It’s interesting to track the evolution of “bitterness” from what was said in scripture to what is being taught by Independent Baptist Fundamentalists today. Bitterness is only mentioned in passing three or four times in the New Testament. When listening to some pastors teach on the subject, you would think that Jesus traveled around doing nothing but warning the world about this terrible thing we call bitterness. Christians today have learned to fear the label of bitterness as they fear hell itself.
In some circles the name-calling and manipulation surrounding this subject is so bad that it's eerily reminiscent of the Salem witch trials. It’s become a peer pressure thing that is used to control and silence people from speaking their minds. Anyone who speaks their mind or bucks the system is likely to be accused of being bitter, and once that label is applied, they’re figuratively basically burned at the stake. It amazes me at how afraid the average Independent Baptist Fundamentalist is of getting angry or being labeled as bitter for any reason whatsoever.
Independent Baptist Fundamentalist Christians fear being called bitter because they know in their own heart what THEY think and do when someone else is given that title. There is immediate feelings of disrespect, scorn, contempt, and self-righteous pity. No matter what the accused person says in their own defense, they can’t be trusted because their words are contaminated and full of poison. These people are treated as if they have a contagious disease and are out to lead others astray. It’s basically an excuse to totally write a person off in an instant. Amazingly, Independent Baptist Fundamentalist' have had thier minds so programed that if the very thought that a person may be bitter enters their brains, they instantly shut down like a computer firewall protecting itself against a virus. I think for the most part, they can’t even help themselves anymore. It’s become an involuntary knee-jerk reaction that just snaps the moment the “B” word is spoken. Their ears instantly become deaf, attention span goes blank, and the walls of self protection shoot up. It’s like from the moment they hear or think that word, they don’t even think that they are talking to a real person anymore. In many ways it reminds me of the term "Commie" in the 1960s. The mere suggestion that a person my be a communist was all it took to completely destroy a persons reputation in an instant.
Several months ago, I posted on a facebook group, something entitled, “Are You Bitter” that basically pointed out that people should be angry about the abuse that is happening on a daily basis in their church. The point of the post was to confront people’s passive attitude concerning the pain that is caused in the hearts of people at the hands of the fundamentalist Baptist's. It was nothing short of amazing to see how many people couldn’t get past the fact that I used the word “bitter” instead of “anger.” I receieved personal messages here on facebook and emails. The entire debates broke out as to whether or not the words are interchangeable. People missed the whole heart of the post because the moment they saw the “B” word in writing their brains went into shut-down-mode, and they became blind to the heart of what was being said. I also lost many facebook "friends" over this one post as well.
I have found that many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist's use the bitterness topic as an excuse to retreat from anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. If they tell themselves that the person they're talking to is bitter, they give themselves a full pardon from having to listen to any part of the conversation. It’s a way (in their mind) to commit a legal character assassination and the easiest and most accepted way to simply write someone’s words and message off without giving it a second thought.
A sermon, “Losing Your Religion” was given to an Independent Baptist Fundamentalist pastor and his staff to listen to. The entire staff sat quietly in the room and listened to the sermon together. Many of them were visibly moved and challenged. Their countenance resembled that of a person who had been stranded on an island for 20 years and had finally found a boat. There was hope in the air. Others were scribbling notes as the CD played. As the sermon neared the end, some of them had their head in their hands, and others were moved to tears. The moment the CD was finished, the senior pastor cleared his throat and said two simple words that instantaneously changed the spirit of the entire room; “He’s bitter.” Within seconds, everyone in the room was back to normal as it they hadn’t heard a single word. Tears were dried and gone. The prospect of freedom had escaped them and those who had taken notes tossed them in the trash on their way out. Not another word was spoken about the message from that day forward.
Though I suspect that the comment section below may be inundated with people trying to school me as to the difference between bitterness and anger, the bottom line is that human beings cannot distinguish any difference in their heart. It’s the same no matter how you slice it. If you have a fear of being bitter; you fear being angry, because to your heart, they’re one and the same. If you look up the word “bitter” in the dictionary, the first word used to define it is the word “anger.”
If Christians are made to fear bitterness, it goes without saying that they will naturally fear getting angry as well. They’ll naturally view any form of anger as a prerequisite to bitterness. This is a significant problem for about a million reasons, but the first and perhaps most powerful reason is that if a person rejects any form of anger in their life, they basically cripple themselves emotionally. They literally have to reject themselves.
