When Christianity Becomes Like Battered Wife Syndrome

Meekness and humility are good things. They’re traits that all Christians spend a lifetime trying to cultivate within themselves. But when I look at the state of Christianity today, I’m afraid that a lot of Christians have come to value those traits to the exclusion of all others.

Lately it seems that anytime Christians have a chance to stand up for righteousness (another excellent Christian trait, btw), they do so in the most self-conscious, apologetic, mealy-mouthed way possible, if they stand up at all.

When someone challenges Christian principles, we almost seem embarrassed to admit that we have principles in the first place. When attacked, our responses seem to be based on the belief that if only we were less strident, less outspoken, if only we tolerated more, compromised more, then there wouldn’t be any attacks at all. We’d join hands with all the critics of the church and dance ’round the maypole all the live-long day.

This attitude reminds me of nothing so much as an abused wife who thinks, “If only I hadn’t boiled the potatoes so long, then he wouldn’t have hit me.” We assume that conflicts are our fault; that they mean that we must be in the wrong somehow.

This has been on my mind a lot lately, not least because of the Riot-A-Palooza that’s been touring America, most recently in Baltimore. It’s produced a lot of introspective chin-stroking from Christian commentators, as exemplified by this mewling piece from Barnabas Piper:

Set aside loaded terminology for a moment. Forget the debates over “white privilege,” “systemic racism,” or “thug” for just a minute. Pocket your pointed finger, please.

And ask yourself this: Why?

Why Ferguson? Why New York? Why Baltimore? Why this rash of unrest?

I think a better question would be “Who?” As in, “Who benefits? Who benefits from this rolling series of riots? Who gains political leverage from the violence and threats of violence generated by armies of professional protesters and agitators?” But I bet that’s not what Barnabas is driving at. I mean, coming up with real answers with facts and stuff might make us sound like meanies, so we can’t have that.

Before you jump to the answer you brought pre-loaded to the question pause for a moment. Before you boil it down to a simple (or simplistic) explanation that pins the blame firmly on one person or group of people stop yourself. And ask “why?”

This is cute. “Everybody who has an opinion about this is dumb. I alone have discovered the cosmic truth that everybody is kinda right, and everybody is kinda wrong. Both the guy who throws the brick and the cop who gets a concussion from it are equally at fault. So there, simpletons.” It’s not every day you get to see this kind of moral clarity.

At a certain level resolving debates over terminology matters immensely, but too often they serve as a red herring in what is actually a matter much deeper than a collection of words. Because resolving those debates still only gives a small glimpse into what is really going on.

This doesn’t even make sense. Barnabas Piper is using a collection of words to express these thoughts. Are they explaining to us what’s really going on? Or are they just terminology?

The uprisings in Baltimore and Ferguson (and wherever it happens next, because there will be a next)…

Well, he got one thing right.

mean something. They are not merely the rash actions of some angry young men looking for trouble (though such actions certainly fuel the fires of combativeness). No, they are like a more like a volcanic eruption, the pressure having mounted too high for too long before it explodes with fire, heat, poison, and destruction.

We must acknowledge that it means something… Too often we (the majority culture) want no part of pained expressions by the underserved and underprivileged because it upsets our equilibrium. Too often we condemn outburst of rage without recognizing what birthed that rage. We have no empathy.

We must hold truths in both hands, in tension with one another, the truths with which we are comfortable and the ones we need to learn.

“Pained expressions by the underserved” sounds like a description of people who can’t get a waitresses’ attention. Kind of a soft sell for people who are stealing TVs and burning down drugstores.

Piper then provides a list of “truths” that are basically justifications for rioting. Be sure to print out a copy and take it with you to your next “uprising!” They include:

Lashing out against authority is wrong BUT authority oppressing the weak is equally as wrong.

The destructive force of a rioting mob helps nobody and gains no sympathy BUT it was birthed out of decades of receiving no help and going unheard.

There’s a more civil way forward BUT it seems those resting comfortably in power do not listen to quiet reasoned voices.

Noble truths, indeed. It reminds me of that part of the Bible where Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me. Unless you’re oppressed by authority, in which case, throw your cross through the windshield of a passing car and wreck up a bunch of random stuff.”

Look, nobody likes fighting the power more than me, but as Christians, we’re supposed to be able to tell the difference between good and evil. In fact, I think we should be better at it than most people. And when I look at the behavior in Baltimore, I think that it’s pretty safe to say that it ain’t good.

But Piper dares not say that, dares not say something as clear and simple as, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Because that kind of commonsense conviction about right and wrong has been beaten and badgered out of us. Someone’s angry, someone feels short-changed, someone wants something he doesn’t have, therefore it must be our fault, and the only proper Christian response is to find out how low we need to prostrate ourselves to make that person happy.

I want to help, I really do. I don’t want to see cities burn. But I think the world would be better served by Christians who spoke boldly, with a little moral clarity, than by yet another navel-gazing essay about how the whole fallen world is really our fault. We already know it is.

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