29 March 2012

Being wrong is not the same as being evil

Exhibit A: Not long ago, I opened Facebook and found this caption and photo on my "wall":

Amen, every knee will bow and every tongue 

I protested this use of Scripture:

"...Don't use the Bible to caption a false witness. That verse is our hope of glory, not a political smear."

The reply: "Wow, Johan it seems we have a real disagreement here about our political views. I cannot tolerate a liberal in my list of friends especially one who goes after my relationship with my Lord and Saviour! I did not misrepresent or take out of context that verse in scripture.... You live in a different country and have no idea what is going on here back at home and in my opinion should not be allowed to vote!!"

I've never "unfriended" someone from a site because of differing political views--even though my social networking "friends" range from anarchists to monarchists--so I was startled for a moment. I've also literally never been told that I should not be allowed to vote.

More than that: I want to be in fellowship with people who think I'm wrong, and who I believe are wrong. I cannot stand the suffocating feeling that I get among those who prefer mutual admiration of their advanced political views. I also want to keep a lively curiosity about why some persistently choose paths that seem inconsistent with our shared faith or even their own interests. What are they seeing that I'm not? And what connections are they not making between faith and practice that I could, through love and persistence, encourage them to consider? Being wrong is not the same as being evil--in their case, and in mine.

P.S.: Did you notice the gun? I didn't, at first.

P.S. #2: I can almost hear someone dismissing that photo and caption as the predictable output of a hate movement that is well financed and orchestrated. That may be true, but dismissing the millions who keep this circulation going, egg each other on, and add their own amens, just perpetuates the dynamic. Keep the faith, but stand in the gap!

Exhibit B: Someone told me about a fascinating article in Huffington Post, "How a Christian Hajj Would Save the Next Trayvon Martin." The author, Faheem Younus, argues that the story of Malcolm X illustrates the transforming power of the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca to heal the spirit of racial division. He urges white Christian leaders--whose current passivity in the face of persistent racism flies in the face of our own teachings--to help organize a similar transformative platform. The first thoughts that sprang to my mind were all reasons why it wouldn't work, why there's no natural parallel to the Hajj for Christians, how we already have Martin Luther King's birthday, why I don't like to be told what to do by Christian leaders, and so on and so on.
Poetry reading on Elektrostal
bus!--librarian introduces poet
While passengers get on and off,
E. Nikitina reads her poetry
Our institute celebrates
Dickens's 200th birthday;
here's my Oliver Twist
Online Film Festival

After I finished weaving this tissue of excuses, I began meditating on a theme that made me quite nervous: is Faheem Younus saying that the white church in America is wrong? (Well, is it even theoretically possible? Or was Fr Emmanuel Charles McCarthy "right," so to speak, when he ironically observed that being church means never having to say you're sorry?)

Of course the white church is wrong. It's wrong that you can even speak of a white church--but if the statistic he quotes is correct, 92% of American congregations are not multiracial, then it's a reality. By the way, I doubt that North American Quakers do better than that.

So what do we do? It's not going to be easy: structural racism is a mass phenomenon, but we are all individuals, with our own complex mixes of rights and wrongs. Moreover, I believe that there is integrity in the reasons that many of us, individually and as families, are in the congregations we're in; we can't do a quota-based reshuffling of church memberships. (Can we?)

But I do believe that our ministers and evangelists can do a better job of getting in our faces about the consequences of conversion: once we belong to Jesus, we are no longer allowed to bear false witness and make false distinctions among people. It's not enough for our black Christian celebrities and white Christian celebrities to hug and mug in front of TV cameras; someone at the parish level must take the new converts by the hand and gently but firmly tell them that Jesus died for their worst enemy and their most feared "other" just as much as for them--and thereby he offers us powerful release from that fear. It must be explicit! And when racial violence and racial scandal interrupts our complacency, once again it's time for leaders to look directly at us, even with tears in their eyes, and make it personal.

Another thing: Evangelicals, including Friends, need to look again at the Catholic and Orthodox parish model--a model that sees everyone in the parish boundaries as the natural constituency for that fellowship. We don't need to go in an authoritarian "local church" direction--for good reasons and for bad, most of us will continue to be individualists when it comes to choice of congregation. But each congregation, each Friends meeting, ought to pray for everyone in their larger communities and do everything it takes to be sure that we are not putting up barriers to our own neighbors in favor of attracting "our own kind."

Exhibit C: Purity and Coalition-building in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Occupy Wall Street and its sister movements have a resolutely non-hierarchical culture and are suspicious of anyone who might sell out the movement to mainstream politics. Others are sure that such fixation on purity will effectively  divide and marginalize the movement for social and economic justice. See Jake Olzen's "The making of a '99% spring."

My conclusion: they're both right--so understand that it is going to be messy, and give up trying to enforce unity. As Olzen says, "The Occupy movement and establishmentarian anything--politics, corporations, non-profits--will always have an odd relationship, but that they would have some relationship is inevitable."

And they're both wrong. Well, really, they're both incomplete. What Christians need to inject into this movement is two elements of biblical realism: (1) No activist and no theoretician has all the answers. The path to justice is lit by the heart of God, and only spiritual transformation will ensure a revolution that doesn't simply install a new 1%. Dialogue and prayer are essential at every level of the movement--and, Christians, this means you need to talk lovingly with people who are wrong, and who believe you are wrong! (2) This will deprive you of the popular device of demonizing those who prefer different tactics--as well as those who seem to be defending the 1%. Jesus died for them, too. Being wrong is not the same as being evil.

"Leithart on 'The Persistent Marginalization of the Eucharist'." In keeping with the theme of being wrong is not the same as being evil, I almost entitled this link "the beauty of being wrong." I decided that was wrongly arrogant. Quakers always need to treat the subject of the Eucharist respectfully and not get on our traditional high horses too quickly. Right now I simply want to point out that the Christian unity that is argued as the fruit of outward communion (referred to constantly by the term "the Table") is immediately belied by the comments portion of the same post. As for communion's function of keeping Christ at the center and helping preserve us from evangelical fascination with fads, it was not early Friends' observation that the apparatus and politics of the sacraments tended to keep Christ at the center. But at the same time, I don't see that Friends' avoidance of ceremony has always kept Christ at the center, either.

(Previous posts on worship.)

Invitation to a lovely competition: quaker oats live's "biking experiment."

"Russia's Romney Rant" and a compilation of Russian reactions to Romney's assertion that Russia is the USA's primary geopolitical foe.

The history and role of the Reformed Journal: "The Grand Rapids Intellectuals."

"Nelson Mandela Archive Goes Online."


Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Margaret Benefiel said...

This is brilliant, Johan. Thank you so much for this careful, thoughtful analysis.

Pat Pope said...

"But each congregation, each Friends meeting, ought to pray for everyone in their larger communities and do everything it takes to be sure that we are not putting up barriers to our own neighbors in favor of attracting "our own kind."

Amen and Amen!

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate your measured and rational response to what I see as a real problem in social media. I appreciate the humility of your response.

Anonymous said...

related blog post, really about more than the single topic the title implies, generated a huge discussion of including differences:

Tom Stave said...

Johan, thank you for this appreciation of differences. Christians should welcome these disagreements as an invitation for the Holy Spirit to bring us into unity and maturity and depth of love.