Why Christians Shoot Their Wounded

Who among us has not taken a shot?

I am guilty.

And now I find myself one of the wounded.

Consider this:

Love people even in their sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all of God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand of it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karammazov (Macmillan: New York, 1922), 339.

Life is not a cosmic game of crime and punishment. God is not a puppet for the sake of social order, nor religion a tool for social controls.

Why then do “good” people, orthodox christians, even clergy shoot their wounded in cold blood?

You’d think our individual brokenness would cause us, especially those of us who call ourselves christians, to heed the question of Jesus when he asks, “Who among us can cast the first stone?” or in the context of this post, “take the first shot.”

But the desire to attribute people’s behavior to innate character rather than to local context runs deep. In fact, psychologists have a name for this behavior: It’s called “the fundamental attribution error.”

The fundamental attribution error is at work when we explain our own behavior in terms of the constraints on us (“I didn’t stop to help the stranded driver because I was late for work”) but attribute the same behavior in others to their character (He didn’t stop to help the stranded driver because he’s selfish”).

We all do it.

And we shoot more readily when the wounds in the other person are a glaring reflection of our own hidden struggles.

To truly heed the words of Dostoevsky and Jesus Christ, and love people even in their sin (to practice the highest form of love on earth) and not cast a stone or take a shot—we have to overcome the fundamental attribution error and extend to other people the set of explanations that we use to describe our own sins.

If this sounds boring, well, it is boring, compared to being the first to have the “smoking gun” about another minister who has had an affair, another artist who is gay, another person who is addicted to porn, another person with whom one does not agree with their choices and their lifestyle.

It is boring compared to banishing and ridding ourselves of those people that are constant reminders of our own hidden wounds and sins.

A person’s wounds are not a religious calamity signifying the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

It is a new opportunity to practice love. Unconditional love. And when we get that right, we can change the way people live with one another in fairly fundamental ways.

But sadly, this shooting of our fellow wounded illustrates a practice as old as time itself.

Consider the story of the woman caught in adultery. It illustrates this concept poignantly.

Those of us ready to throw the stones, to take a shot, see sin everywhere but in ourselves.

I’ve Been A Victim Of A Selfish
Kind Of Love
It’s Time That I Realize
That There Are Some With No
Home, Not A Nickel To Loan
Could It Be Really Me,
Pretending That They’re Not
Alone?

A Willow Deeply Scarred,
Somebody’s Broken Heart
And A Washed-Out Dream
They Follow The Pattern Of
The Wind, Ya’ See
Cause They Got No Place
To Be
That’s Why I’m Starting With
Me

I’m Starting With The Man In
The Mirror
I’m Asking Him To Change
His Ways
And No Message Could Have
Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World
A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself And
Then Make A Change.

— “Man In The Mirror” Lyrics by Siedah Garret & Glen Ballard

Question: What are your thoughts?

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53 Responses to “Why Christians Shoot Their Wounded”

  1. There you are. Thank you for sticking your head out to say this.

    As for my thoughts, I think it’s messy. I think accountability and church discipline are messy and should be navigated carefully and prayerfully and with love being held highest. And, I know that we have to start with the plank in our own eye. Even if all those things are achieved, it’s still just flat out messy.
    mandythompson´s last blog post ..the “when nobody’s looking” blah blah

  2. I love “Love”. It’s my favorite thing in the universe!!

  3. I’ve been shot.

    I went through it 4 years ago: http://www.nikao.ws/2008/01/30/licking-wounds/

    • Wow, Vince. Powerful post. Thanks for the link. “Modern church leaders are interested in the appearance of things and a scarred-up pastor doesn’t sell in our culture.” Powerful quote.

      • This is the very point “interested in the appearance of things” and worried about “scarred-up” anyone not sell Jesus “in our culture” that keeps me from being able to find a home in a church. I am too “scarred-up” — I don’t fit the ‘church lady image.’ And frankly I have been through too much in life to find time to play church. I know too many people who are hurting, dying, barely hanging onto life…. while the church is signing merrily and decorating and throwing parties. Real ministering is not always fun, it is not often clean.

