This post is written by Michael Kimpan, our Associate Director at The Marin Foundation.
Sometimes people say the darndest things.
Often, the public rhetoric infused into the tension filled spaces of conversations surrounding the intersection of faith and sexuality is more hurtful than helpful. Individuals and organizations on both ‘sides’ of the so-called culture war have repeatedly allowed public, dangerous, damaging and even idiotic statements to be uttered and written in order to demonize their opponents in their attempts to convince or convert others to their preferred perspective.
Some do this more than others.
And more often than I care to admit, I find myself biting my own tongue and talking myself off the proverbial ledge of hostile engagement and name-calling. Sometimes I have to stop myself from shooting out a scathing 140 character assassination by banning myself from Twitter.
I do my best to be an ambassador of reconciliation. A peacemaker. A bridge builder.
Name calling doesn’t often help that process along.
Yet there’s a particular passage in the gospels that gnaws at me – one that seems to provide for, in certain circumstances, a well-deserved tongue lashing.
In chapter 23 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus – the peacemaker and radically inclusive Rabbi – verbally man-handles his religious and cultural opponents, the Pharisees. The self-proclaimed Son of God calls the teachers of the Law hypocrites and blind guides; fools; self-indulging serpents; a brood of vipers; accuses them of being dead inside and other less-than-friendly epithets. These words were more than just a modern day equivalent to ‘your momma‘ jokes.
Jesus called them some nasty names.
This passage is problematic to me as a bridge builder.
I genuinely desire to avoid being unnecessarily offensive, or speaking out of any place other than a sincere desire for reconciliation. I want to make a conscious effort to err on the side of grace, even (especially?) when someone with whom I disagree says something… idiotic.
Even as I seek to challenge and oppose the currently accepted polarizing mediums of engagement – the status quo of a system which engages in the economics of exploitation and is steeped in the politics of oppression – I desire to do so without robbing the inherent dignity and worth of even the proponents of that system.
But perhaps sometimes, some folks are bound to be offended.
‘I always tell our community that we should attract the people Jesus attracted and frustrate the people Jesus frustrated. It’s certainly never our goal to frustrate, but it is worth noting that the people who were constantly agitated were the self-righteous, religious elite, the rich and the powerful.
‘But the people who were fascinated by him, by his love and grace, were folks who were already wounded and ostracized – folks who didn’t have much to lose, who already knew full well that they were broken and needed a Savior.’
It seems to me, as I spend time reading and re-reading the gospels, that Jesus was not at all offensive to the disenfranchised, to the oppressed, to the despised and rejected. Jesus was not all that offensive to the marginalized. In fact, he was attractive to them.
But he really did get under the skin of the teachers of the Law.
And they got under his.
Jesus got these religious leaders so worked up that they begged the Roman authorities to kill him just to shut him up. He was too inclusive, too loved by the common people. Too full of love and grace. Too accepting of those the insiders had deemed as Other.
He didn’t respect the religious rites and rituals quite enough. He rocked the boat just a little too much.
Then he went so far as to claim that this was what God the Father sent him to do.
‘Crucify! Crucify him! Let his blood be on us and our children!’
They were offended all right.
And these religious leaders got Jesus so worked up that he spewed out some pretty nasty insults – and did so publicly, without provocation. They weren’t inclusive enough, laying heavy and impossible burdens on the people while positioning themselves with powers and privilege.
They traveled around attempting to convert Others to their way of thinking and believing. They neglected justice, mercy and faithfulness and instead focused on secondary things.
When Jesus says, ‘Your father is the devil‘ and starts tossing tables around during a temper tantrum in the Temple, it’s safe to say he was offended, too.
This makes me think || if we’re serious about following Jesus – of remembering, celebrating and mimicking his life, of following his example in humble obedience to God – perhaps it’s not such a bad thing to be considered offensive to the religious elite.
And just maybe – occasionally and purposefully – calling them names is appropriate, even necessary…even Christ-like?
Is there a time that becoming intolerant of intolerance is acceptable and godly? Is there a place for righteous anger to be expressed in harsh words toward religious leaders?
Is it possible that confronting injustice, oppression, exploitation and the ideologies that fuel them is not only appropriate, but even necessary? What are the criteria? Who gets to decide?
Or is name-calling only permissible and beneficial when one fully knows both the heart and intent of the individual they are speaking out against? Are we ever able to make such a claim in our own imperfect state? Do our own imperfections disqualify us from the opportunity to call out the imperfections of others? Is Jesus the exception rather than the rule in this particular instance?
Is it inappropriate to defend our own posture and position, but appropriate to defend those whose voice goes unheard? How can we do so in love and humility? Are there times it’s better to keep our mouths shut, even when we think we’re right?
What do you think?