Why Are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and UBF Members So…

A clever analysis of religious groups has been circulating on the internet. I first saw it in this article by Christian author Frank Viola, but it has been popping up in other places as well.

The idea is elegant. Sit down at your computer and bring up Google or any search engine that has an autocomplete feature.  As you type a word or phrase, the search engine will predict what you are trying to type based on what other people have typed in the past. A small menu appears with suggested ways to complete your expression. This pop-up menu provides a window into public thoughts and perceptions.

When someone typed the words “Why are Christians so” into Google, this is what appeared.


Why Are Christians So

These results ought to be sobering. The distinguishing characteristic of a disciple of Christ, the mark by which we are supposed to be known in the world, is love. In John 13:35, Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  This confirms what researcher David Kinnamon and others have been saying for a long time. Christians, especially evangelicals, have a serious image problem.

Actually, it’s far worse than an image problem. Calling it an image problem suggests that (a) the public has gotten us wrong, (b) that we are actually wonderful people after all, (c) that if people really knew us, they would see how wonderful we are, and (d) the solution to this problem is to correct people’s misperceptions by getting out the message of how wonderful we are. I don’t buy that analysis. If large numbers of people don’t feel loved by us, the primary reason is that we have failed to demonstrate Christ’s love in ways that they can understand. The solution is not to change people’s minds but to change the ways in which we interact with them and demonstrate love.

Someone repeated the procedure for other major religious groups and summarized the results with a Venn diagram.



In the realm of public image, Muslims and Jews don’t fare much better than Christians. The adjectives applied to Muslims and Jews (in many cases, no doubt, by people who identify themselves as Christians) include a laundry list of ugly stereotypes.

I found it ironic that the only adjective applied to Buddhists was happy. The Buddhist worldview is summarized by the so-called Four Noble Truths. Noble Truth #1 is usually stated as, “To live is to suffer.” The other truths explain that the root cause of suffering is human desire, and the way to escape from suffering is to purify your desires, adjust your expectations, and live wisely. In other words, Buddhism dedicates itself not to the pursuit of happiness, but to the acceptance of suffering. So why has Buddhism, in the marketplace of public opinion, become the purveyor of happiness? Why hasn’t Christianity been able to do that? (After love, the next mark of a Christian, according to Galatians 5:22, is supposed to be joy.) 

On a whim, I went to Google and typed, “Why are UBF members so.” Nothing came up. Apparently, so few people have typed those words that the search engine was unable to make a prediction.

A few years ago, however, I sat down with a group of young people to conduct an informal focus group. All the participants were in their late teens (about 18 years old) and had grown up in UBF in various western nations. I asked them, “When you think about UBF, what adjectives come to mind?”

They could think of only one.

Before I reveal what they said, allow me to tell a related story. A few months after that informal focus group, I attended a UBF staff conference and participated in a seminar on the topic of second-gen education. The audience included about 60 or 70 UBF chapter directors and leaders from North America. I told them about the focus group that I had held a few months earlier. I asked the audience to predict what adjectives the second-gens had used to describe UBF. They imagined that the second gens had said

  • hard-working,
  • dedicated,
  • humble,
  • zealous,
  • disciplined,
  • intense,

and so on. These answers reveal a great deal about how UBF leaders imagine themselves to be, but very little about how others (in this case, their own children) perceive them.

None of these UBF leaders — not a single one — was able to guess the one and only adjective that the second-gens had applied to UBF.

That adjective was (drum roll, please…): 



  1. Very sobering, Joe. When I tried to guess the adjective for UBF, I would not have come up with Korean. It’s probably because my four kids would not say that about their parents. Before your drum roll, the word I thought of about UBF was defensive.

    I read an article about the opinion of academic intellectuals regarding Christians, Jews and Muslims. Though their opinion of Jews and Muslims were not good, it was the worst toward Christians.

    • That’s not surprising Ben. Many Christians in the past several decades have been taught that science, academics, etc. is evil. Instead of thinking through the magnificent truths of God, they are instructed by powerful men to pick a theological system and just obey it. In one sense, we certainly don’t have to re-invent Christianity. But in a real way, we Christians must take note of how people view us and how we’ve acted in un-Christ-like ways.

      I also read an article, a pew survey I think. Guess who was most knowledgeable about the bible and all world religions? Atheists. And Jews knew more than Christians. If I was frustrated by UBF’s rejection of Christianity, I am even more frustrated by Christianity’s rejection of humanity.

  2. Joe Schafer

    Here’s an interesting thought experiment. Go to a UBF event (for example, next month’s staff conference) and hold a focus group. Ask people “What adjectives come to mind when you think about people who write articles and comments on UBFriends?”

    My predictions: Witty, handsome, thoughtful, intelligent, …

    (just kidding, of course)

  3. Interesting article, Joe. It is clear to me that the 3 religions have become culturalized to the point where I doubt Mohamed, Abraham or Jesus would recognize them.