        • Agh, I’m so sorry, Lindy. There are a few churches out there…they are just really few and far between and very hard to find. I have found a place in Austin called Gateway Church. They are a church for hurting and imperfect people.

  4. Randy, good reminder of the attitude check we need, when we confront. My only concern in this is when we as the church are scared to confront because we may be perceived as “unloving”. The Church needs to learn to stand ground on the truth of scripture while at the same time balance that truth with appropriate levels of grace in the context of the situation. Every situation brings different people to the mix and needs to be approached with a clean scale. The old adage, “love the sinner, hate the sin”, seems almost patronizing, but, never the less, lays it out there.
    As much as I hate to admit it, I have witnessed proof of this stereotype of how the Church handles their wounded. It grieves me deeply and God will punish it. It needs to be a challenge to all of us to handle confrontation Biblically,and with appropriate amounts of Grace and Truth.

    • Thanks, Randy. Unfortunately, It is much easier for us because we are all broken to hate the sin rather than love the sinner. It’s human nature.

    • “The Church needs to learn to stand ground on the truth of scripture while at the same time balance that truth with appropriate levels of grace in the context of the situation.”

      In 20 years of being a Christian I’ve heard that said in many different ways, yet have never seen it happen.

      “The old adage, “love the sinner, hate the sin”, seems almost patronizing, but, never the less, lays it out there.”

      Again, in 20 years of being a Christian I’ve heard that said in many different ways, yet have never seen it happen.

      Nothing personal in my comment towards you bro, just wanted to share my personal observations. Peace and Love to you!

  5. A person’s wounds are not a religious calamity signifying the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

    It is a new opportunity to practice love. Unconditional love. And when we get that right, we can change the way people live with one another in fairly fundamental ways.

    EXACTLY.

    Thank you for this post.
    Ashley Smith´s last blog post ..AshleyASmith: Life is not a cosmic game of crime & punishment. Great post by @RandyElrod http://t.co/YuAXorwM

  6. Why? Because it is so much easier to shoot than defend. Who wants to play defense when you can have a potent “I told you so” offense?
    Unfortunately, we christians seem to take the low road, because it is easier.
    It’s selfishness. Why would we want to be associated with a “sinner”? It could tarnish our reputation. Who are we to judge what is sin?
    This became real to me a couple of years ago, when a good friend and employee revealed he was gay. Instinctively, I had to pull back, remove my self from contact, and “protect my reputation.” Wow. How stupid of me. I am so glad God has allowed me to re-establish contact and friendship.
    Thanks Randy, for sharing your story. It helps to remind us that “no, not one is perfect”. It hits home when you can relate to folks you can admire. Praying that we can still admire and support.

    • “Why would we want to be associated with a ‘sinner’? It could tarnish our reputation. Who are we to judge what is sin?
      This became real to me a couple of years ago, when a good friend and employee revealed he was gay. Instinctively, I had to pull back, remove my self from contact, and ‘protect my reputation.’ ”

      Thanks, Charlie, for these powerful, powerful words.

  7. We all should strive to love “unconditionally”. This is easier said than done for most of us. When the situation becomes “messy” or “uncomfortable” it’s easier to flee and cast judgment than stand in the gap with someone who needs a person to lean on. We all make mistakes; some are larger than others, some that cut deeper than we wanted. At the end of the day we can all be healed and forgiven. But to love “unconditionally” takes strength that most people say that have but are really not sure until it’s put to the test.

    • More powerful, powerful words. “When the situation becomes ‘messy’ or ‘uncomfortable’ it’s easier to flee and cast judgment than stand in the gap with someone who needs a person to lean on. We all make mistakes; some are larger than others, some that cut deeper than we wanted.” Thanks, Dewayne.

