Five Words That Make All the Difference in the World
In light of the (barely believable) response to my previous post, I thought I would throw up one more feeble attempt to clarify a few things. I continue to be astonished at both the volume and the content of responses this post has generated. It seems to me that many people have simply misunderstood what the post was trying to do. Perhaps the title was too inflammatory and put people instantly on the defensive. Perhaps I just found the “angry” corner of the Internet. I don’t know.
But, in an attempt to be as clear as I possibly can, here’s the “move” that the title—“I’m sorry, Christian, but you don’t get to make that move”—is referring to.
In sum, if you have no interest in Jesus or his teachings, then you can splash around the hysteria, the fear, and, all the anti-[insert threatening people group/category here] rhetoric you want.
You’ll notice that the “move” that I was saying we are not allowed to make was referring to a type of discourse. That’s why I arranged the words on the page the way I did. So that readers would know precisely what I was saying we, as Christians weren’t allowed to do. We’re not allowed to be fear-mongers and hate-promoters. We’re not allowed to speak about people—even our enemies—in ways that demonize and dehumanize. I don’t think that this should really be a controversial claim.
In challenging Christians to examine our behaviour and speech when it comes to those we consider our enemies (and, as I mentioned in an earlier comment, it grieves me that our discourse so regularly conflates “refugees” with “enemies”), I was not saying that we ought to roll out the welcome mat for ISIS or rapists or murderers or child molesters. I was not saying that our governments should just throw caution to the wind and fling open the doors (again, I wasn’t saying anything about the government). I was not saying that some would not seek to abuse a generous response. I was not advocating an abandonment of wisdom. I was not saying that we don’t have a duty to do the hard work of reconciling love of enemies with love of the vulnerable neighbours that these enemies might threaten.
I was simply calling Christians to exhibit a better way when it comes to how we speak about those who frighten us or make us angry.
A few other points.
- I lost count of the number of times someone countered Jesus’ command to love enemies with a reference to Matthew 10:16 (“I am sending you out as sheep among wolves”). It is, perhaps, worth reading that verse in its broader context. Jesus is sending his disciples out to proclaim the kingdom of God, and warning them that they will certainly face persecution and hatred, telling them not to worry about those who can kill the body and not the soul, to not be afraid in the face of opposition that will inevitably come, etc. It seems to me to be just a bit of a leap to interpret these words as a call to vigilant and fearful arms against one’s enemies.
- I have also lost count of the number of times people have said, “Well, what are you doing about it? Easy to write a bunch of words! How many Syrians are you welcoming?!” Well, as I mentioned several times in the depressing comment thread on the previous post (and have written about extensively elsewhere on this blog), I am involved in a city-wide project to sponsor Syrians to come to our city. Our church has been working on this since February, and I anticipate working on it for years to come. We are hoping to welcome our first families before Christmas. Although it’s worth noting that even if I was sitting idly by in contented disdain for the plight of Syrian refugees, it would not detract from the point of the post. The possibility that I might be a lousy and lazy Christian, does not change the fact that Jesus said some things about enemies and hospitality and love that Christians should probably take seriously.
- I am not saying and did not say that anyone who is not a Christian isn’t moral or has no moral duty. By saying in this post that I am only speaking to those who claim to follow Jesus, I am not saying anything about other belief systems. I am simply indicating the scope of my attention for the purposes of this post. In saying, “if you have no interest in Jesus or his teachings, I am not speaking to you,” I am saying nothing about the content of your ethics or the moral foundations thereof. In saying, “if self-interest is the main consideration that informs your views about life, I am not speaking to you,” I am not saying that self-interest motivates the behaviour of everyone who is not a Christian. Not in any way. I am obviously aware that there are people of compassion and decency from across the worldview spectrum. In framing things the way that I did in the post I was, again, simply indicating who I was and who I was not talking to.
- I am not suggesting that Christians must be perfect, nor am I “bashing” Christians. As I said in an earlier comment that attempted to clear some of this up, I am simply attempting to hold up an observable behaviour exhibited by some (not by any means all) Christians to the light of Jesus’ teaching about how we are to treat those we consider in some sense to be “enemies.” This ought not to be a very remarkable endeavour. It seems to me that what Jesus taught (even about really hard things) ought to matter to those of us who identify ourselves by his name. Indeed, there ought to be little that matters more.
- As to the utterly bewildering comments that questioned whether or not I am a Christian (he’s probably a Muslim?!) or have any theological training or a job (?!) or demand to know my last name (?!). I welcome you to click on the handy little “About” tab at the top of my blog where you will discover the (surely inadequate) answers to your queries. Yes, I am a Christian. Yes, I have some theological training. Yes, I even have a job and a last name.
- Finally, I must again note the grim irony that a post that had as its central aim the manner in which Christians speak about those they disagree with/are in opposition to, has often been filled with a stream of vitriol and reactionary, assumption-laden, misguided, and sometimes quite hateful comments. I have never, in the nine-year history of this blog, contemplated shutting down the comments section of a post until this one. Some of the anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim rhetoric has been nothing short of disgusting. There have also been several quite nasty ad hominem attacks. These are unacceptable and will be not be tolerated going forward. We have a duty to do better, as Christians, as human beings, as neighbours.
A final exercise that might make the point I was trying to get at in a bit of a different way. What if we were to reverse the statements of the original post? If you happen to be a Christian, how do these sound to you, in light of the One that you know and love, the one that you follow and obey as Lord and Master?
- It’s acceptable, as a follower of Jesus, to hunt around for excuses for why we don’t need to include “those people” in the category of “neighbour.”
- It’s acceptable, as a follower of Jesus, to look for justifications for why it’s better to build a wall than open a door.
- It’s acceptable, as a follower of Jesus, to label people in convenient and self-serving ways in order to convince ourselves that we don’t have to care for them.
- It’s acceptable, as a follower of Jesus, to speak and act as if fear is a more pragmatic and useful response than love.
- It’s acceptable, as a follower of Jesus, to complain that other people aren’t doing the things that we don’t want to do.
- It’s acceptable, as a follower of Jesus, to reduce the gospel of peace and life and hope to a business-as-usual kind of political pragmatism with a bit of individual salvation on top.
- It’s acceptable, as a follower of Jesus, to ask, as our default question, “How can I protect myself and my way of life?” and not “How does the love of Christ constrain and liberate me in this particular situation?”
Those five words—as a follower of Jesus—seem to me to make all the difference in the world.