Cover image for When bad Christians happen to good people : where we have failed each other and how to reverse the damage
When bad Christians happen to good people : where we have failed each other and how to reverse the damage
Burchett, Dave.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Colorado Springs, Colo. : Waterbrook Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xi, 243 pages ; 21 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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Item Holds
BV4627.H8 B87 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Targeting those who have been hurt by a Christian, as well as those believers responsible for inflicting such damaging wounds, the author calls every reader to greater accountability and self-examination and shows how they can become godly.

Author Notes

Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award-winning television sports director for Fox Sports, ESPN, and NBC with a background in radio. He and his wife, Joni, are former staff members of Campus Crusade's Athletes in Action. They live in Garland. Texas, and are the parents of three sons

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

A cursory reading of Burchett's expos? of the pitiful condition of the American Christian church shows the book to be stinging, acerbic and slightly flippant. But careful attention to Burchett's painful message that "bad Christians" have done, and continue to do, great damage to others in the fold reveals the truth of his accusations. For openers, Burchett tells his own story of callous rejection by a church he attended when his terminally ill daughter was only months old. The congregation in question decided in no uncertain terms that Burchett's daughter was not welcome in their nursery, despite the fact that baby Katie posed no threat to the other infants. Such behavior is the first of many examples where Christians slammed their church doors at the first sight of discomfort. Burchett's style is critical, sometimes overwhelmingly so. Yet he supports every claim of Christian shame, and does so with evidence solid enough to convict. He describes churches as frequently elitist, unfriendly and fearful. He also takes issue with lazy Christian-ese, countering that true faith is measured not merely in words but through acts of humility, service and self-sacrifice. Some sensitive Christian believers will surely take issue with Burchett's tone and the one-two stabs of witty humor that are often aimed at Christians themselves. Yet his call to reform is so solidly founded on biblical principles that his severe words must be heeded. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One The Unfriendliest Club in Town? The greatest single cause of atheism in the worm today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. --Brennan Manning Author Flannery O'Connor once noted that "sometimes you have to suffer as much from the church as you do for it." Perhaps the most painful experience of my marriage came courtesy of the church.     My wife, Joni, gave birth to our daughter in 1985. But our happiness dissolved into grief when we learned Katie had a terminal neural tube birth defect called anencephaly, which had prevented her brain from developing. She basically had just the brain stem. Katie was not expected to live more than a few hours or days. The doctor in the delivery room described Katie's situation in physicianspeak that I will never forget. "Her condition is not compatible with life," he said.     Our shock and grief were immediate because Katie obviously had no chance for a normal life. There would be no cure, no hope for even modest improvement. I went through the painful process of calling family and friends and telling our two sons about their sister.     But Kathryn Alice Burchett confounded the doctors and lived. She was never able to open her eyes. She couldn't smile. Katie lacked the ability to regulate her body temperature so her room temperature had to be monitored. Part of Katie's deformity was an opening with exposed tissue at the back of her skull that had to be covered and dressed regularly. Joni loved and cared for Katie in a way I will always respect and never forget. She insisted that Katie come home with us. I worried about the effect that caring for Katie at home might have on the boys. Truthfully, I was probably more concerned about the effect bringing her home would have on me. But Joni would not have it any other way, and when she sets her mind she is scrappy. So I showed my spiritual wisdom by agreeing with her.     Katie found her place in our family's routines. She could drink from a bottle. Katie responded to her mother's touch and even grew a little. We took her on a camping trip with us, and she was a regular at the boy's ball games and events.     Sometimes people would make hurtful or mean remarks. A kid at school taunted our oldest son because his sister didn't have a brain. (That was something that the classmate had no doubt heard at home, and it reminds me that we should always be cautious about what we say in front of our children.) Once, when we wanted a family photo, we dressed up the troops and went to the photography studio of a major national chain. The photographer insisted that Katie needed to open her eyes. We explained patiently (for a while) that she physically could not open her eyes. He informed us that we couldn't get our picture taken because their lab would not develop a picture if any person in the group didn't have their eyes open. Katie totally upset their system, and they would not be flexible. We finally left without the photos and ended up going to a private photographer. Still, all things considered, our life with Katie went about as well as it could.     