For us to successfully prohibit ourselves from experiencing anger at any level, we have to remove entire circuit boards from our brains. The problem is that within the fabric of those very circuit boards is a little thing called common sense. Once those circuit boards are removed, common sense goes out the door with it. Our ability to empathize with others is also taken away. Even our discernment into spiritual truth becomes stunted. To forcefully remove any emotion from the human psyche, a person must remove themselves from themselves. I believe that this is exactly what this generation of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Christian people have done. It amazes me how many people openly admit that they haven’t the slightest idea who they are. I honestly think that all of this can be traced back to our mindset on the subject of bitterness. It’s amazing to count the number of believers whose eyes were opened to the lies of their church the moment they allowed themselves to become unashamedly angry at something that happened to them. While anger and bitterness certainly have the potential to destroy our lives if we allow either to control us, I also believe that both anger and bitterness are the precursor to finding freedom from bondage. In my experience, the people who refuse to allow themselves to get angry, end up finding themselves in the deepest possible bondage. They’re literally blind. The people who finally allow themselves to get angry, find that their eyes pop wide open to their present state of bondage. Through their anger they are able to see exactly what is happening to them with amazing clarity. I have found that anger is one of the greatest motivators in the world. When we look through the Old Testament it is amazing to see how often people used their anger to make a change. Today however, we have been taught that to even have a small trace of anger is a weakness.
I am convinced that pastors and Fundamentalist College leaders repeatedly place unwanted stigmas and stereotypes over bitterness because it’s a way to ensure continued silence and submission to their authority. They know that the moment someone allows themselves to get angry; their eyes will be opened and their mouth will NOT remain shut. An angry person is more likely to state the obvious and ask embarrassing questions that everyone else is terrified to ask. If you can convince a crowd of people that getting angry is uncool and even dangerous, you’ll own that entire crowd.
What some of fundamentalist leaders call bitterness is, for believers, the exit door from their religious bondage. It’s interesting that regardless of the terminology and tone that I use when explaining this, there is always someone who accuses me of being bitter. They don’t bring this accusation because my countenance and tone was hissing in bitterness. They accuse me of it because in their minds they cannot fathom anyone having the guts to say the things I say unless they were angry. They also use the accusation of bitterness as an excuse to shut themselves down to what I’m saying so they won’t have to deal with it. It’s like a “get out of listening to Cathy free card.”
Many people mistake directness, confidence and conviction for bitterness and anger because both mindsets seem to produce the same results. In both scenarios a person isn’t afraid to standup and boldly proclaim the truth. If people become afraid of getting angry, they’ll follow along with anything they’re told to do. Make no mistake about it, when any of us buy into this way of thinking and refuse to allow our hearts to express aggravation, indignation, irritation or exasperation; we lose. When I hear people make comments about abused believers, calling them “a bunch of bitter people who were hurt by the church,” I see exactly what they are doing. They’re using the feared labels to lock the cell doors of those who are still in, and they are manipulating those who have left to shut up and sink so that the accusers themselves can slip back into blindness and bondage.
When I watch people begin this path of freedom, I can literally count the steps that they’ll go through like clock work. The first hump that most people have to overcome is that constant inner battle and fear that they’re being bitter or critical. They’ve been taught to fear the appearance of being critical like the plague. They’ll say this over and over when expressing what’s happening to them spiritually. Almost every sentence they use begins with, “I don’t want to sound bitter.....but,” or “I don’t mean to be critical.....but.” For many well meaning folks this is the biggest obstacle they have to overcome before they can find freedom. They beat themselves to death over and over because everything within them is pointing out the truth and noticing the lies. The mere act of knowing when they’re being lied to makes them feel like they’re being critical and un-submissive. Words like “critical” are cleverly and purposefully tucked next to words like “bitterness” for a very specific reason. If you can get someone to fear being critical, they’ll never open their mouths again. In Independent Baptist Fundamentalism, the word “critical” has become the gold ring in the snout of controlled Christians. They have become so hypersensitive to it that their “leaders” can effortlessly tug them around wherever they want like helpless dumb animals, and the people follow quietly because the people are so afraid of opening our mouths and sounding critical.
In my opinion, the Independent Baptist modern day view of bitterness is simply not scriptural. Yes, there is scripture that warns people from allowing bitterness to control their entire lives, but there isn’t scripture that would justify our current perceptions of bitterness today. They have successfully convinced the followers to become terrified of it. If there is even the slightest bit of irritation over something, they become instantly nervous that a root of bitterness is about to get them and drag them to hell. I’m sorry, but this message simply is NOT found anywhere in the Bible. This is a modern day phenomenon, and I believe that it’s not by accident.