mjkimpan  —  December 18, 2012 — 19 Comments

we’re all processing the pain of recent events in our own way. yesterday i posted some resources that i found helpful.

when i did so, i avoided commenting on the countless unhelpful responses i’ve watched transpire on my news feeds.

literally. countless.

the tragedy is a result of not having state-sanctioned prayer in schools, and these government sponsored prayers could have prevented it.

because retailers say ‘happy holidays’ instead of ‘merry christmas’, God has taken his protective hand off of innocent people.

we’re reaping what we’ve sown.

God’s judgment is falling on us due to our acceptance of gay marriage and abortion.

God could have stopped the carnage, but since he’s a ‘gentleman’ he didn’t – he doesn’t go where he’s unwelcome. like public elementary schools to protect innocent kids.

God actually directed the attack as a warning to all of us.

satan actually directed the attack in the body and soul of the shooter.

the list goes on. and on.

and it makes me furious.

my blood pressure rises, and i have to quite consciously resist the urge to tweet and comment and lay out a slew of expletives distancing myself from this insanity and demanding its marginalization.

i want to.

i want to call out the dangerous and damning theology i find more hurtful than it is helpful.

but how can i do so in a peaceful and productive way?

when we dehumanize any Other evil can flourish. all Others….those we differ from spiritually, morally, philosophically, socio-economically or theologically.

as i wrote earlier this week, the logical and inevitable response of such a trajectory is apathy, ignorance, intolerance and even violence.

i often make the case for solidarity with the Other. for many of my conservative evangelical friends, it is a challenge to see the value and potential in my gay friends, my muslim friends, my friends on welfare, my drug-abusing friends, my mentally ill friends… it is easier instead to dehumanize them as ‘Other’ and treat them as ‘less than.’ i challenge them to view these ‘others’ as bearing the fingerprint of God, with potential to participate in the great divine act of reconciliation for all people.

that’s not as difficult for me as it once was.

but now, i have a different Other. for me, it’s the pat robertsons. the john pipers. the mike huckabees. the james dobsons.

i view them as Other. as dangerous. even wrong.

yet once that line has been crossed – viewing another human as ‘Other’  – it’s much easier to harm them with words or actions. to call them names. to condemn them. to isolate them. to demonize and accuse and eventually destroy them.

and so i argue – even with myself – for solidarity with all Others.

we can debate theology and causes and reasoning and search for answers to the questions that haunt us in the midst of tragedy. we can discuss, and we can disagree.

yet when i begin to become that which i argue against – when i demonize the demonizers; when i oppress the oppressors; when i accuse the accusers; when i condemn and isolate and name-call and bully and abuse

i cease to follow God in the way of jesus.

when i cling to love and compassion and goodness and gentleness and mercy and kindness and empathy and tenderness…when i offer grace and pursue peace and shalom with all people, i am following in the example of my messiah – and doing my part to be an agent of reconciliation – bringing heaven a little closer to earth.

sometimes i wish that were easier.

what about you? what do you think?

  • zsmith78

    thanks for that. glad to know i’m not alone with these feelings.

  • Eric Masters

    I think this is one of your best posts, but maybe I’m biased as I struggle with this constantly. How much should I speak out against injustice in the church? If I don’t denounce destructive theology and fear-mongering when I encounter it- am I as a christian complicit?

    My wife has been a great influence on me; she reins me in when I get too fired up over this kind of thing, when I become the one who judges.

    I’d love to hear how you balance this tension.

    • thanks, eric. i responded more in depth to michael danner’s comment below (similar sentiments/questions as your own), but essentially i must admit that i’m not certain *how* best to balance that tension.

      i know i have to be quite intentional to not err on the side of condemnation – my old school fundamentalism creeping up on me – but as michael points out, there *are* times that the condemnation, direct confrontation and even name calling may be entirely appropriate.

      perhaps it’s a matter of remaining centered and doing some self-examination. as i did that prior to posting, i saw some nasty stuff in myself, and decided to change the tone and direction of the post.

      to be perfectly honest, i greatly appreciated some of the more heavy-handed words of my friends – maybe a little too much. perhaps that’s one reason i didn’t feel ‘free’ to write them myself.

  • nathan albert

    Thanks for this. Feeling very similar in my reactions.

    • indeed. it’s a tough balance – i think writing it helped remind me to lean toward grace, rather than hitting ‘submit’ on the first version of this post. 😉 thanks for reading, nathan.