  8. Randy,
    great post. I believe that so much comes from our insecurities, that our fear that our own lies about ourself will be found out. So we have to be “Better Than Others”. In Matthew when Jesus foretold of Peter’s denial, Peter quickly answered. But instead of just professing his support for Jesus (which of course he didn’t uphold), Peter takes it another step and says, “Though they all fall away….” So rather than just loving Jesus…Peter had to take a swipe at the other disciples first.
    I go back to fundamentals. I am a sinner: big time. I was not put on Earth to judge anyone, but instead if I really someone, I need to be willing to risk the loss of a human relationship by being honest when someone is being un-Christ-like. But it first happens in private, not over the internet. And it is not designed to damage the person so they can’t recover, but as you pointed out, as a result of love. Here’s a short story on Peter’s having to be BETTER: http://www.agathanolen.com/journal/better-than-others.html
    Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  9. i’m struggling with this currently. but i don’t think it’s so much about pointing out or shooting the sinner as it is dealing with my own unforgiveness. i guess i’m seeing so much crap in my own life that i am seeking personal holiness and i guess that’s where we miss it. we’re more concerned with other people’s holiness and our comparison to them. this was a hard post for me to read because i want the person who hurt me to pay for their sin. i want to shame them so badly, but that is not my job. my job is to attempt my best to love them. and since that is hard, i’m trying to rely on Christ’s love. so it starts with me. i’m the one who has to let the stone fall at my feet. i’m the one who has to extend the love. i will say that Jesus did say one thing at the end of that scene that we forget to add on though. He says, “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I, now go and sin no more” in other words, the pattern of our sin has to stop because we are forgiven. i love you Randy, thanks for sharing your heart.

    • Thanks, Chuck, for your transparency. “we’re more concerned with other people’s holiness and our comparison to them.” Powerful words. As I look at scripture, I wonder if forgiveness does not hinge on the pattern of our sin, but simply on unconditional love and grace. So many stories in scripture of repeated failures by the same person.

  10. Randy,

    I wish I could get the smell of smoke from my own church’s gun out of my nostils and the pain from my heart.

    When I became destitute with no place to go, no way to feed myself because of a job layoff, I swallowed my pride and went to my church for help.

    The laundry list of things I had to agree to “sign” in order to receive help was crazy, in my opinion. I had to agree to drug testing (I have never done drugs in my life), counseling, attendance of the church ( I had been a member for over 13 years), serve in the church (already was), etc, etc. I told the church that I did not believe in conditional love or conditions to help the poor, but signed anyway because I had a child to think about.

    Upon realizing that my husband and I had separated after 23 years of marriage, I was promptly told that I would receive no help from the church that I had served locally for so many years, and as a missionary abroad. It was assumed that I had left my husband for frivolous reasons, and the “counseling” was to be a means for my repentance and reconciliation with my husband and a condition for them to reconsider helping me. I didn’t have the luxury of time for them to reconsider, even if I was inclined to accept their offer.

    I declined and wrote my pastor (who knows me personally, and was my neighbor for 7 years) that I would not discuss the very personal and painful reasons my marriage had ended -with him or anyone else in the church -for the “approval” of anyone there, or for my own vindication. I expressed my love for him and his family, but told him that his church was no longer my home, as they had so aptly demonstrated.

    I had been devasted by my husband, whom I had loved very deeply, and now by my church, whom I had loved and served as well. My faith, my foundation, my sense of worth all shattered.

    I was forced to leave my home, my youngest son went to live with his dad (the other two are grown), and I moved 750 miles away where my family is. I cry every day for the loss, even after a year has gone by.

    I keep looking up at the sky…to God….saying, “but I wasn’t done raising my boy!” “why is this so?” “why does the man who hurt me this way get to tell everyone I left behind that he ‘just doesn’t know what happened…I guess she had a midlife crisis and just left us.’…..why does he get to do this? And why must I suffer this loss alone without the support of my church?”

    I know that God is not about crime and punishment, but I feel like a cowering child, full of shame and waiting for my next spanking – wondering what I’m supposed to be learning from God that I just haven’t gotten yet. I want to reach my hand out to him, but fear that I will get it slapped when I do……and the smell of smoke lingers still…

    • Ah, Lori. I’m so sorry. Unfortunately, the smell of smoke lingers in so many people’s nostrils… and they also “feel like a cowering child, full of shame and waiting for my next spanking.” Agh. Thanks so much for your transparency and candid post.

    • Lori, as I read your post, I wanted to reach through the screen and give you a big hug. I’m so sorry you’ve been through all of this. I wish there was something I could do to help.

  11. “banishing and ridding ourselves of those people that are constant reminders of our own hidden wounds and sins.”