Then the church entered in.     One Sunday morning before church, a friend called to tell us that Katie would no longer be welcome in the nursery. The moms had met and decided (without any input from us) that Katie might die in their care and traumatize some volunteer worker. They worried that the opening at the back of Katie's skull could generate a staph infection. Actually, the nursery workers did not have to deal with infection; the opening was covered with a sterile dressing and a bonnet, and it required no special attention during the brief time she was in the nursery each Sunday. Besides, Katie did not interact with the other babies. Clearly, a little caution would have eliminated any possible risk. And we knew she was going to die. No one would have been to blame. Since we were in a church of only 150 people, I think they could have found us fairly quickly if necessary. Given the opportunity, we might have been able to put the workers' fears to rest. But the decision had already been made. Katie was no longer welcome, and our church had done what I would not have thought possible: They made our pain worse.     Joni was devastated, more hurt than I have ever seen her before or since. I am sure our friends didn't intend to wound as they did, but the hurt lingered for years. And the pain was multiplied by the method. We had no warning that there were concerns. We received no invitation to address those concerns. Instead, a secret meeting was followed by a phone call to tell us what had already been decided. And I'm not the only one with this kind of story.     I know a pastor in the Midwest who suffered the tragic loss of his wife to leukemia. Within a matter of weeks, the board asked him to resign because they did not want to be led by an unmarried pastor! This grieving man had to change denominations in order to continue his ministry. It is a miracle and tribute to God's grace that he kept going at all.     In my hometown of Chillicothe, Ohio, an acquaintance finally decided it was time to get his family into a local church. He loaded up the crew and visited one nearby. The church immediately showed a tremendous and heartfelt concern for his ... grooming issues. You see, Roy had the audacity to show up in God's house with a full beard, not unlike Jesus' in the picture hanging in the foyer. A church leader met Roy on the way out.     "So are you going to start worshiping with us?" he asked.     "Why yes," Roy replied. "We want to start coming to church."     The church leader looked at him and said, "Well, I hope you will have shaved by next Sunday." That was over twenty years ago. Roy has still not found a regular church home. Hypocrites or Healers? The word hypocrite comes from the Greek word hyprokrites , meaning one who plays a part, an actor. Probably no word is more destructively used in describing Christians than hypocrite . André Gide once defined a true hypocrite (an oxymoron?) as the "one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity."     Inevitably, my first and natural reaction upon hearing the word is to think of people I consider guilty? of hypocrisy. When the Reverend Jesse Jackson revealed his relationship with a mistress, I pulled out my hypocrite hammer to smite him. My first reaction should be to ask God to search me and see if a similar lack of discernment lives in my own heart. Somehow, that request has not yet become automatic.     One of Christ's severest rebukes concerned the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Matthew 6). These religious leaders liked to be seen and heard when praying, recognized when giving, and pitied when fasting. Had the Jerusalem Broadcasting Network been on the air, you just know that some slick-haired Pharisees would have hosted the prime-time programs.     Today the church condemns those who drink and smoke and live immoral lives while we churchgoers engage in gluttony and gossip and selfishness and bigotry. The unchurched stand by in amazed, bemused, cynical, or angry observance of our hypocrisy. And they lose respect for our message.     As a young man, I sat through many sermons about devil alcohol and demon tobacco followed by a church potluck where apparently the demon of calories was a welcome guest. It seems to me that morbid obesity is also a desecration of the temple (our body). Is that not also wrong? Overweight churchgoers often explain their extra pounds by citing low metabolism or thyroid disorders. I acknowledge that, for many, there is a legitimate medical reason why weight gain is a constant struggle. But shouldn't we also keep open at least the possibility that someone's addiction to nicotine might be similarly genetically predisposed? Or that someone with a weakness for alcohol or pills could possibly be related to a brain chemistry imbalance that exacerbates that problem?     