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The Scariest Nice Person in Your Church

What comes to mind when you think of “one-hand clapping”?

Perhaps you think of the Zen “koan” in which the Zen master asks the student, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” For months, the student searches for it in vain until meditating and arriving at the “soundless sound” that transcends all sound.[1]

“One Hand Clapping” is also the title of an album by Paul McCartney and Wings, recorded in 1974, released June of 2024.

“One hand clapping” is also apparently a party trick. Over half a million YouTube viewers have learned in 1.5 minutes how to whiplash one arm back and forth in such a way (wrist rigid, fingers loose) that you literally clap with one hand.

Then there’s a wise, cautionary saying: “Beware the sound of one hand clapping.” That is, since there are always at least a couple sides to an argument, you ought to get suspicious when you keep hearing only one side. Where did the other voice go? Is it being held under water, blowing bubbles until it expires? Buried into oblivion under ten Google pages? The voice went somewhere.


“Where did the other voice go? Is it being held under water, blowing bubbles until it expires?”


Dominant ways of thinking among cultural elites in our Western world have become like a party in which wild and absurd ideas are invited and welcomed and appreciated, but biblical truth is often uninvited to the party—unless Bible verses have been distorted out of all recognition.

In one corner of the party, you’ve got a group of scientifically-minded secularists discussing their theories. One says, “Well, the way we explain life is that first there was no life, and then after a long period of time, the pieces came together, and life began.”

“Brilliant,” says another.

Someone chimes in, “I propose that there’s not just this one universe but literally an infinite number of universes out there, and if there’s an infinite number of universes, then one of them has to have life. Fortunate for us, that’s the one we got.”

“Well said,” says another.

A Christian walks into the circle: “I personally think there’s compelling scientific evidence that there was a Creator behind the universe and behind the complexity of life.” The circle becomes a buzzsaw, as they turn to the Christian in a mixture of pity and disdain. “Well, that’s certainly a way our prescientific ancestors might have looked at it.”


“Well, that’s certainly a way our prescientific ancestors might have looked at it.”


In another corner of the party, you have a group of pop-culture spiritual gurus, many featured regularly on Oprah’s network. “I’m convinced the best word we can use to describe Jesus is ‘Buddha.’ Jesus too found enlightenment; it’s just too bad his followers entrapped him in Jewish and Hellenistic categories.”

“Precisely,” says another. “That explains why Jesus said that he was the way, the truth, and the life. You see, we are all the way, the truth, and the life.”

“It seems to me,” says another, “that all religions teach this same basic truth: that the divine essence dwells within the soul. Our main societal sicknesses arise from our conception of ourselves as separate souls instead of as one collective, divine soul.”

The Christian tries to join in the discussion. “I actually believe Jesus is God and that he came to earth to be our Savior. We’ll never be God, but Jesus is able to reconcile us with him.” They turn, puzzled and patronizing. What a small-minded thing to say, their expressions say.


“What a small-minded thing to say, their expressions say.”


In another corner, a circle of ethicists discuss some of the latest discoveries within human sexuality. One laments that although bisexuality and pansexuality get most of the press, we tend to forget other sexualities, such as demisexuals, omnisexuals, and skoliosexuals.

“As long as large swaths of our culture tolerate heterosexuality as normative, we will maintain a world which doesn’t accept the existence of these sexual minorities.” All heads seem to be nodding in agreement.

The Christian speaks up. “But didn’t God create us male and female, with bodies that complement each other and lead to reproduction? I’d say these other sexualities are ways of disobeying God’s vision for our bodies.” The mood shifts to awkward, as the Christian’s words strike the group as bigoted and toxic.

Apparently, in these snapshots, almost everybody gathered has learned the party trick of “one hand clapping.”


“Apparently, in these snapshots, almost everybody gathered has learned the party trick of ‘one hand clapping.'”


There are a number of Christian convictions which have been disinvited from conversation in polite society. These include beliefs about what’s true/false and good/evil, and they’re not limited to peripheral doctrines, as they deal with questions of salvation, the supremacy of Jesus, heaven/hell, human life, sexuality, marriage, and gender, to name a few. Yet these biblical convictions increasingly find themselves invited—and, when necessary, shoved—into the closet. So that we can all resume the tranquility of the soundless sound.

But wait. We haven’t yet gotten to the purpose of this article, have we? What was the title again? “The Scariest Nice Person in Your Church.” By temperament, I actually like nice people, and I even try to be one most of the time. This article isn’t an invitation to stop monitoring our tone and stop playing nice, since apparently niceness isn’t as convincing as we’d like it to be. To be clear, we are compelled by our pursuit of Christlikeness to become ever-more kind, gentle, and compassionate (as well as ever-more truthful, holy, and courageous), whether they’re working as a strategy or not.

So, the problem is not niceness per se. The problem is niceness which feels soothed by “one hand” peacefulness and which buys into the accusations made against those who disturb that peace. What I’m describing are nice people who don’t necessarily disagree with unpopular Christian convictions—but they are effective in shushing those convictions and anesthetizing the Christian side of the clap. Because, as they explain, it’s not nice to say offensive truths or quote distasteful Bible verses.


“What I’m describing are nice people who don’t necessarily disagree with unpopular Christian convictions—but they are effective in shushing those convictions and anesthetizing the Christian side of the clap.”


Let’s take the issue of abortion. When it comes to the issue of abortion or methods of birth control which could cause abortion, there are two main sides. You have the side that says that a fetus is a human life and that it’s wrong to kill human life. Then, you’ve got the side that shifts the focus to the mother’s right to do what she wants with her own body. Or to the soulish development of the fetus, apart from the fact of biological human life.

At the same time, you’ll also have Christians who might be pro-life and who aren’t necessarily pro-choice—but they will try to enforce a one-hand clapping policy in the name of niceness. When one Christian speaks out against abortion on behalf of the unborn, let’s say from the pulpit, these Christians are quick to say,

“You really should tone it down. Jesus didn’t actually talk about abortion. And you know what Jesus did say? To love people. You’re not being very compassionate or loving to bring up such a divisive topic. Think about the women in this church who have had abortions! You want to heap shame on them by bringing up abortion? And it’s also so political to talk about abortion. Do you really want the younger generation thinking you’re a Christian nationalist?”

These Christians who want to quiet other Christians down are enforcers of the one-hand policy. They may not be on the other side themselves, but they are effectively silencing brave Christians so that the other side continues proud and unengaged.


“They may not be on the other side themselves, but they are effectively silencing brave Christians so that the other side continues proud and unengaged.”


You need to be aware of this tendency. If abortion really does take a human life made in God’s image, then it’s not right to silence the people trying to point this out. If gender transitions really do dishonor God and devalue our bodies, it’s a type of complicity and cowardice to shame those who try to speak this truth. If ongoing sexual immorality means people will not “inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:10), then it’s not doing anybody any favors to mute the person who says so. Yes, we need to speak compassionately and with grace and not condemnation. But we are to speak truth.

While niceness has an important role—to teach us tact—it’s being weaponized to bully our most courageous voices into dullness and disengagement. If we keep taking our cues from one-hand enforcers about when to talk and when not to, we’ll end up learning a whole lot of niceties and forget how to say anything.


[1] Charlie Ambler, “Zen Story: The Sound of One Hand Clapping,” The Daily Zen, March 23, 2015, https://thedailyzen.org/2015/03/23/zen-story-the-sound-of-one-hand-clapping/.

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