion, we must realize that history has proven this to be a failure. Such a worldview leaves humanity wanting and itself drives very violent and oppressive action when lived out systemically, which it must be said is natural and would be what we would expect from a Darwinian ‘strong kill the weak’ philosophy of life. 


It is fair, however, in the context of this great faith debate, to contrast Christianity and atheism to see which best avoids the injustices we all abhor. In doing so, we must agree that religion succeeds where atheism fails. This is because in direct contrast to a worldview that has as a central and foundational tenant the idea that only the fittest should survive, which by necessity includes killing, and exclusion, especially of those groups weaker than you, there is a built-in idea within Christianity that all people are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28), and thus are of great worth and value, no matter how weak or strong they happen to be. Christianity teaches that we are to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Mark 12:31), love and pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44), care for the “widows and orphans” (James 1:27), and fight for the weakest and most vulnerable among us (Isaiah 1:17-18). This is the opposite of Darwinian humanism which has dangerous implications when applied to human beings, saying that instead of these values we exist in an animal kingdom, and thus, if you can get one particular group of animals weaker than you, to pick cotton and sugar for you, and you can get rich off their back, why wouldn’t you? It’s economical and efficient. The strong kill the weak. That’s nature. You can’t tell a lion to stop being a lion.

Christianity however pushes against hate, oppression, exclusion, and this kind of enslavement, and not only that but it gives us a paradigm for fighting against them. For instance, every culture throughout history has had slaves.

It’s Christianity that came along and called it out and said every human being is made in the image of God and that therefore slavery, whether good for the market or not, should be abolished. This is why it was ended in Britain. It was not a liberal secularist who fought against slavery but a Christian (William Wilberforce, 1759-1833), working tirelessly his entire adult life calling Britain to abolish slavery, even though it was economically more viable not to.

In other words, his call was to become not less religious, but more – to function as a culture, not in the spirit of Nietzsche or Darwin, but the Old Testament prophets, and Jesus Christ himself.

Trivial Objections and Einstein

What is actually happening when a person refuses to believe in God based on the actions of another person or people group throughout history or in the present world? I think what is happening is what scholars call a trivial objection. In the study of logic, a trivial objection is “to focus critical attention on a point less significant than the main point or basic thrust of an argument.” In other words, inconsequential data is brought to bear on a given question or issue. In this case, one’s opinion of past Christian actions is brought to bear on the question of whether Christianity is true. I hear about them almost weekly in my job as a pastor: ‘Christians are too judgmental.’

‘I was wronged by my church.’ ‘My parents shoved faith down my throat, so I rejected it.’ But is this a legitimate challenge to Christianity or inconsequential data brought to bear? I think it is the latter.

Let’s say next month in some science journal, it is exposed that Einstein was a kleptomaniac. Every time he went out and about town, he stole things. Coats, shoes, bread, etc., not only that, but he was mean to his neighbors, his co-workers, and his family. Would any of this impact the truth of his discoveries and work? Would anyone decide to throw out Einstein’s mathematics because he was a jerk? No. That would be a category mistake – a trivial objection.

Evaluating whether Christianity or any other idea/hypothesis, is true must be based on research and data, in this case, theological and historical claims, not whether particular adherents succeed or fail at living it out. What on needs to ask is if Christianity holds up historically, philosophically, and experientially. Does it answer the questions of origins, meaning, morality, and destiny with coherence? Was Jesus a real person? Did he really claim to be God?

Did he actually rise from the dead? Can the Bible hold up under historical scrutiny? The questions we have explored

in this book. THESE SPEAK DIRECTLY TO THE VALIDITY OF CHRISTIANITY. But, as the poll that framed this chapter stated, millions of people in the world walk away from Christianity, or never believe it in the first place, because of these other issues – the mistakes of others. When I hear those reasons for disbelief, I am compelled to point out that people are basing the legitimacy of Christianity not on objective or rational reasons, but on how they were treated by a particular person or persons. It is essential that we recognize this as an absolute disconnect between logic and true inquiry. The reality is far more shocking: “If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with him. You cannot put him off with speculations about your next-door neighbors or memories of what you’ve read in books.” In the end, when you are standing before God in judgment, the question will be, ‘What did you do about the offer of salvation in and through the finished work of my son Jesus?’ The question will not be, ‘What did other people do with it?’

Trivial objections. They can be costly.


For all those who accuse the church of being composed of immoral hypocrites, I agree. Don’t assume that the message of Christianity is to make better people. The gospel says everyone is a disaster, including Christians. God came because we are sinful. He came to save us not because of us but in spite of us. He lived a perfect life because we can’t. He went to the cross not only for us and instead of us, but also because of us. He died a death we could not die and rose again from the dead. And if we believe in that work instead of our own work, he saves us. That is the way to eternal life. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

That’s Christianity. It’s not about the perfect lives of Christians, but the perfect life of Christ.

If this is true, what else should we expect the church to look like?



Human Rights

Christians headed the movements to combat human rights abuses such as infanticide; gladiatorial combat in the Roman Empire; slavery; child labor, etc. The Christian church led the movement to abolish the slave trade and banish slavery. Northern Christians saved runaway slaves, printed thousands of newsletters to raise awareness of the injustice of slavery and created the pressure that spread across the country to abolish slavery. The civil rights movement of the 1950’s came out of the African American Church.

