Criticism is a valuable tool.
When it’s done right it can, and has, changed hearts and minds.
Martin Luther did it with his 95 Theses. Martin Luther King Jr. did it with his I Have a Dream speech. Long before both of them, Jesus did it with the Sermon On the Mount.
Criticism done well can be a powerful tool for change in culture, politics and the church. When done poorly, it debases everyone and often hurts the criticizer more the one being criticized.
The church needs better critics.
As Christians – especially Christian leaders – our criticism should elevate the conversation, not debase it. We need to offer valid criticisms of the church and the culture without becoming part of the mess.
Here are 9 principles I try to remember whenever I offer a criticism in writing or speaking:
1. Make Sure of the Facts
The internet has overloaded us with data. And rumors. And outright lies.
Just because something you heard, read or saw matches your preconceptions, doesn’t make it true. If you’re going to offer criticism, make sure you’re criticizing accurately.
Recently I ran into one of those e-rumors on Facebook. I usually let them go, but I knew this one wasn’t true, and I thought the person passing it along would want to know that. Not so much.
Even after proving it to be false, they kept passing it along. Their reasoning? “Even if this one isn’t true, this is the kind of thing those people do all the time.”
Sorry, no. Passing along lies as facts doesn’t help your case, it hurts it.
Speaking of “those people...”
2. Aim Narrow
It’s easy, cheap and unhelpful to assign blame to an entire group of people based on the actions of one – or a few.
Valid criticism always keeps its aim narrowly focused on a specific subject and does everything it can to avoid collateral damage.
3. Realize that Your Information Is Incomplete
Even when your facts are correct, you never have all of them.
As a pastor, I’ve been criticized for decisions I’ve made, but I’ve been unable to defend myself without betraying a confidence. The decision was right, but it looked wrong. And I couldn’t make it look right without hurting innocent people.
If that happens to me, it can happen to others in positions of authority, including presidents, police officers, civic leaders and others.
On the other end of the authority scale, if you aren’t a member of a particular minority, there’s no way to fully understand that minority’s plight, their fears or their anger. What seems obvious from the outside, looks very different from the inside.