Jesus Needs New PR

Jesus Needs New PR

Go ahead, criticize me #BestOf2010

I started writing this post in February. At the time, I’d received a very hateful letter from somebody who follows me on Facebook. If I’d posted these words then, it would have been in retaliation. Now, it’s simply a post about criticism.

I receive a good bit of criticism. But you probably knew that already.

Like most people, I hate criticism.

SIDENOTE: I don’t hate bad reviews. I see reviews as opinions about products that I created. And I’ve come to grips with the fact that some people will like what I do and some people won’t. Sure, sometimes the things people write about my books sting a bit. But criticism in the way of reviews is the nature of the “writing beast”—and I’ve learned to accept it as part of the job.


But sometimes, rather than writing a review of my book and posting their heated opinions on Amazon, a person will send me an email. Rather than critique my book, they instead critique/review me, my faith, and sometimes my eternal destiny.

In the beginning (seven years ago) that kind of criticism got to me. Sometimes it caused me to cry. Sometimes I got angry. Sometimes I consumed over it. On occasion, I let it affect my mood and how I perceived the good things that people said.

People started sending me hate mail shortly after my first book The Christian Culture Survival Guide released. I received numerous mean-spirited critiques for writing CCSG. But the one letter that sticks out came from a pastor in California. After reading CCSG, he wrote to tell me that he thought I was a disgrace to the kingdom of God, and that my writing made me sound like “a whining p*ssy of a man.” He then apologized if his “tone” was un-Christlike.


Among those early letters and emails, I got called many interesting things. Among the most memorable are: “the antitheses of manhood,” a “whoremonger,” and a “f*cking idiot.”

I wrote that last guy back. My response was kind. I thanked him for reading my blog, and for writing me an email, and then I told him that I would pray and ask God to use his words to help me “grow.”

I really wanted to mean what I wrote back to him. But truthfully, I didn’t. I was pissed off and my response was my attempt to get him to apologize. He didn’t.

Once, a man wrote me an email to let me know that he was praying for me. What was his prayer request? THIS IS A QUOTE: “…I pray, for your sake, that one of these days God effs you up… for your own good.”


And then there was this incident…

Shortly after my book What You Didn’t Learn From Your Parents About Sex released, a pastor in Canada began writing emails to me, my publisher, a Canadian book distributor, and all of the Christian bookstores in the province of Alberta. Why? Because of a joke I wrote about Jennifer Love Hewitt. I’m very serious. He was furious about this joke, which was odd, since it really wasn’t all that funny of a joke. After writing two emails, my publisher responded. He didn’t like their response, mainly because they told him that they weren’t going to pull all of my books off the shelves. So he wrote six more emails, one of which asked bookstores in Alberta to remove all of my books from their shelves (five agreed). But his last email—a letter of apology to Jennifer Love Hewitt—was his best work. He sent the letter to me, my publisher, AND Jennifer Love Hewitt’s agent and website manager.


His letter began with the words, “Dear Miss Hewitt, I’ve never watched any of your movies or television shows…” and then it went on to apologize to Miss Hewitt on behalf of Christianity for my book.

While I laughed some, I also wondered if I was supposed to learn something from this guy. I wrote to him. And this time I was sincere. I told him that even though he and I disagreed about humor and such, that I was certain that, if we were in the same room, we’d get along. I hoped that was true. He wrote back. And his letter to me was kind and gracious and thankful that I’d taken the time to write him. He even apologized for trying to ruin me in Canada!

Just in the last couple months, I’ve received several letters: One of them came from a woman who was irate about my acceptance of gays and lesbians. Ironically, another woman, after reading the first chapter of Hear No Evil, assumed that I hated gays and lesbians. Sometimes you can’t win. And then there was the letter I received from a “close friend.” He wrote to tell me that I was nothing more than “the Christian Perez Hilton.”


Since becoming a fulltime writer seven years ago, there’s been a lot of criticism–some of it rude, some of it crazy, some of it constructive, and on few occasions it was very heartfelt from people who truly seemed concerned about my eternal well-being.

Now, I don’t share all of this in hopes of receiving a bunch of “you are awesome” comments. This isn’t an ego-boosting post. I receive many letters thanking me for a book or my blog, and I appreciate every one of them. And God knows, I know people who receive far worse criticism than I do. And they don’t ask for it.

