Are you familiar with the expression “gotcha”? The informal term, according to dictionary.com, means “I have got you (used to express satisfaction at having captured or defeated someone or uncovered their faults).” I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of the “gotcha” culture that is reaching critical mass in our public discourse, not just in the world but in “Christian” circles. I think I am on good grounds to assume that our God is as well.
Here a few practical ways to help us get rid of the “gotcha” vibe:
Think with peace-pursuing wisdom.
Before we get to the mouth, we have to begin with our mindset. James is clear that we can judge the source of wisdom based upon how well it produces or reduces peace. “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace (Ja. 3:13-18).
What is the fruit of your online posts and informal conversations about others? Is it divisive and critical-that’s worldly, carnal, and demonic! Is it authentic, tender, and edifying-that has the touch of heavenly wisdom upon it! Every word from your lips is producing fruit in one of these two categories…and savoring the flaws of others in a public forum unquestionably falls into the first and “accuser of the brethren” category.
Catch people doing right.
The root of this issue is a critical spirit that is flesh-oriented. It objectifies people based upon surface-level issues that puts them down and supposedly lifts us up. The paradigm shift toward sanctification must move from a negative to a positive outlook. Fight your flesh by looking for redeeming qualities in even your stiffest competition or worst enemy. They are there if you look for them. They likely will grow if you will water them with your life-giving words. While there are times for rebuke toward an erring believer, that will never effectively occur without affirmation that precedes and follows it (the “sandwich principle”).
A comment toward someone else is only holy if it helps them. As Ken Blanchard wisely asserts, “Help people reach their full potential. Catch them doing something right.” Too often our view of others is negative and reactionary where it needs to be positive and inspiring. When is the last time that you saw something wholesome and healthy in the life of another, and you intentionally and sincerely affirmed it? Start there. Stay there.
Allow the words of Jesus to rebuke your pharisaical tendencies.
May I submit to you a tough truth: our own “gotcha” tendency is fully aligned with the group that Jesus rebuked the most-the Pharisees. Why was Jesus “always picking on the Pharisees?” The answer is unveiled in these words from Matthew 23:24,”Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” We get caught up in gnat-sized technicalities being “violated or overemphasized” by others without considering the more camel-sized, spiritual issues that we have not addressed in our own hearts.
Before you think this point is not for you, listen to the words of Scott Sauls in his book A Gentle Answer: “Whenever a feeling rises in us that resembles the Pharisee’s prayer, “Thank you, my God, that I am not like other men!” (see Luke 18:9–14), the most important thing we can do is pause, take inventory of our hearts, and run to Jesus for clarity and also for mercy—even, and perhaps especially, when the other people we are repudiating and condemning are the Pharisees themselves. In our certainty that we are not like them, we ironically show ourselves to be among them.”
Focus upon letting the person being maligned know that you’ve “got their back” in both private and public discourse.
When you personally know of the issue and the brother or sister in question, it is very likely that you are meant to come to their aid and defense. While the tendency is to go after the slanderer, your first and primary move is likely toward the slandered. Spend less time attacking the gotcha king or queen; spend more time affirming the one being publicly subjected to their assault. To go after the offender is to likely add fuel to a raging, ignorant fire that will only further singe the reputation of your friend. I know it is initially exhilarating to have someone come to your defense. But…to wade into the deep end of the gotcha pool, will not end well for you or the one you are attempting to help. As Mark Twain wisely asserts, ““Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”
There is a single, redemptive spin on the term “gotcha” that we should keep in mind. “Gotcha Day” is a term commonly used for the anniversary of the day on which a person joins a family by adoption. Why not “adopt” another person who is being unfairly treated by others? This is what several did for Paul in Acts 14, “And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead. Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.” Oh for men and women who would identify with those who others are attacking and disowning! Proverbs 17:17 reminds us, “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
If the person being publicly humiliated is you, talk first and foremost TO GOD about them.
This principles is what Jesus embodied during his earthly ministry and advises us today, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Mt. 5:44). Don’t say nothing to nobody until you’ve first talked to God (I know used a double or triple negative). Anyone worth their salt spiritually found a way to not allow their critics to get them off message or off in their spirit before the Lord. How-through prayer! Stop reacting to the meandering path of the mob. Starting running to the throne of grace. Stop sniping. Start supplicating.
To the observant ear, the public discourse of a maligned individual who has first prayed rings differently than the one who has not. You may need to confront a specific accusation at some point, but what is the overall tone of your online and in-person conversation? Is it obvious to the Lord and others that prayer always precedes your response to the gotcha culture that is directed toward you, your friend, your family, or your church? While this post covers a topic that is on the rise in the world, it is sadly also indicative of prayer that has fallen on hard times in the church. (The world has always “picked on” Christians; the church of old largely prayed more.)
Would you join me in refusing to be found among the ranks of those peddling gleeful posts and comments mocking others for their self-aggrandizing gain and platform? It is not about “who we are” or “who they are not.” The gospel of Jesus Christ alone, not personal politics or preferences, is where we find our heaven-sent message to share with the nations. Paul concludes Galatians, a book confronting nitpicking legalism, with these wise, timely words:
“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen” (Ga. 6:14-18).