The following post is from Laura Statesir, Director of Family and Youth at The Marin Foundation.
Before I came to The Marin Foundation, I spent five years living in the Dominican Republic working for Young Life. The Dominican Republic is a small country in the Caribbean that shares the island of Hispaniola with the country of Haiti. President Obama recently nominated an openly gay man, James Brewster, as the Ambassador to the Dominican Republic. The response from this predominantly Catholic country has been mixed, but it was the reaction of two prominent religious leaders that caught my eye.
According to reports, Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez referred to Brewster as “maricon”, which is typically translated to “faggot”. Apparently, this is a word that the Cardinal has used in the past. Another church leader, Monseñor Pablo Cedano, stated, “I hope he [Brewster] does not arrive in the country because I know if he comes he is going to suffer and will have to leave.”
This incident raises the following questions for me: Is calling someone a derogatory name a Christ-like response? If this is how our Christian leaders respond, does that mean this should be our response as well?
There are several examples of Jesus “calling people names” in the Bible*, but Matthew 23 is the most extreme. In this example we see Jesus referring to people as hypocrites, blind guides, vipers, whitewashed tombs, etc. So if Jesus called people names… Does that mean I can call my neighbor a [insert derogatory term here]?
To answer this question, you have to look at who Jesus is calling names and why.
Jesus is speaking to the religious leaders of His day. These harsh terms are used to describe the Pharisees and teachers of the law, who were twisting God’s words and laws to fit their own agendas and thus separating God’s people from God’s love. Jesus is using strong language to call out these self-righteous religious leaders because they were oppressing people on the margins. Their words, rules, and regulations were preventing people from experiencing God’s unconditional love. There was a loving heart and redemptive purpose behind Jesus calling them names.
You also have to look at who Jesus is NOT calling names.
Jesus did not call the Samaritan woman a whore. He doesn’t demean the man with leprosy, the paralyzed man, the sick woman, the demon-possessed boy or the blind or deaf. Regardless of whether they were in sin or not, Jesus doesn’t insult the oppressed, the wounded, or those who were rejected by society.
Jesus’ only name calling is directed at those who “misrepresented His father to those who needed him most.”**
Jesus also does not seem like the unwelcoming type. Jesus doesn’t ignore or mistreat Zaccheaus, the hated tax collector. Instead Jesus stays with Zaccheaus in his house, which made a bold statement about inclusion. Whether having dinner with Matthew (Matthew 9) or Levi (Mark 2), Jesus shared meals with tax collectors and other “sinners”. Jesus didn’t slight them and insist that “those people” were not welcome.
Again I raise the question, is it Christ-like to use strong or derogatory language? If Jesus used strong language and called out the religious leaders of His time for putting up walls between God and God’s people, is it appropriate for us to do the same?
Words are powerful. My hope is that we would use them as Jesus did.
*Note: In Matthew 15:26 Jesus says to the Canaanite woman: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Scholars disagree on whether or not this is an example of Jesus calling a marginalized person by a derogatory name. Some scholars believe Jesus may have been using language that was popular at the time that we don’t fully understand, that Jesus may have been kidding, or that He was trying to test her faith. Jesus’ willingness to speak to the woman (whom His disciples urged to send away) and heal her daughter causes many scholars to believe that there is more to the word “dog” than appears in a cursory reading.