Yes, I admit that once in a while I ask for the criticism I receive. Not literally. But indirectly through blog posts.


I’ve received a lot of advice from people on how to handle criticism:

  • “Let it go.”
  • “Oh, that dude’s an ass, Matthew, don’t let him get to you.”
  • “Maybe you should change what you write about, or at least, how you write about it.”
  • “Aw, man, it just means you’re doing something right!”
  • “Laugh it off.”

On one occasion or another, I’ve probably tried all of the advice I’ve received. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

So how do I handle criticism? It all depends. What did the critic say? Is it personal? Do I take it personal? Should I take it personal? Are they in some small way correct about me? What kind of mood am I in? Is it morning, noon, or evening? Is it a Monday or Friday? Am I on deadline? Is Elias screaming? Has Jessica read the email? Have I taken my Adderall?


All of the answers to those questions factor into the equation.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no magic formula for handling criticism. Sometimes I take it too seriously. Sometimes I don’t take it seriously enough. Sometimes it turns me into the “names” that the critics call me. On occasion the letters have caused me to break down and cry. Sometimes they cause me to pray. Sometimes they cause me to retaliate. Sometimes I laugh.

And sometimes I feel nothing at all.

I’ve had people say to me that “feeling nothing” is the way I should handle mean-spirited criticism. “Why should you give them the time of day?”

Some say that my letting people’s words get to me is self-centered or narcissistic. And perhaps they’re right in certain situations. But I’m human. I’m emotional. I’m passionate. I want people to like me sometimes. I don’t need everybody to like me. And I certainly don’t work toward getting everybody to like me. However, to not hurt or feel something when people critique me isn’t “me.” And while I refuse to let other people’s feelings about me define who I am. I sometimes must feel their words.


Because not feeling their words can sometimes make me prideful. Sometimes not letting them hurt or piss me off can make me a little narcissistic. Sometimes it can lead me toward ignoring all forms of criticism, even the good kind from people who love me and desire the best for me. And I need those people’s guidance in my life. I don’t want to get to a place where I simply ignore criticism.

Because the truth is, sometimes I am f*cking idiot. And once in a while it takes another f*cking idiot to remind me of that. And yeah, I’m guilty of loving and accepting gay people. And sometimes I need a mean-spirited Christian woman to remind me why. And sometimes I need a jerk to put me in my place… if for nothing else, to remind me that I don’t need everybody to like me or like what I do…

And yes, I did write a not-all-that-funny joke at the expense of Jennifer Love Hewitt. But she made I STILL Know What You Did Last Summer, and I think that makes us even.

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posted December 29, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Wow. I love your work. Thanks for your vulnerability, sincerely, anger and passion. I will resist any advice here – And I really hope that the rest of the commenters follow suit. Instead, I will tweet my exhortations (because no one reads those).
Love of Christ

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posted December 29, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Love this. Thanks for writing this. Sometimes criticism haunts me day in and day out, and sometimes it beads up and rolls right off of me. It’s a strange beast, and it’s awesome insightful to read someone else’s heart on it.

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posted December 29, 2010 at 5:25 pm

I said it last time and I’ll say it again, “you are awesome. And also a jerk, but in a good way.”

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posted December 29, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Well said!

“You’re awesome!”…oh, wait.

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    posted December 29, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    crap, you took my idea!!

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posted December 29, 2010 at 5:32 pm

J-Love also dated (dates?) Jamie Kennedy, so her story becomes sadder by the minute. (I had the — joy? — or whatever of interviewing him at Spring Break a few years back, but that’s way off topic.)

I just recently read your ‘CCSG’ and my biggest problem with it was trying to grasp how you grew up in the same church family I did, decades and states apart. (My Southern Baptist upbringing was in the late 1960s-early 1970s, in a tiny town in northwest Florida. My folks ran a Bible bookstore in town. My youth was informed by Rapture movie nights, Mike Warnke comedy 8-tracks, and the Christian musical “Firewind,” which I still find myself singing sometimes.) I loved your survival guide, and look forward to picking up ‘Churched’ soon.

Have a happy New Year!

