The Power of Contempt

The world is full of “love songs” that suggest that the greatest power on earth is LOVE. In the Bible we are told that “God is Love,” not suggesting that the Creator of the Universe is an abstraction— but that the single-most important thing that God wants us to know about Himself is His love and intention to act according to that love, for us.


Maybe it is accurate to say that the most powerful emotion overall is love… but that does not necessarily mean that love wins in all situations. Just as an Olympic shot-putter is likely to do poorly in rhythmic gymnastics, there are situations where love is over-matched.

In a recent article in The Atlantic (Click HERE to read it), the work of The Gottman Institute was referenced that showed the power of contempt to break up marriages. Contempt destroys marriage and overwhelms love. Negative or contemptuous responses destroy marriages more effectively than loving words heal marriages.

Additionally, I remember a few years ago, I went to a training in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where the issue of marriage stability (especially within the context of missionaries) was discussed. It was noted that it takes about 5 loving acts or statements to undo the damage of one act or statement that is viewed as hateful or contemptuous. Even then, it is hard to say that the damage is undone– so, for example, if a marriage has conversations shared that are 60% loving and 40% contemptuous, the marriage is doomed.

So what does that have to do with missions? Looking at social media, I find a lot of Christians who are pretty good at expressing contempt. This includes (listing a few among many):

  • Contempt for LGBTQ individuals and community
  • Contempt for drug addicts
  • Contempt for illegal aliens
  • Contempt for those from countries that are politically antagonistic to our own.
  • Contempt for those of competing religions
  • Contempt for those who vote for other political candidates

In conflict with this, these same Christians will commonly state that they love all people (in line with the Great Commandment of Jesus) and that they wish to share their faith in line with that love.

So suppose a Christian is sharing his faith to a person who is part of a group that that Christian (or others that that Christian associates or identifies with) expresses contempt for. So the hearer of the gospel recognizes a loving statement (hopefully) from the Christian of God’s grace, and equally senses contempt from that same person.

Which do you think wins?  Love or Contempt?

A nice blog post on similar concerns with contempt is HERE.