    I would have guessed the word for UBF to be “sad”. That is how almost all UBF people come across to me, full of sorrow and pity and on a good day, flattery. But maybe that is also because that is how I felt most of my 20+ years there.

    Another interesting experiment: In a browser, type the word ubf and then pause to see what comes up. That is enlightening to see what people around the world have been searching for in regard to ubf.

    I love the idea of focus groups! Yes it would be helpful to see what adjectives come up about us here… I’m sure mine would be “bitter, hateful, unrepentant, hell-bound…” :)

    • Joe Schafer

      you forgot “bad influence”

    • Oh yea… I forgot because because I’ve been handed over to Satan, so I can no longer think very well. I only listen to Satan’s voice now… =0

    • And because I support gay rights, I’d expect “gay” to be added as well. One person did send me a seriously worded email suspecting I’m gay and how sorry they were for me. I’m finding that such labels, while harmful and divisive, are actually grand opportunities to understand the gospel of Jesus more deeply.

    • Joe Schafer

      And, of course, these adjectives that you and I are coming up with now are based on our own mental images of other people, on what we predict that they will say. (In some cases, they have said these things.) I wonder how accurate and comprehensive our predictions would be.

    • I would simply LOVE to hear honest feedback! I only get pity or flattery from most UBF people. That is why I appreciate my few friends in Toledo who have told me honestly how they view me. They used to be just acquaintances, but now they’ve become dear friends. And they know I’ll share my honest thoughts with them as well :)

  4. Joe Schafer

    Brian, I believe that many people imagine that UBFriends is dedicated to criticizing and bashing UBF. If so, words like “authoritarian,” “cult,” and so on would appear very frequently.

    Someone has produced clouds for all 66 books of the Bible to show the words that appear most frequently:

    Could you produce a word cloud for UBFriends?

    • Interesting idea Joe. I saw such a thing for the bible before. I might be tough to do for the entire website…I’ll check into it.

    • Check this out:


      Here is our word cloud. I think this just picked up the first few articles. Not sure how deep this went, but it was free:


    • Joe Schafer

      Love it! It’s a beautiful thing.

      Can you rotate it and post it as an article?

    • Joe Schafer

      Actually, you’re right; that only picked up a few articles. (Notice the largeness of the word “wizard”.)

      Isn’t there a tool that we can use from wordpress?

    • Sure thing, in a bit. I did the same cloud generator for own blog… it was rather lopsided :)

    • I posted the article. I wanted to include a list of the top Google search terms to see what people are searching for to find this blog. Unfortunately I discovered a major change in what people are searching for, compared to about a year ago. Most of the top search terms contain our names and other specific names of current and former UBF members. So what are people googling? They are searching for us. It doesn’t seem appropriate to publish those.

    • Joe Schafer


  5. Sharon Schafer

    I’m rereading a great book right now, Transforming Mission, by David Bosch. Here’s a quote which applies not just to missionaries to many of us.

    “Missionaries, perhaps more than others, have tended to regard themselves as immune to the weaknesses and sins of “ordinary” Christians; it took a long time to discover that they were no different from the churches from which they have come, that in the words of Stephen Neill they “have on the whole been of feeble faith, not very wise, not very holy, not very patient. They have broken most of the commandments and fallen into every conceivable mistake” Indeed, in many parts of the world, including its traditional home base, the Christian mission appears to be the object not of God’s grace and blessing,but of God’s judgement…..when a disaster has occured, nothing is really wise, or even kind, save ruthless examination of the causes.”

    These days I am remembering the sincere shame I felt as a teenager as studied I Western history. I’m glad to return to it after shutting it off for so many years.

    • Joe Schafer

      Your quote is thought-provoking. Especially the part about mission being the object not of grace and blessing, but of judgment.

  6. I think this is a truism: Whatever ANYONE thinks of themselves (or their church) may often be quite different from what others think.

    That is why truly listening to others, especially a contrasting opinion, may be the best medicine. It is often far closer to the truth than our own opinion of ourselves or our church.

    This is my “best” personal story to illustrate this: Once my son, while in kindergarten or 1st grade, was asked by his teacher to write down three things that his dad likes.

    I thought my son would write something like this:

    1) My dad likes Jesus.
    2) My dad likes to study the Bible.
    3) My dad likes to teach the Bible.

    Instead, my son wrote:

    1) My dad likes to eat peanuts.
    2) My dad likes my mom.
    3) My dad likes to watch football.

    Go figure!!!

  7. Joe Schafer

    Ben, that’s a great story. I’d love to create a focus group of six-year olds to find out what they are observing about their parents.

  8. Joe, your article strikes a chord with many people, including me. Why have some focused on orthodoxy as supreme, only to neglect orthopraxy and orthopathy?