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posted December 29, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Haha I just laughed through that post! I can’t imagine what it’s like to write “controversial” stuff but I’m glad there are people that stand up and say I don’t care I’m going to say it anyway. Anyone who meets your son and your wife has to know you have a good heart. It is what it is and just keep your focus on your fam and it will all be good! Especially when you post cute videos of Elias!

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posted December 29, 2010 at 6:14 pm

I am not sure I will ever get over how Christians attack other Christians. And I say that with blood on my hands as well.

Like so many others, I have had my share of harsher than necessary criticisms about my ministry, blog, personality, etc. The Christian part of me hopes they have a huge mansion in heaven and the spiteful part of me begs the Lord to foreordain my FEMA trailer right next door 😉

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posted December 29, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Dear MPT,

(1) Elias is definitely scheming!

(2) Thanks for what you do. Someone has to stand up to the bullies.


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posted December 29, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Thank you for how honest this post was. You get very personal on your blog sometimes, and I appreciate that. Thanks!

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posted December 29, 2010 at 6:37 pm

You’re awe….*giggles*

As they say you can’t please everyone but criticism definitely can be hard to take mostly depending on how it’s given. I don’t like it & am one who can get resentful if it’s given in the wrong way. I don’t mind learning & growing but even harsh criticism can be given gently.

<3 you mpt <3

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Matt Kelley

posted December 29, 2010 at 6:44 pm

You may or may not be surprised to hear that your experience and insights are quite relevant to pastors, as well as writers.

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Juliane Kirk Turner

posted December 29, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Omgg, Matthew… I haven’t read any of your books, but I’ve been following your blog for a few weeks now. yes, you’re human… Yes, you’re emotional.. yes, your passionate… and yes, you want people to like you sometimes. However, getting people to like you isn’t the main focus of your blog. Your main focus (I think) is to show people that.. “Hey, what the heck…. that’s not how you win souls to Christ, that’s not the type of things you say & do to win as many as possible, here’s how you do it… THERE… see, that’s how you do it… gently and lovingly” … and yes, while we’re poking fun at people, we’re basically making fun of ourselves because let’s face it, we’ve all had something stupid and cheezy on our church marquee or bumper sticker or whatever that just was so far out there. So, while all people may not like you, I think that a lot do and boy, you sure do make this ole Preacher’s Wife roar sometimes !!!

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Carole Turner

posted December 29, 2010 at 7:25 pm

One time I asked my husband if I took criticism well and he laughed immediately and said NO! :-)

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posted December 29, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Matt, I think you do great work. Keep it up. The “love” of many evangelical/fundamentalist Christians is one of several reasons why I am no longer an evangelical/fundamentalist Christian.

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Lindsey Talerico-Hedren

posted December 29, 2010 at 7:55 pm

I just read this to my husband who knows you as “the-guy-you-work-with-who-is-kinda-funny-or-something.” You know officially live up to his expectations.

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Susan Campbell

posted December 29, 2010 at 8:18 pm

I, for one, don’t think you’re a f*&#ing idiot. In fact, I’m a fan and I would happily call up any one who calls you names and call them names back because I’m a tepid Christian, anyway. Onward. You do good work.

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    Matthew Paul Turner

    posted December 29, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    Thank you Susan. Btw… I appreciated your email to me a few weeks ago. It meant a lot. :) Matthew

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posted December 29, 2010 at 8:38 pm

Is it wrong that, on some level, I want (almost crave) someone to call me a “f*cking idiot”, or that God effs me up…, for my own good? I take it as some kind of weird validation for what I’m trying to do, which is show that all Christians aren’t f*cking idiots.

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    posted December 29, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    Okay, I don’t want God to eff me up. I want someone to tell me they want God to eff me up. Just thought I’d better clarify.

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Joel M

posted December 30, 2010 at 8:27 am

i guess my default response to criticism from other christians is probably not very gracious. of course, i examine what’s been said to see if there’s something i need to learn, but my knee-jerk reaction is usually, “of COURSE he/she said something stupid like that. he/she is a CHRISTIAN.” i wonder how you’re able to keep a balanced view of people; i wouldn’t be able to.