    That stung.

    Thanks for the heart check Randy.

  12. It’s telling how we decide which sins to shoot at and which ones to look past. If we’re honest, we can all find things in one another to pull the trigger on. Perhaps we should just put our guns down altogether and rejoice in the fact that Christ took those bullets for us…

    • Wow, Jason…”Perhaps we should just put our guns down altogether and rejoice in the fact that Christ took those bullets for us…” Thanks.

  13. It’s an interesting thing this. It’s not always “us” shooting “them”. Sometimes the wounded shoot themselves.

    Let me explain.

    We (the church I attend) had a situation where two girls in our creative team found themselves single, and pregnant.

    One accepted the love and support that our team, and the church offered. She is still attending church – albeit no longer in ministry as the demands of motherhood took priority.

    The other disappeared. Offers of help were rejected, calls were not answered, messages weren’t returned. The last I heard she was now living interstate.

    It’s a tricky one. If the “wounded” person is not accepting of the love of their friends, they effectively shoot themselves – and sometimes even that is percieved as “but noone was there for me”….

    • Good point, Paula. I’m so thankful that your church reaches out in love for a wounded soul like this girl. May your tribe increase. I do think we need better education and training in how to properly offer help to wounded ones who are cowering from everyone because of their hurt. I’m convinced that many times the wounded ones wound themselves, and flee from help because they are so wounded. We need trained people to understand the layers of hurt and be able to realize that sometimes the offers are rejected because of pain, not because they don’t want help. How can we help the wounded ones not continue to wound themselves? That is the question. It is a tough one and your point is very well taken.

  14. Randy….Wow!
    I am in the middle of being shot….several times! This is where I am….I don’t like it! I have a deep wound….the church! I have been so hurt….it makes me think about the times I was the one shooting…..I hate that I did that! I hate that the church does this….I hate it! I am sorry for your pain! I hate what you are experiencing…I understand it, I walk that road too! I hope the church wakes up….it is loosing a lot of people who need her!
    So many thoughts on this topic……
    JW

  15. This post reminds me of a song that really touched my heart and some of the lyrics go like this: Don’t shoot the wounded, they need you more than ever. Don’t shoot the wounded, some day YOU might be one. So true.

  16. It’s an unfortunate instinct for us to want to feel better about ourselves and our own failings by striking out at those who have been caught or found out. Defense mechanisms kick in that make our first reaction to lash out and keep the attention on the “sinner” to avoid having to address our own shortcomings…or worse yet, have our own issues be discovered publicly. I just noticed that I’ve written this in the third person rather than stepping up and admitting that it’s me attacking others in order to keep my own skeleton’s in the closet.

  17. The more I read and hear of similar stories, the more it seems we miss the point of rebuke/correction.

    I thought we were made to walk in a garden and fellowship with our creator. Pure fellowship with nothing in the way. Any sins block our pure fellowship with our creator. The REAL reason to call each other out on their sins (and ask them wholeheartedly to do the same thing for you) is because it allows a greater fellowship with our creator. If I find their is sin in my life, I want to get rid of it so I can have that pure fellowship with God.

    I want the same thing in your life. I want you to be able to truly enjoy a completely unhindered communion with God. But the approach towards another person should come from love.

    I love you Randy. I want any junk/sins out of your life so you can enjoy as much of a holy relationship with God as possible. You were made for that and that’s what I want for you. I also want the same thing for me. I want any junk/sins out of my life to enjoy that same relationship. So you can help me to do the same.

    Speak the truth in love. Speak the truth in love. Speak the truth in love. To me, at least, that’s what that means. If you can’t speak the truth in love, then it sounds like there’s an issue there with the ‘speaker’. If you can speak the truth IN LOVE then you should do it. Because when you speak truth in love, you speak with the purpose and desire to help a friend have a deeper relationship with God.

    I don’t want ANY sin in your life just as I don’t want ANY sin in my life.

    I think we shoot our wounded because we have a gun in our hands. Gun control is necessary. Let’s try putting down the gun and using open arms and approaching on the same level as the person. “You are made for so much more than this junk. I understand this is a struggle for you. I have my own struggles. I want you to be the person God has created you to be and enjoy a holy relationship with Him. This junk that’s in your life is getting in the way of that. How can I help you get rid of the junk/sins to better enjoy your relationship with God?”

