When Nice Ain’t So Nice: Eight Dangers of Being Churchy Nice

Some years ago, BYU magazine ran a great article titled, “When Nice Ain’t So Nice.” It was a telling and insightful look into LDS society, which often places a high priority on being nice, even when perhaps not the right response for a particular situation.

Similarly, my online buddy Susan Brown Snook likes to talk about being, “all churchy nice.”

That got me to thinking; Are there times in progressive denominations when nice ain’t so nice? Maybe even when being nice is a warning sign of serious problems? I think the answer to both questions is yes. My belief, too, is that some of the least healthy churches are the outwardly nicest. All churchy nice, as Susan would say.

So, here are eight dangers of being all churchy nice.

1. Stifled discussion

How many times have you heard around church, “I don’t want to say anything. I might offend someone.”? If you’re like me, plenty of times.

But that begs the question—why do we assume that saying something will risk offense? Most adults know strategies to raise concerns without sounding bombastic.

2. Hidden conflict

Hand in hand with the first point is that conflict goes into hiding when the priority becomes “being nice.” That’s a shame, because conflict is normal and, if handled correctly, healthy.

Or put in other words, we are to work to build the kingdom of heaven. But nowhere in the Bible does it will say that this will happen without conflict. Indeed, much of the Bible suggests that change will only come in conjunction with conflict—just ask John the Baptist.

3. Shallow relationships

When substantive conversation is hard to come by, it’s difficult to form meaningful relationships. Instead, relationships among parishioners remain cordial but superficial, with the result that the deep bonds of friendship that carry us through death, divorce and disaster never form. That’s sad, because no one is the richer for it when these connections aren’t made. Indeed, churches without these bonds of affection can be brittle, falling apart quickly in the face of adversity.

4. Parking Lot Conversations

Faced with perceived pressure to be all churchy nice, conversations too often go underground. As a result, little knots form in the parking lot after vestry meetings, and phone lines are abuzz the next day with rumors and speculation. And triangulation becomes the norm. These breakdowns in communication themselves engender further dysfunction in the church.

5. Nice Replaces Faith

On some level, we all understand that we join a church community to grow in the knowledge and love of God, versus to learn how to be nice. But in far too many churches, the priority is in being nice, versus deepening one’s faith. My sense is that this is a particular risk in liturgical churches, where outward observance may reduce the perceived need for inner scrutiny.

So, if people are friendly but not kind, consider the possibility you’re in a “nice,” church. Kind is what matters. Nice is, well, nice.

6. People Don’t Know How to Resolve Conflict

In an environment where conversation focuses on being nice and there is a reluctance to look conflict in the eye, it goes without saying that parishioners either don’t learn conflict resolution skills, or if they do, can’t find others willing to have the open and honest conversation needed to resolve conflict. As a result, conflict may simmer underground for years, erupting periodically in the form of yelling, bullying or other bad behavior. So, if you are in a church where these sorts of things happen, it may be that your church has a bad case of churchy nice.

7. Built-Up Anger

Have you ever been in a church where people explode over something stupid, like the color of the flowers on the altar or a minor change to the building? If so, there may be hidden issues or pent-up frustrations that would have been dealt with long ago were it not for the perceived need to be nice. Again, consider the possibility that your church has a bad case of nice.

8. Nice Becomes a Weapon

Ever watch someone, perhaps a clergyperson, with narcissistic personality disorder? They are, in many cases, some of the friendliest, nicest people around. And they know how to play the part to perfection, looking, acting and speaking like someone you’d love to have as a friend. That is, right up until the narcissist feels you have criticized him or her. At that point, they do a 180, and become the most petty, vindictive, vile person you ever met.In short, they take back nice as a way to punish you.

Similarly, churches where being nice is a priority often will yank the welcome mat right out from under someone who is seen as having having rocked the boat, even going so far as shunning the offender, either on a formal or quasi-formal basis.

The typical reason?

He or she wasn’t, “being nice.”

About Eric Bonetti

I'm a cradle Episcopalian, living in Northern Virginia. My interests include writing, policy, sports, cooking, volunteer work, good food and wine, and teaching kids' cooking classes. I retired in 2017 and now just work for fun. I'm also a regular contributor to Episcopal Cafe, and have been published at HuffPo and other major sites and publications.
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