The conversation from last week about Emergence Christianity and the shifting tides is still continuing. I’m glad to see that. There is a lot that has broken open here, and I hope that it’s a sign of good things to come. I don’t mean in terms of the movement; I mean in terms of the living out of Christian faith. My hope is that this is another way in which we can find ourselves reaching out to one another to dismantle the system that enables the silencing of people’s voices.
That said, I want to talk again about one of the ways in which the system contributes to the muting of so many people across Christianity. I like to call it “Be-Niceism.” There is a school of thought that equates non-violence with non-anger. It dictates that we must never use harsh words or direct criticism. In fact, even we who are willing to push forcefully against the system have resorted to using the word “critique” rather than criticism because the latter word has become so connotation-laden.
I see this phenomenon in just about every Christian circle. The gentle souls are often upset by what they perceive as angry ranting and resort to reprimands that we won’t get anywhere if we “stoop to their level.” Yesterday, when Pastor (I use that term loosely) Mark Driscoll tweeted,
Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe in to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.
There was a lot of anger over the tweet, as there should have been. It is not only a problem because of the assumption about the condition of President Obama’s heart, but because it honestly doesn’t matter whether he is a Christian or not. Using that as a measure of whether or not he can be a decent person or a decent President is inappropriate at best. Anyway, my concern isn’t really about Pastor Mark’s tweet; it’s about the response to the responses.
When Shaun King replied with a series of very angry tweets in which he made brilliant use of the word “motherfuckers,” the outrage directed at him was disproportionate. He had made an honest, impassioned plea for people to stop judging other people’s faith—and promptly had his own called into question for being angry. I don’t know what Bible these people have been reading, but mine has Jesus doing pretty much the same thing Shaun King did, including the name-calling. And it wasn’t the ordinary people who Jesus called out, it was the religious leaders of his day.
Not much has changed, has it?
My point is that while I understand the desire for everyone to get along with each other, that is simply not a reasonable expectation. Even Paul (the big favorite among Evangelical types) alludes to that when he says to live at peace with one another insofar as it is possible. That means that it isn’t always going to be possible.
Which leads me to what I really want to say here. It makes me absolutely infuriated when I see the damage that people like Pastor Mark do to Christians and the Christian faith. It’s not just a matter of “he doesn’t speak for all of us.” It’s that he and others like him are personally responsible for harming vulnerable people. He and others like him are directly responsible for creating an environment which is sex-negative, patriarchal, and trans- and homophobic. If we are against any of those things, then we have a right—and, I would argue—a responsibility to stand up and say, “Enough.”
Fighting back with our words is not “stooping to their level.” It is a wise way to express the anger we feel at injustice. It is not wrong to protest. It is not wrong to say we are angry and we don’t want to take it anymore. It is not wrong to openly speak against Pastor Mark and his ilk, even using words that may shock or offend. We need people who are willing to do these things. What would be wrong would be to resort to physical violence, illegal means, or psychological warfare in order to force these men (yes, men) to change or step down.
I see this problem all the time among feminist Christians. As much as I love the writings of some of these women, I have grown weary of seeing so many of them congratulate each other on not being bitchy. They also tend to either pick apart or ignore women who are tougher, sometimes in really passive-aggressive ways: “You were so awesome! You responded in love, unlike that other nasty, angry feminist over there.” This is another way of silencing our voices based in the patriarchal notion of what it means to be a good woman, thinly disguised as “this is what it means to be a real Christian.”
I have nothing against anyone who wants to take a more gentle approach. I believe that’s rooted in personality, however, not in faith or in Scripture. I’m not going to apologize for being bitchy sometimes; nor do I want anyone else to apologize for being gentle. We just need to understand that this is a matter of style, not a matter of sin and not something that requires a good/bad dichotomy.
I’m going to continue to train my critical eye on the -isms that plague our culture, especially among Christians. I still have some residual ire from last week’s nuclear fallout from the Emergence conversation. After reading President Obama’s words from yesterday’s inauguration, I know that I need to keep working toward those goals. Every day, I remind myself that I am not making room at the table for anyone else. Rather, I’m choosing to see that they have always been sitting there and I need to stop isolating myself in idle chatter with those who perceive themselves to be at the head of the table.