Before you dash off to write a nasty letter of condemnation for my views (you will have many more opportunities; I suggest you keep a running tab and send a comprehensive diatribe later), let me say that I believe with all of my being in the life-changing power of God. I know He can empower an alcoholic to become and stay dry. I have witnessed that fact. I believe God can give a smoker the strength to snuff out that last cigarette. I am convinced God can enable a person to flush pills and drugs down the drain once and for all. But isn't there an uncomfortable flip side to that faith? Shouldn't we also acknowledge that God can give us the power to walk away from the buffet table? That He can give me the strength to bridle my tongue when I become privy to gossip that would hurt another person? Should I not recognize that God can enable me to keep driving that unsexy old car or keep watching that small screen television with no picture-in-picture in order to free up my resources to help someone in need of life's actual necessities?     I marvel at the example of Christ and His approach to sinners. Obviously He could not possibly have condoned the lifestyles and actions of many who surrounded Him. Yet He seemed drawn to the spiritually needy--and they to Him. Prostitutes, lepers, and tax collectors all felt the need to hear what Jesus had to say. (Note to my IRS friends: In that culture tax collectors were turncoats who unfairly extorted their own people for personal gain. Nothing at all like the honorable members of our fine government tax organization evaluating my home-office deductions on this year's tax return.)     It seems that the people most uncomfortable around Jesus were the religious, the churchgoers as it were. Those who are most ill need the physician's time, and Jesus gravitated to the ER cases. I have friends who are physicians, and probably no patient annoys them more than a hypochondriac. These unfortunate people drain the resources and time of medical personnel, resources, and time that could be far better used healing the truly sick. It seems to me that Jesus dealt with the hypochondriacs of His day (the Pharisees and religious people) with that same attitude. Jesus had little patience with those who failed to recognize their true spiritual symptoms. But He was always willing to see the spiritually ill.     The church should be in the business of addressing spiritual illness. When you are deathly ill, you don't start thinking of going to the health dub: "Well, this will be a good time to get in shape. I feel horrible, and I think I'm going to die." Yet many churches have somehow communicated that only the spiritually healthy are truly welcome at church. Many people think their lives are too far gone to be accepted at church, when in fact that brokenness just about makes them ready to receive God's amazing grace. But too many feel that going to church would make them too uncomfortable or heighten their guilt. They sense they would be judged and treated with condescension.     Yes, some of these feelings are self-inflicted wounds. But more are not. We must examine the possibility that we are doing things that make hurting people stay away from the church. Do you ever think your health is too messed up to go to the hospital? Assuming you have insurance, does a hospital ever communicate that you are just a little too sick to come in? "We don't like the look of your illness. Find another place to go." When did the church step away from its responsibility of healing emotional pain and meeting physical, emotional, and spiritual needs? Steve Martin used to say, "Comedy isn't pretty." Sometimes ministry isn't either. Sometimes it won't be neat or polished or slick. Sometimes it requires us to pay a price.     Most of us don't much like to be around the truly spiritually ill. It tends to make us uncomfortable. Treating the spiritually ill is draining, and it comes with no guarantees for success. We would rather hire someone to clean up the mess and report back to us at a praise service.     Yet how can we preach Christ's love and not care about the AIDS epidemic? So what if it doesn't "touch" us or if we find its primary means of transmission unsettling? How can we talk about God's grace but ignore other people's physical needs and bow to the idols of success and money and power? How can we talk about the importance of giving, and then spend money on things we don't need, often to curry the approval of people we don't really care about? How can we minister to others when we don't first meet the spiritual needs of our own families? How can we win the respect of the world when we cruise around in luxury sports cars and turn our faces away from homeless people?     Do we think that if we ignore the problems perhaps God will not hold us accountable?     Our family has a wonderful golden retriever named Charlie. He is a connoisseur of used Kleenex and paper towels. Charlie knows I disapprove of him running off with tissues, so each time he nabs one, he dashes to the family room and sticks his head and front quarters under a Queen Anne chair. Charlie doesn't realize that 75 percent of his body is sticking out and his tail is wagging wildly. He thinks he is safe from retribution because his face is hidden. It is a ridiculous and humorous scene.     