Tense times call for tender measures

These are tense times. Many factions at work in the frame of our society are ripping at the seam. The election of Donald J. Trump has polarized a nation and disintergrated relationships. But even at the heels of his election, the heat was rising with an increased exposure of unarmed shootings of black citizens and the rise of Black Lives Matter. White supremacy is the culprit, it seems, and must be extinguished.

The church in America has not been exempt. The past few years have seen a rise in a cry for the church to address issues of race and justice. This cry has increasingly leaned on secular socialological paradigm of critical theory  to address issues and provide remedies over and above the dictates of Scripture. Whitness is the evil that must be extinguished, is a growing roar. The election of 2016 only added fuel to that fire. The whiteness that contributed to the perceived injustice was now being perpertrated by anyone who dare approve of the Trump administration. White evangelicals were on trial and stood guilty of perpetrating perpetual crimes of marginalization against black and brown people.

On the flip side, another faction has arisen that began decrying the intrusion of social justice paradigms in the interest of preserving the gospel and reliance of the authority of Scipture. Legitmate concerns have turned into witch hunts if there was even a hint of capitualtion to a social justice paradigm.  Then there is support of Trump, whether it be the man himself or conservative policies themselves. The leftist, social justice warriors are bringing the church down and must be stopped, so goes the rallying cry.

Social media serves as a ready platform to take this disenchantment to the public square. Brothers and sisters go after each other in the name of truth. Condemnations are created, in some cases by partial profiles and half-baked information. Blog posts abound with indictments of the latest perpetrators of anti-biblical positions, whether it be for or against social justice or Trump. Guilt by association turns into easy categorization of people into simplistic boxes based on minimal evidence. (Lanie Anderson has a great article about guilt by association that I commend reading here.) Echo chambers are filled with glanging gongs.

The internet has turned into a noisy place and I don’t want to be part of the noise.  Rather, I want to be part of the solution. I’ve had a growing conviction that the tension created by these factions will not be helped with inflammatory rhetoric, confrontational approaches, and easy charges of guilt by association. This doesn’t help a church already riddled with so much division.  We are called, after all, to at least strive for peace and unity where possible.

In all transparency, when all this noise started ramping up some years ago (maybe 2014?),  I was on board with calling out injustices and dealing with ongoing issues of racism especially in the church. I admit there were times when I’d be quick to slap a racist label on that white person that pushed back against my proclamations of white privilege or white supremacy. But as I started observing how concern for these issues promoted broad brush applications, generalized indictments against white brothers and sisters, a primacy of ethnic identity over Christian identity, and conflation of political positions, I began to push back precipitated by the piece I wrote in July 2017, Some Questions I’m asking While off to My White Evangelical Church. I could no longer look at Scripture and go down the road some of my brothers and sisters were going. And you can bet that eventually ended up with some strained relations.

But I also wanted to be fair. I had no interest in throwing others under the bus for the sake of scoring points. Rather, my goal was to get into the weeds and at least try to discern where legitimate issues resided vs illegitimate claims based on socio-political preferences.

Some months and a few articles later, I along with a brother in Christ, was approached to be part of a site that would write from a Christ-centered perspective and address these issues from that lens. I understood the invitation to mean a partnership that involved my input. From the gate, I indicated I did not want it to be THAT site that goes after other sites and/or Christian figures because I did not want to join in the fray of what was already happening. I find such approaches to be unfruitful, unhelpful and often uncharitable. In keeping with my MO of navigating through these issues that was pretty important.

At first it was fine. But after awhile started observing posts and social media activity that went contrary to what I indicated I didn’t want to be a part of. Believing that it was truly a partnership in which my input was welcomed, I started expressing concerns. Unfortunately, my concerns were construed as bullying particulary after one Twitter observation in which a friend pointed out something I had already observed. I reached out with the intent of encouragement to think about how we are presenting publicly but unfortunately was not received well.  In reality, the observations were already there and I had already started getting uneasy about my affiliation. By the time the Statement on the Bible and Social Justice came out and the site endorsed it, my discomfort grew because I could not endorse that statement as I wrote about here and here.  The site manager was the first to say that we should go our separate ways in which I agreed. That was fall 2018. (Note: I raise this because the situation was publicly talked about and I wanted to present my side of the story)

Nonetheless, since that time it has become even clearer to me that the tension we have in the church today will not be helped by people standing outside that other tribe and lobbing grenades in it. Instead, I think it more helpful to navigate through the minefields, being extra careful with accusations especially where brothers and sisters in Christ are concerned. I am convicted by Scripture that truth really does matter, including the truth we assess and proclaim about each other. Therefore, I have tried to be judicious in my writing and social media posts, looking at all angles and striving to present a fair and balanced rendering.

Now that doesn’t mean I don’t have strong opinions about people or positions. I am grateful for my husband and friends who give me space to vent outside of the public eye without impugning my character. But during these tense times, I’ve also learned that it’s not wise to express everything I’m thinking in the manner I might express it privately. Instead, I think it’s prudent to process my raw thoughts and put them into a presentation that seeks to build the kingdom rather than tear it down. Restraint of words is good and I believe the book of Proverbs has much to say about that.

That also doesn’t mean ignoring truth or sliding on error, especially when there is evidence of scriptural deviation and undermining of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope in my striving for balance that I don’t go to far to the other side. That’s not helpful either. We do need to be people of conviction and truth. But we also need to be people of grace and mercy. It all works together and in these tense times, the church really needs a touch of tenderness.

This is why I am incredibly grateful for the Family Discussion podcast and my co-host Marcos Ortega. We don’t agree on many issues but he shares in my concerns about current state of affairs. Season 2 will be airing soon. It’s an election year and the church is incredibly divided over politics so guess what we’ll be focusing on. Stay tuned!

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