Activism can take many forms. It might be handing out Bibles at the State Fair, joining a women’s march in D.C., or short-term missions.
But Gay here reminded me of how the Church at the turn of the twentieth century became divided. The sides? One side for the fundamentals of the faith. The other, stressing the importance and preeminence of personal views of justice.
I believe we are very much back in the 1920s. But now, faith is defined by not only how you serve or your activism, but such action has also now been sanitized of the actual Gospel message of salvation through faith in Christ.
I thought of an encounter I had a few years ago with someone I would consider an activist.
This young entrepreneur told me it was enough that people who attended a concert put on by To Write Love On Her Arms left the concert and no longer cut themselves.
That was enough.
“But what about sharing the light of the Gospel with such a person?” I said.
“That’s manipulative,” he responded. “It’s enough that they don’t cut.”
I’m completely behind organizations like TWLOHA, but not at the expense of the Gospel. I’m all for activism that reaches the hurting. But as a Christian “the Good” is only a starting point. Not the telos, the goal, of our faith or our activism.
Where was the thinking behind this activists statement to me? I was surprised, but not totally. It was a common sentiment I’d heard among other folks engaged in similar work.
I concluded it must be the “thinking of the Christian culture at the moment.” This was not a thought out position by this young entrepreneur as much as it was a mantra they thought felt right.
3. Parroting the values of a culture steeped in the postmodern secularism.
I see this in debates on cultural hot buttons such as gay marriage, white privilege, equality, or really whatever is being screamed about on social media.
Once, after speaking at a conference, I returned to the Green Room and engaged with a popular blogger on the subject of adoption and white privilege. We were discussing the other various situations of privilege in the culture (such as class, financial, etc.) when her husband, from across the table, began badgering me about my views on white privilege.
He insinuated I was a racist because I was asking his wife questions about other types of privilege.
Eventually, he got very heated as I calmly answered his questions and volleyed a question or two his way. The discussion got so heated I jokingly asked he wanted to step outside, just trying to lighten things up with a little humor. Eventually, the conversation simmered down.
When I left the Green Room I remember thinking how crazy that discussion was, and why conversation around these topics tend to escalate so quickly. That was a couple years ago.
Now, it seems like we’d rather get out in the street and really throw down when it comes to these types of discussions. And, we’re not having them in person, we’re conducting them behind the veil of social media where everyone can say what they want; no accountability, no thinking, just reacting, just shouting.
Another example of this might be with how Christians, seemingly without thinking, talk about human flourishing being the end goal in life. But, as Charles Taylor points out in A Secular Age,
“Loving, worshipping God is the ultimate end. Of course, in this tradition God is seen as willing human flourishing, but devotion to God is not seen as contingent on this. The injunction “Thy will be done” isn’t equivalent to “Let humans flourish”, even though we know that God wills human flourishing.” (See Taylor, 16-20)
Parroting hip or cool sentiments seems harmless. But if we cease to think for ourselves, and really do the digging required to form an informed perspective, then we can easily slide into theologically dubious conclusions on important issues.
In the discussion on white privilege I was simply trying to engage and ask questions, but this was not acceptable. I was supposed to just believe everything I heard or read about on the internet, apparently.
The illustration of flourishing for the Christian is meant to show the nuance involved in such discussions. The Christian must operate in this tension of renunciation (take up our cross and follow God) and flourish.
But the end goal is devotion and renunciation. But this nuance is lost on many and eventually, it slides right into our theologies regarding justice.