Sharon Hodde Miller on Why Niceness Weakens Our Christian Witness

God did not call you to be nice. This statement has been rattling around in my head for well over a year now, and I haven’t been able to shake it. It has reemerged at crucial moments, not as an excuse to be snarky, angry, or rude, but because I have noticed something going on in my heart, and in the church, for a while now: A competing allegiance. A warm and inviting idolatry that has managed to wedge itself between us and true obedience to Christ.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved to be nice—not just loved but needed—and it is an identity I have struggled to leave behind. I want to be accepted, and I want to be embraced. As a lifelong nice girl, I have not only felt this pressure but I have also caved in to it often. The need to be nice has influenced my ministry as well as my relationships. I have backed away from hard conversations or softened my convictions, opting instead for the wide gate of niceness.

“Niceness” is a form of superficial kindness that’s used as a means to a selfish end. I identify it as an idol in my life because I have served it tirelessly, and it has served me well in return. My devotion to it has won me a lot of acceptance and praise, but it has also inhibited my courage, fed my self-righteousness, encouraged my inauthenticity, and produced in me a flimsy sweetness that easily gives way to disdain.

As I look beyond my own heart, I see this same phenomenon everywhere. Niceness has become a social currency in our culture, one that we value highly without ever really realizing it. I once discussed this topic with Christina Edmondson, dean of intercultural student development at Calvin College and cohost of the podcast Truth’s Table, and she remarked that “we are wooed by superficial niceness. Satiated by it.” We will forgive all manner of ills in a person we deem to be nice. We use niceness to grease the wheels of our social interactions. We employ it like a ladder, helping us to scale the heights of our career. And for many Christians, following Jesus means we are just really, really nice.

The friend who says a hard thing that we need to hear, the pastor who holds us accountable, the leader who disrupts the status quo—these not-nice behaviors are frequently met with swift rejection and even rage. Friendships end. Church members leave. Social media burns with outrage. These kinds of reactions tell us something about the role of niceness in our culture. It isn’t just a social expectation—it’s a sacred cow.

When we turn to it for promotions in our workplace, preference in our community, and power in our ministry, niceness is no longer a harmless social default but an alternative god whose promises compete with Christ. In sum, it stands between us and obedience.

So, how did we get here? And what does niceness mean for our Christian witness?

Going back to ancient times, virtue has traditionally referred to a particular moral good. In Plato’s Republic, the philosopher names four classical virtues: wisdom, temperance, courage, and justice. These virtues are not merely about doing the right thing—they’re about doing it for the right reason. Plato describes virtue as “the desire of things honorable,” which means we are motivated by a greater good outside ourselves.

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Source: Christianity Today