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posted December 30, 2010 at 9:21 am

Matthew, I think you’re doing a great job. The “love” of most fundamentalist/evangelical Christians is one of the many reasons I’m no longer an evangelical/fundamentalist Christian.

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posted December 30, 2010 at 9:38 am

The other day as I was getting out of the car, Dad had said something I responded harshly to (I think it was about his driving) and he retorted “Now Dianna, no one needs criticism.” Just before I closed the door, I told him, “That’s a false statement.” And walked away. (We’ve since fixed things – I’m only here for two weeks as is).

But the complete falsity of his statement really bothered me – we do need criticism. We do need heartfelt responses to things we put out. We have this odd thread not only in the church but in society to say that “You don’t have the right to criticize me.” Or that criticism itself is bad. But that’s totally backwards: we need and crave criticism a lot of the time. Without criticism, though, we’d never know if we’d actually produced good art – all that would matter would be intent and not product. Without criticism, we’d never know how we can be better. Criticism helps us to become better, and those who can’t take criticism and do something with it are the ones who are truly lacking.

This doesn’t mean that you, Matt, need necessarily take every hate mail as advice for your life, because if you did, we’d all hate you. 😐 But this also means that the “let it roll off your back” advice is terrible – maybe there is a grain of truth in that hate mail, and we should take some (not all) of them seriously.

Now, though, if they’re offended on behalf of a movie star they’ve never met or even seen the work of…I think you can feel free to ignore that.

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posted December 30, 2010 at 9:53 am

Do what Baalam should have done and simply say, “Thank you, Jackass.”

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posted December 30, 2010 at 10:26 am

Sunday evening discussion a few years ago led by the pastor – Topic: What Jehovah Witnesses Believe. One man said that whenever JWs come up his long, winding driveway, he sics his dogs on them, and he and his wife laugh as the JWs run away. Almost everyone in the church that night laughed at the story. Then I told the following story, at the end of which you could have heard a pin drop:

Many people cycle through the JW movement. Lots come in the front door and lots go out the back door. I know one of those people. She was a JW for a year or two. She used to come to my house along with a more senior JW. I hadn’t seen here for awhile until I ran into her in the grocery store recently. She came up to me and asked “Remember me? I used to be a JW. I came by your house. Well, I’m not a JW any more. I just wanted to tell you that when I was a JW going around to people’s houses, I went to the doors of hundreds of Christians. All of them were mean and nasty to me except you. I just wanted to thank you for being nice to me.”

She told me she never wanted to have anything to do with Christians ever again in her life, and would never, ever step inside a church for any reason the rest of her life.

Dallas Willard says our churches are filled with people who are not Christians. I agree, although I don’t think it is my job to pick out who is and who isn’t. However – – – Jesus said to love our neighbors as ourselves. When someone isn’t doing that, they are following something other than Jesus. That is some kind of twisted religion. Followers of Jesus are not mean and nasty to anyone, and that includes e-mails and blog posts. Followers of Jesus love their neighbors, including Samaritans, Romans and lepers. In today’s culture, that means we love the poor, gays, homeless, orphans, the marginalized and everyone else and show it to them in tangible actions as well as in what we say. That’s the Gospel. Those mean and nasty folk are following a whole ‘nuther gospel.

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Julie Schaal

posted December 30, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Thumbs up, mpt!

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posted December 30, 2010 at 5:45 pm

H8ters gonna H8. Love, love, love the blog (particularly because I work in public relations). Keep up the great work.

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posted December 31, 2010 at 5:13 pm

I’ve only been visiting this site for a couple of months now, but I adore what you do and how you do it. You’ve got this lapsed-Pentecostal out and proud queer reading more about Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity than I have in years. “The Christian Perez Hilton?” Now, that’s just awesome! God bless ya, MPT!

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    Matthew Paul Turner

    posted December 31, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Thanks man. This comment made my day. Happy New Year friend!

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Jamie Willow

posted January 2, 2011 at 2:20 pm

loved this post. i just found your blog/twitter so I
haven’t been offended yet or really regaled either…just
entertained :) I appreciated your words though. They stand alone.
It is good insight gained from personal life experience…thanks
for sharing.

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posted January 4, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Dude thanks for this post. I am striving and starting out where you were at those 7 years ago. It is good to read these posts from those who have been there and done that.

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