Over my forty-plus years of preaching and teaching I have slowly shifted from reading Scripture as a legal textbook designed to provide a specific pattern to reading Scripture as a story in we participate by imitating God. Rather than servile slaves whose obedience is rewarded and disobedience is punished based on keeping the technicalities of the law, we are God’s partners in the divine mission who are enabled by the power of God to participate in the unfolding story of God.
I do not know all of the answers. At times I don’t even know how to ask questions or attempt answers for fear of misunderstanding or being misunderstood. There is an enormously complex constellation of presuppositions, history, psychology, inclinations, suspicions at play here.
What I do know is that we all can learn from one another on this, and that interacting without understanding is counterproductive.
In an interview Dr. King once said these words with respect to the civil rights movement:
… the most pervasive mistake I have made was in believing that because our cause was just, we could be sure that the white ministers of the South, once their Christian consciences were challenged, would rise to our aid. I felt that white ministers would take our cause to the white power structures. I ended up, of course, chastened and disillusioned.
I am praying that here, now, this mistake will be rectified. I want to believe that you will rise to our aid, and that you would agree that a silent Christian who avoids applying the gospel to issues of injustice—though those issues may be uneasy, unclear or politicized—upholds the very structures that purport and perpetuate injustice.
As I observe our corporate response to tragedy as a human family, and evaluate my own response in the midst of it, I have noticed something disturbing unfold. Rather than rally together as a family navigating a season of trauma, we have used this moment to divide, stir hatred and misunderstanding, point fingers, and more than anything, view those on the opposite side of an issue as less than human.
Watching political pundits bark the party line or news anchors posture themselves as authority figures rather than conduits of curiosity, I find myself asking the question, “What keeps us from seeing others as human?”
So…stand up to cancer or walk for pink ribbons or take a bucket of ice for the team. Have at it if you like. Just remember that your real goodness is the kind of goodness that caused Paul to boast in weakness and brought martyrdom (not celebration) to millions. And then love Him and love your neighbor in all the ways in which your faith leads you.
In some ways, it’s understandable that we don’t want to be using this type of language in church. But, on the other hand, the Gospel is offensive. Grace is scandalous. And that’s the real point. The biblical prophets sometimes use offensive language, but not to produce shock for its own sake. Edginess was never the goal, and neither was some vague notion of Christian “freedom.” God’s messengers used vulgar images to shock their religious audience out of complacency. Because sometimes the goodness of God becomes lost in the fog of Christianese rhetoric and religious routine, and the only way to wake us up is to use provocative language.