Several years ago I was preparing a sermon when I thought of a joke that mentioned Justin Bieber.
The next day while reviewing my notes I saw the joke and paused. This was a throwaway laugh about an actual human being – a person made in the image of God – and I was about to use his name to get a cheap laugh in a Sunday morning sermon.
“Would I tell that joke about someone who was in the room to hear it?” I asked myself. Immediately I knew the answer. Not a chance. It wasn’t good-natured fun. It had an edge. It was mean.
At the time, Justin Bieber was just a teenager.
I felt sick.
Fame Is No Excuse For Ridicule
Thankfully, I had the chance to delete it from my notes before it saw the light of day.
It made me wonder how many times I’d done something similar to someone in an offhand conversation without the chance to review and withdraw it.
Since then I’ve determined to carefully monitor my speaking and writing to be sure I never speak about a person in a demeaning way. In sermons, blog posts, Facebook pages, conversations, anywhere.
Sure, Justin Bieber is one of the most famous people on the planet. He’s used to being ridiculed, joked about and criticized. That’s the price of fame.
But that should make no difference to me. Or maybe it should.
As a follower of Jesus, not only do I not have the right to treat any other human being badly, I have an extra obligation not to pile on to someone who’s already receiving so much hurtful attention. No amount of adulation or money can balance that ledger in a person’s heart.
I mustn’t treat anyone as anything less than they are – someone created in God’s image and loved dearly by him. Their fame doesn’t reduce my obligation to treat people with godly love and compassion.
Love Them Anyway
Sure, I can still disagree with them. I do so with members of my own family, after all. Sometimes with great passion, even anger.
And yes, we can share a laugh about someone who isn’t in the room to appreciate it. As long as it doesn’t demean them.
But nothing gives me an excuse not to behave with decency and humanity towards everyone.
Not only should I not do this to an entertainer in a throwaway joke, this also applies to politicians, activists, even heretics. You know, all those “enemies” Jesus commanded us (yes, commanded us!) to love anyway (Matthew 5:43-48).
Nothing should change that. Not their fame or obscurity. Not their beliefs or behavior. Not their wealth or poverty. Not my anger or sense of humor. Not even their attitude towards me and the things I believe.
“Do unto others…” doesn’t have any loopholes (Matthew 7:12).
This article originally appeared here.