Two Mainstays of Christian Defensiveness
There are two very frustrating trends in Christian conversation – especially online but also sometimes in person – that I really think couldn’t be further away from Jesus’ life and teachings. This particular conversation comes from responses I see on the blog I recently shared giving a report from ‘Act Like Men’. Some say it very bluntly, others are a bit more subtle but it is still pretty clear.
You Can’t Take a Joke!
This one goes like this: person in power makes a joke insulting a person or a group that does not have the same social influence, somebody stands up for insulted person/group, insulting person claims that it was a joke. No, just shut up if you’re tempted to say something like this. A member of an oppressive group does not have the right to tell somebody from an oppressed group that their opinion is less valid. That oppressed person is just as much an image-bearer of God as you are. If you have hurt them and made them believe for an instant that they are less than fully loved by God, that is your issue, not theirs.
Of course, I’m not talking about the reverse direction. Satire is an incredibly important tool for nonviolently disarming oppressive powers. Many of the biblical prophets, including Jesus himself, mocked religious and political power-holders. Many modern speakers and writers that I consider prophets, such as Rachel Held Evans in A Year of Biblical Womanhood, also employ this same satire. Satire is a powerful tool, and there is a place for it, but that place is in the fight for God’s Kingdom equality, not in reinforcing Satan’s inequalities.
You Don’t Care About the Bible!
This one may be even more serious. Protestants are particularly good at equating their understanding of the Bible with the Bible itself. If somebody disagrees with me, obviously they disagree with the inerrant Word of God and they should be publicly condemned to Hell! Or… maybe, just maybe, there’s something you could learn from their understanding of the Bible. Maybe you’re right, maybe they’re right, or quite possibly somewhere in between. It’s theologically based in a faulty assumption that the Bible is clear about absolutely everything but even more than that it is based in the simple human instinct to hate those who aren’t like you, especially if they threaten your power. The Bible is simply forced into a weapon to extend hatred and judgement against others when it is made to be a tool that brings us to the opposites, the radical love and grace of Jesus.
As with satire, there is obviously a very important place for understanding Scripture. But let’s be clear on what Scripture does and does not say. If your favourite theologian says that’s what the Bible says, that is not the same thing. This requires major humility and I know that does not come easily. Some things are clear in Scripture: a call to care for the poor, the widow, and the orphan, for example. Some other things there is significant and even opposing disagreement in interpretation, gender roles being one of the biggest ones right now in some segments of Christianity. Even if you have a complementarian understanding of gender, though, that understanding should never be used for oppression. If you truly believe that is a better understanding of God’s Kingdom desires, feel free to lovingly and gently explain why; just don’t pretend that because that’s how you understand something, anybody who disagrees is obviously a stupid heretic who hates Scripture.