  • michaeldanner

    Michael, you know me – I push! So how do you deal with two realities in the gospel texts. One is Jesus’ name-calling (white-washed tombs, etc.) as he confronts directly, and without pulling verbal punches, the behavior of the religious ruling elites? Another, of course – we are both familiar with this one – is Jesus turning over the tables and occupying the temple? He physically disrupted the economics of exploitation, confronted the politics of oppression and called out the religion that legitimated them both. Sometimes by calling them names. His verbal assault on the Pharisees in Matthew 23 is epic and spot on. It seems to me like Jesus does create a space, by his example, for non-violent direction action that confronts injustice, oppression, exploitation and the ideologies that fuel them.

    I’m struck by a point that Peter Rollins makes about the difference between subjective and objective violence. He speaks of an interview in Better Homes and Gardens about a particular ruler in Europe. It talks about his love of art, music and high culture. His love of children and dogs and good food. His kind and generous spirit and love for neighbor. Turns out the article is about Adolf Hitler. While at some subjective level, there was something quite nice and appealing about Hitler. He’s a guy you could like. Objectively, through what he did, he was an absolute monster who needed to be opposed sooner rather than later. I do agree, that subjectively, our stance towards others should be open, gracious, hospitable, and so on. Yet, does their come a point when the objective behavior of a person requires a different response. Opposition, resistance, and so on. You know I’m a pacifist, but I struggle at times with the same question that Bonhoeffer struggled with – Is it enough to critique the machines of injustice and oppression and exploitation? Does there come a time when you have to put a stick in the spoke of the machine’s wheels to keep it from moving forward?

    What are your thoughts on that?

    • Eric Masters

      Well said Mr. Danner- This is exactly what I struggle with, though stated much more clearly than I could. Condemnation seems too loud, and silence too quiet.

    • thanks for the push.

      the questions you pose are important (and difficult!) ones. in contemplating a response, i’m taken to the end of christ’s diatribe against the teachers of the law in matthew 23 :: ‘jerusalem, jerusalem… how often i wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.’

      in both instances you cite (which happen to be two of my favorite stories about jesus!), it seems to me his heart was motivated out of a place of compassion and a sincere desire to bring Others closer to God.

      the first version of this post was less gracious – and in rewriting it and doing some self examination, i attempted to lean more toward compassion than my outrage of what was being said.

      to be sure, there were posts from friends around the blogosphere that leaned more toward direct confrontation (as the original, unpublished version of this post did).

      some did that better than others. mine perhaps would have been *even less* helpful for continuing the conversation.

      there is indeed a time to ‘put a stick in the spoke of the machine’ as you say – and that time may be now. often my posts are written to generate intentional movement toward that end and a more hopeful vision of what could be. on more than a few occasions i’ve done some ‘direct confrontation’ here as well.

      my concern (for myself, as well as for others) is that we are able to challenge and oppose the system without robbing the inherent dignity and worth of its proponents, even when they say idiotic things.

      jesus was able to do some pretty creative name calling (hypocrites, self-indulging serpents, brood of vipers, whitewashed tombs , et cetera) – and somehow stay within the boundaries of loving God and others while he did it.

      a case could be made that statements like those above, or condemning specific communities or making generally ignorant theological statements merits such a response from us today. as you said, ‘It seems to me like Jesus does create a space, by his example, for non-violent direction action that confronts injustice, oppression, exploitation and the ideologies that fuel them.’

      that’s true. i just decided that on this one, if i erred i would err on the side of grace.

      erring on the other side seems to come too easily to me.

      righteous indignation? perhaps. sometimes it’s hard to tell if my motives are as pure as christ’s were. 😉

      • michaeldanner

        “my concern (for myself, as well as for others) is that we are able to challenge and oppose the system without robbing the inherent dignity and worth of its proponents…”

        Very well said! The individual can be engaged pastorally, even while the system is opposed vigorously. Often time the person is caught in the system. I think Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees came out of the reality that their religion legitimized the domination system that hurt so many. They were not living out their God-given vocation and people were suffering on account of that. His confrontation was always, as I read it, an invitation to new life.

        grace and peace

  • dills

    the people that i was once taught to avoid are now my closest friends.
    the people that were once my closest friends i now take every measure to avoid.

    sometimes it’s easy to forget that Jesus loved the pharisees just as much as he loved the prostitutes and tax collectors. He offered them the same saving grace, because they needed it just the same.

  • Holly Henderson

    Beautifully written. I’m copying the last paragraph as a daily reminder.
    Btw, when I started reading your post I thought the first couple of responses were your thoughts, and I almost freaked out and closed the window. Seriously. Whew.
    I’m with you though it’s hard to get out of defense when you realize we need to just be a more effective team.
    Thanks for always being so thought provocing.

    • thanks for reading, holly! appreciate the kind words. hilarious that you thought the first few thoughts were my own – glad you kept reading!

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