    I hope some of our readers would attempt to understand me beyond writing me off. Rachel Evan’s recent blog entry speaks to all of these things:

    The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart

    “But the questions that have weighed most heavily on me these past ten years have been questions not of the mind but of the heart, questions of conscience and empathy. It was not the so-called “scandal of the evangelical mind” that rocked my faith; it was the scandal of the evangelical heart.”

    • Joe Schafer

      When I read Evans’ article yesterday, it really convicted me, because I was (and still am) one of those evangelicals who was not bothered by the things that bother Evans. It’s not because I wrestled with the issues, but because I was (and still am) a person who has emphasized head and hands over heart. I was tempted to write an article titled “The Scandal of My Evangelical Heart.” Perhaps someday I will. But not today.

    • Thanks for linking to that article by Rachel Evan. It reflects my own thoughts so very well. And actually, I had the same doubts even when I was in UBF. I remember several such opportunities, like when my chapter leader preached about passages where Moses killed 3000 people, or David killing 200 people, and this was presented as a glorious act of faith, instead of questioning how such passages are reconcilable with the NT and everything we know and feel as human beings. That was something I always found strange and repellent. These people didn’t seem to have any difficulties with such passages, they didn’t seem to bother them at all, while I was always struggling with them.

    • Joe Schafer

      Some people are deeply troubled by the fact that, in the Old Testament, God apparently directed the Israelites to commit horrific acts of violence against other nations and sometimes against other Israelites. The church needs people who feel horror at those passages to raise questions about why those passages are in the Bible and what those passages say about the character of God. Those questions are very uncomfortable and difficult to answer. All too often the questions are brushed aside, and those who raise the questions are told to be quiet, because they threaten the community’s understanding of the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. But I’m grateful for people like Evans who are bothered by such things and are courageous enough to raise the questions.

      Apparently, C.S. Lewis was also one of those people. Once he received a letter from someone asking about the genocide recorded in the book of Joshua. Lewis replied:

      The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scripture is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two. Indeed only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible.

      (from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, vol. 3, p. 1436)

      C.S. Lewis continued:

      Some things which seem bad to us may be good. But we must not corrupt our consciences by trying to feel a thing as good when it seems totally evil.

      What I’m trying to say is this. People who raise such questions are often rebuked for having deficient faith. But perhaps people who never think to raise such questions have a deficient heart.

    • Chris and Joe, your thoughts start to explain why it should not be so surprising to people that my leaving ubf is similar to Rachel’s questioning evangelicalism.

      The main issues have parallels: both systems leave almost no room for doubt (which often is just as valuable as faith), both systems abruptly stop the dialogue once it is clear that a person’s behavior can’t be conformed, and both shun people who start to wear their heart “on their sleeve”.

      I find that I cannot pursue being a whole human being with faith alone. Pursing “faith alone” led me on a dark path where my inner life became a hallow, empty shell as I watched over 100 of my friends disappear from fellowship primarily because they wouldn’t conform to the ideology I held onto.

      And my hallow shell was often not empty: it would easily become filled with the slosh of sinful thoughts. Then I would have to cleanse my mind with more bible study. My life was a constant re-cleansing that, in the end, ended up just simply empty. So empty in fact that I no longer wanted to live at one point.

      Sometime around that time the Spirit suddenly indwelled me so that I am now so full of life, joy, hope, love and excitement! I am now pursuing being a whole human being: heart, mind and soul. I no longer seem to need to cleanse my mind because my heart is full and my soul is satisfied with the grace of God. My mind seem to just follow suit now and is cleansed by the Spirit. I feel renewed day by day now, instead of just trudging on in a half-awake state of existence. It’s like the difference between just surviving and thriving.

      Not sure I’m articulating this well, but I feel like the center hole in the Venn diagram above ought to be love, joy, peace, hope, faith, courage, justice, holiness!

    • Joe Schafer

      Brian, it sounds to me as though you were trying to have “sledge hammer faith”:


    • Yes indeed I was. That is an awesome study, thanks for the link.

      I love this part of the slide presentation: “Biblical faith is not striving for certainty: it’s the willingness to commit in the face of uncertainty.”

      The word Robb Ryerse uses in Fundamorphosis is “certitude”. He, like me, sought certitude in all things faith or bible. It didn’t work out. And I shouldn’t be surprised because faith is being certain of what we do not see. I was seeking certitude I could see…

  9. The interesting thing to me in your Venn diagram, Joe, is the empty hole in the middle. None of the words chosen fit all 3 religions. Not sure what that means, but it is unexpected (at least to me).

  10. Thank you Joe for the link of Greg Boyd. Strength test model (sledge hammer faith) is not stronger than biblical model of faith which is based on the covenant of wedding vow to Jesus. It is amazing that Jesus proposed us to marry on the cross, “Will you marry me?”. Because of this amazing love, we can surrender our lives to Him. Our relationship of love can grow based on this covenant. This helps us to make a commitment in the face of uncertainty.

    • Joe Schafer

      James, I’m glad that you enjoyed that sermon. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the meaning of faith, and I find the marriage analogy to be very helpful.