Is it any less ridiculous to think that we Christians can avoid our responsibilities as Christ's representatives and operatives on this planet? Are we Christians any smarter than Charlie when we avert our gaze from the needs of others and convince ourselves that God won't notice? Somehow I don't think God smiles and says, "Oh, that Dave, he was just too busy to notice his friend was in pain. But that's okay." No. Instead, my selfishness sticks out just as noticeably as Charlie's rear end. (There is a certain symmetry in that analogy.) Country Club Christian I was raised in a very strict church where rules and regulations smothered the concept of grace by their sheer weight. No jewelry for women. No mixed bathing. (That one was a wild fantasy for my adolescent hormones until I realized they meant swimming.) No musical instruments other than a piano or organ in the church. I never did find the biblical basis for that one.     "And thou shalt have no stringed instruments or percussive idols."     No long hair for men. No short hair for women. No shorts. No cussing. No makeup. No pants for women. No card playing. No movies. No dancing. No smoking. No drinking. I actually sat through a sermon where the preacher spent sixty minutes trying to explain that the wine of the New Testament was actually grape juice. So Jesus turned the water into Welch's? What a wedding feast that must have been with great food and a fine vintage grape juice.     "It's a lovely little vintage ... stomped just this morning."     On and on the list went. If any activity involved an ounce of pleasure, you could be pretty sure the answer was no. No television. People in our church used to put a sheet over the television when the preacher made a house call. As if the good reverend wouldn't know that a "Devil's Box" stood under that cover. Obviously God wouldn't know either. I mean, how could the Creator of the universe possibly know that the box-shaped object under the big sheet was a television?     The list of no's went on and on. The effect was predictable: We experienced no joy, no peace, no assurance of God's forgiveness--and no interest from anyone outside our miserable little circle. I suggested renaming our sullen little group the First Church of Misery Loves Company but We Probably Won't Love You.     Some of the things allowed in this church were really more repulsive than the things banned. Things like racism and bigotry. There was not a stated policy, but you would have never seen a "colored" (our loving and enlightened term for African-Americans) in our church. It was just understood. They had "their" churches, and I guess we thought it was okay for "them" to worship "our" God if "they" had the decency to be discreet about it. Actually only the more spiritual in our body called African-Americans "coloreds." For the less enlightened it was "darkies" or worse. Members of our church also railed against Jews. I have heard from the pulpit how the Jews were ruining our country, while the fact that the Savior happened to be one was ignored. And don't even begin to mention "queers" or "sodomites," as we so colorfully called the gay population.     No wonder so many people feel so alienated from the church. I often feel alienated--and I'm a member of this club!     But Jesus' church is not a highbrow country club. The church should exclude no one. The church should welcome those unwelcome anywhere else. Anyone can attend. And yet most churches are not a place where people feel comfortable if they are living a life that is not moral. In fact, the church is often a place where most people don't feel comfortable if they're just living life.     Apart from God's grace and the maturity to see each human being as His creation, we are prone to reject those who are different from us. Have you ever wished that certain people wouldn't speak or be so prominent in your congregation? You would be more comfortable bringing unchurched friends if those slightly embarrassing brothers and sisters weren't there, or at least were invisible. My family reunion would look much better (trust me) if it were by invitation only. But when you include the entire family, you get a few embarrassments. And your family is no doubt the same. So it is with my church family. That is a simple fact, given what we have to work with: sinners.     We need to trust God with those who are a little embarrassing to those of us who are not. (How amazing that our prideful minds can even think like that.) We might even take the bold step of befriending them. Believers who hang around with a homogeneous group of carbon-copy Christians limit their own growth. But more on that in the next chapter. The Sinner-Sensitive Church I recall dating a girl long before I met my beloved Joni. (This book-writing stuff is dangerous.) I asked her to go to church with me. She was not a Christian and did not know the official rules. As you might have gathered, our church published them in a multi-volume set. She arrived at church wearing a strapless dress that the congregation found scandalous. In her mind she was simply wearing her best dress to church; she had no idea she was doing anything wrong. Actually, she wasn't doing anything wrong, but you get the point. From the moment we walked in, the two of us felt the saints' reproachful laser-beam stares of righteousness drilling into us. Instead of asking God to make her heart receptive to His Word, I spent the service worrying about what this pea-brained congregation thought of me. I must be honest and report that a handful of gracious people in the body welcomed us, but most folks were just busy being appalled.     