Hospitals and Charity

Christians established the first charitable medical hospitals. Almost every hospital in a downtown area has been launched by the Christian church. Hospitals were created by Christians to care for the sick. The American Red Cross was created by Christians in 1864 by John Henry Dunant who was co-recipient of the first Nobel Prize for Peace in 1901. (Faith Alive Clinic, Jos Nigeria) (See Lulu Palau, God Is Relevant, New York: Doubleday, P. 177-178)

Relief Work

Christians created the first emergency shelters for the homeless; the first homes for orphans; the first humanitarian institutions for the insane; the first ministries to victims of crime; the first outreaches to prisoners, hospital patients, and soldiers; and the first societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals. (See Luis Palau, God Is Relevant, New York: Doubleday, P. 177-178)

Most immigrants to America were processed through Ellis Island, where Christians fed and clothed the destitute, and ministered to the sick. The Salvation Army, formed in 1865 to reach the poor and homeless, is today one of the largest providers of relief in every disaster that occurs in the United States. The Salvation Army got there faster and fed more people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina than the federal government.


The dignity of women was elevated when Christ spoke openly to women, enjoyed women’s friendship, and took time out to bless and heal them. Paul continued this when he publicly acknowledged the women who were some of the first church leaders and supporters of the faith. Christians discontinued the practice of veiling; patria potestas (father’s right to kill family members); infanticide of female babies, and assembly partitions. (ref: Alvin Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World, p. 120])

Still today, American culture holds to the ideal of a husband sacrificially loving his wife, which was nonexistent before the dawn of Christendom.


Most of the great colleges and universities in the world began as Christian colleges: Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth. The Christian church started the first 115 universities in America. And until 1932, 168 out of the 182 colleges in the United States were founded by Christian denominations.

Language and Literature

Christian missionaries codified and preserved the languages in much of the world, particularly for cultures that formerly had no written language. At least 1,210 languages were never written until Christian Bible translators learned the languages and devised writing for them. When Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, he had to choose which dialect to use. The German he chose is the German language we know today. Christians have led the world in literature. Christian faith motivated and inspired classic works by Augustine, John Bunyan, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pascal, Solzhenitsyn, Dickens, Milton, Defoe, Tennyson, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and many more. (ref: Beisner, Answers for Atheists, Agnostics, and Other Thoughtful Skeptics, Wheaton: Crossway, 137)

Art and Music

Christian faith-inspired musical works by Bach, Handel, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Mozart, and many others, and great works of art by da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, etc. A Yale professor wrote, “The victory of Jesus Christ over the gods of Greece and Rome by the fourth century, was responsible for a massive and magnificent outpouring of creativity, that is probably, without parallel, in the entire history of art.”


Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Pascal, Descartes, Newton, Kelvin, Mendel, Boyle were all devout Christians. Father Steno, a priest, is the father of modern geology. The Basilica of San Petronio was for many years the most sophisticated solar observatory in the world. Jesuits helped contribute to the development of clocks, barometers, microscopes, and telescopes. They theorized about things like human flight, the moon and tides, and blood circulation. For over five centuries, no institution funded and supported the sciences more than the Church.

How would the Church benefit you if you joined today?

• People who do not attend church are four times more likely to commit suicide than frequent church attendees.(G.W. Comstock and K.B. Partridge, Church Attendance and Health”, Journal of Chronic Disease 25:665-672)

• The “importance of religion” is the single best predictor of not abusing drugs or alcohol. One survey of 14,000 youths found substance abuse varied in direct proportion to the strength of religious commitment. (R. B. Loch and R. H. Hughes, “Religion and Youth Substance Abuse”, Journal of Religion and Health, 24, No. 3: 723-727)

• High levels of faith boost psychological health and the ability to deal with stress and decrease psychological distress, depression, and the negative effects of stress. (Cited In Larson, Pp. 76-81)

• There is also a positive association between religious faith and physical health. (Levin And Schiller, “Is There a Religious Factor in Health?” Journal of Religion and Health 26, No. 1:9-35)

• Male churchgoers have a 60 percent less risk of arteriosclerosis heart disease. Women churchgoers have only half the risk of dying from heart disease or emphysema. (G.W. Comstock and K.B. Partridge, Church Attendance and Health”, Journal of Chronic Disease 25:665-672)

• Men who consider religion to be “very important” have far lower blood pressure and far reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. (D. B. Larson, Et. Al, “The Impact of Religion on Men’s Blood Pressure”, Journal of Religion and Health, 28, No. 4:265-278)

• Women with a strong religious faith recover from surgery far more quickly than nonbelievers. (Pressman, Lyons, Janson, and Strain, Religious Belief, Depression, and Ambulation Status”, American Journal of Psychiatry, 147, No. 6:758-760.)

• A major study found that church attendance predicted marital satisfaction better than any other variable. (Glenn And Weaver, “A Multivariate, Multi-Survey Study of Marital Happiness, Journal of Marriage, and The Family 40-269-282)

• A massive study found that “very religious women” report greater happiness and satisfaction with marital sex than either moderately religious or nonreligious women. (Tavris and Sadd, The Redbook Report in Female Sexuality, New York: Delacorte Press, 1977)

• People committed to religious faith have much higher personal happiness and psychological well-being levels than atheists or agnostics. (David Myers, “Pursuing Happiness”, Psychology Today, July-August 1993, 32-38)

• In a Gallup survey, people who said, “My religious faith is the most important influence in my life,” were twice as likely as others to describe themselves as “very happy”. (See David Myers, “Pursuing Happiness)


Mark Clark. The Problem of God. Zondervan 2017.

Mark Clark. The Problem of Jesus. Zondervan 2021.

Ray Johnston. Jesus Called – He Wants His Church Back. Thomas Nelson 2016.

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