Last fall, a friend from church was distraught. She forwarded me a video that has since gone viral and left her confused and alarmed. When I viewed it, I understood why.

In the controversial clip, John MacArthur shares his thoughts about popular speaker and author Beth Moore, declaring she should “go home” and citing the dangers of “women preachers.” His theological differences with her came as no surprise, but the sharp personal disdain—all in the name of sound doctrine—undermined any gospel message that was there.

Perhaps even more unsettling than his tone was the response of his audience, laughing in the background as if they relished his vitriol.

Such unfortunate images of Christian infighting and meanness are all too common, and they cause confusion and hurt. The trope “I love Jesus but hate the church” is contradictory, but the sentiment behind it resonates with many.

It saddened and angered me to see such an unloving attack being made in the name of Christ. At the same time, I confess I felt an unease about the ugliness it stirred up inside me. I found myself judging and assigning all kinds of motives to those people in the video. I had to wonder: Was my reaction to them any better than their reaction to Beth Moore? Of course, I felt my own indignation was warranted and reflected God’s heart. But MacArthur seemed equally confident he was the one on the side of truth.

It’s never been easy for followers of Jesus to embrace that we’re all part of the same big family. And today, Christians who strike us as exhibiting un-Christlike behavior have a constant public platform on social media and elsewhere online. The power of their voices in shaping society’s ...

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