    Any other approach to talking with someone about their sin usually causes a defense mechanism to come on. And I’m very aware that I have the ability to throw pebbles at you, BUT you certainly have the opportunity to shove this boulder(s) on my head at the same time. I don’t like throwing stones. It’s not worth the time and energy.

    #2cents

  18. Hi Randy,

    This has been a conversation I have had with the men’s bible study group I attend. We excuse our rejection of people in sin and the punitive nature of our behavior by saying we are helping people. When one is in sin and refuses to repent, the Bible says to “consider as an unbeliever” right? So, how did Jesus treat unbelievers? He had dinner with them, in their home and loved them. The sin of the tax collector or the whore did not keep Jesus away. It keeps us away because we feel the need to punish rather than love.

    John 3:17 He did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that through him the world would be saved.

    RK
    Rich Kirkpatrick´s last blog post ..Cyber Monday is Every Monday: Cyborgs, Groupon.com and Smart Phones

  19. Randy – this is such a great post… often it seems like shooting our wounded even becomes institutionally accepted and mandated… systemic…

    What do you do to change it when it becomes that entreanched?
    Jenny´s last blog post ..Have a Sit and Put Your Feet Up | Learning Point of View

  20. Seems that the tendency to fire off on someone comes from Christians who are more like the world they inhabit. Maybe Bono was on to something when he sang, “I can’t change the world but I can change the world in me.” in my experience, letting myself be changed from the inside reduces the desire to shoot away at the world outside.
    I have my share of stories of either being shot at or having taken part in the shooting. Granted I tend to lean towards the saying, “if you are being shot at you must be doing something right.” ;)

  21. We like John 3:16 but don’t quote verse 17 very often. It comes to mind when I read this.

  22. Well, as usual, your post brought up a lot of thoughts.

    I’ve been shot by the church so much that I could be a limping, drooling cast member on The Walking Dead. There is no doubt in my mind the church has a problem with this issue and one of the biggest memories I’ve taken from my time in Nashville was being shot by some church leaders who were completely unrepentant about being un-Christ-like in their actions. I know many people who have been shot by the church and I don’t see a lot of churches that really care about the healing of their members beyond lip service.

    On the other hand, I see a lot of confusion when it comes to accountability and how we deal with sin. I agree with a lot of what Jeff wrote in his comment above. A lot of wisdom in that post.

    And as I mature and look at situations, I know there are some times I would have said in the past the church was shooting me when I was wounded when In reality I was in a state of being unrepentant about something I was doing and they weren’t “shooting” me…they were holding me up to the standard of Scripture. With the filter of time and distance, I appreciate those that actually spoke truth in love even when it was a hard truth or they had to be a little more “in your face” than some people (including myself) would have liked in that case.

    We can’t run to the extreme of elimination of accountability or ignore unrepentance for the sake of “love.” Love doesn’t mean you look at someone who professes Christ yet routinely ignores His teachings and say “it’s ok, just do what you feel led to do because God loves you.” We need to show love, we need to establish relationship and we need to make sure when we speak truth it’s in love.
    Jason´s last blog post ..Day 339: Ignoring the wounds in the Body of Christ

    • I understand your words, but the truth is so hard….how can you really be held accountable by other sinful people. It sounds so right, but in reality…it is so hard to do correctly. If anything, we have erred on the side of accountability. I have seen very little true love. At least for me, again, i say I am guilty. Thanks, Jason. But mostly what I see is a lot of church jargon. Not enough scriptural behavior. This grieves as well as wounds me.

  23. Kevin Ortenblad December 6, 2011 at 18:16

    You are right, the church is so much harder to please than the world. They pick out certian sins, and make them worse that others. My bible says all sins are of equal value, and we have all sinned. Thanks Randy, and if you need to learn how to shoot back come on out to Sanctuary. We can go back to the range and burn up some gunpowder. Let us know if you need anything, we are praying for both you guys, and we love you
    In Christ
    Kevin and Julie

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