This would not happen in the sinner-sensitive church.     The sinner-sensitive church (SSC) is my proposal for a new church movement toward making everyone feel welcomed and loved. The SSC would model nonjudgmental attitudes. Issues like having tattoos, body piercings, weird hair, or ugly shoes would not necessarily denote demon possession. The SSC would pledge not to gossip because we would realize that it is only by the grace of God that we are not the current targets. The sinner-sensitive church would value every spiritual, physical, and financial gift, no matter how big or small. This church would appreciate but not elevate the person who built the new wing with the large financial endowment. The SSC would make it a practice to reach out, touch, and care for one another sacrificially because we know that we all fall down in life and in our Christian walk. At the SSC we would have executives holding hands in prayer with laborers and not thinking twice about it. Blacks and whites and Hispanics and others would break bread together because we are all sinners in the eyes of a color-blind God.     The sinner-sensitive church would give freely out of profound gratitude to a God who somehow saw fit to give us an undeserved chance. The sinner-sensitive church would practice the prodigal son ministry; running to welcome those returning from mistakes and bad decisions and sin. Our members would get involved in other people's lives. We would hold our brothers and sisters accountable to godly standards. Marriage would be cherished. Families would have a community of support during problems and trials. The congregation of the SSC would not be so self-centered that we would demand the undivided attention of the pastor at every little crisis. Other believers would help meet many of those needs that we now prefer to leave to the "professional Christians" on staff. The people of this church would come with hearts ready to be fed but also realizing that God has provided resources beyond any available in history to meet our spiritual hunger. And should we walk out the church doors still needy, we would know we can draw from the marvelous resources of Christian books, music, radio, video, tapes, Internet, and studies to meet our needs. Any one of us could be filled to overflowing if that were our desire.     The sinner-sensitive church would also delight in the company of other spiritual travelers and make it a priority that no one ever felt alone. We would make each other feel valuable but, on occasion, a little uncomfortable. Being comfortable in church is not the primary goal. I am not always comfortable at the dentist's office. I often arrive in pain because I have neglected to do what I should have done. The staff always makes me feel welcome and even cared for. Then the dentist confronts me with the truth: "You have let this go too long, and I must hurt you (a little) in order to heal you. You will have to pay a financial price and spend time recovering before you are completely well." Those are the facts of my dental hygiene sin. The sinner-sensitive church would not back off the truth either. Decay in the enamel or soul must be addressed. We will tell one another the truth and explain that the process might be a little painful. We would participate in ongoing preventative maintenance and help one another deal with problems as soon as possible, before they become even more painful and expensive to fix.     The SSC would worship with enthusiasm, whether singing hymns or praise choruses, because God is worthy of that praise. The sinner-sensitive fellowship would have a sense of profound reverence because we have received God's grace, the most amazing gift ever offered. The sinner-sensitive church would be so excited about this grace that the incredible news of the gospel would be as much a part of who we are as our jobs and our families. (Continues...) Excerpted from When Bad Christians Happen to Good People by Dave Burchett. Copyright © 2002 by Dave Burchett. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Introduction: A Brief Disclaimerp. 1
Part I Silencing the Lambs: The Indefensible Things We Do to One Another
1. The Unfriendliest Club in Town?p. 13
2. The Schism Trailp. 31
3. WJSHTOT?p. 41
4. Fear Christianityp. 51
5. Whose Idea Was This?p. 67
Part II Why Won't Those Heathens Listen? Thoughts on How We Lost Our Audience
6. Our Walkin's Ain't Matchin' Our talkin'p. 83
7. CSL: Christian As a Second Languagep. 95
8. Godly or Gaudy?p. 105
9. Jesus Wept...and He Still Doesp. 115
10. The Culture War: Rambo or Conscientious Objector?p. 125
Part III Reality-Based Faith for Survivors: Being Real in an Artificial World
11. This Is a Hard Teaching!p. 149
12. Six Things I Learned About Evangelism During Election 2000p. 167
13. Don't Know Much About Theologyp. 193
14. All God's Children Got Souls, Even the Annoying Onesp. 207
15. Pleading Humanityp. 221
16. Loose Endsp. 233
17. Now What?p. 241