Is it possible in today’s culture for there to be a place where ideas, opinions, and affiliations are challenged in a constructive manner without people being offended? Will you, as a reader, move forward in this blog with an open mind and heart to the very end? Can we have a constructive dialogue right here and now? The reality is that we live in a world obsessed with political correctness, struggling with identity, and polarized by political and religious extremism. My hope is that in the next few moments, I can discuss each of these issues and propose a resolution.
Political Correctness has become the mandate of the day. The ultimate trump card in our society boils down to two words: “I’m offended.” Use these two words in an argument, and our culture awards you the victory. We have elevated avoiding offense over and above any other value. I believe this is hindering our nation, and ultimately, hindering the church.
Why? Because using the “offended” trump card ultimately hinders constructive dialogue and discourse. It is a cheap method of victory, saving oneself from actually defending a position and sparing one’s ideas from being scrutinized. Our culture has allowed the words “I’m offended” to spare oneself from being forced to examine their own ideas and opinions. But our ideas and opinions need to be examined. How else do we grow as people if we do not challenge our ideas, opinions, preconceptions, methods, etc.? The entire scientific method is founded upon putting one’s ideas or hypothesis to the test. Yet when we engage in discourse and our ideas are put to the test, it scares us. We think, “If my idea is put to the test and found wanting, it will make me feel stupid, insecure, ill-equipped; or worse, it will force me to change.”
Why do we fear this so much? Because we have attached our ideas to our identity. Identity is a word that is used so often in our culture. We use it in politics when we ask, “which party do you identify with?” We use it to discuss sexuality by defining one’s attraction as sexual identity.
Our world has inextricably linked ideas, opinions, attractions and affiliations to identity, so much so that if one were to disagree with someone’s idea, opinion, attraction or affiliation, it is to disagree with that someone’s very personhood. And if your ideas, opinions, values and perceptions change, then your identity changes along with it. Therein lies the problem: when your identity is attached to things that can change and be challenged, can you ever truly know who you are?
This is where the church should step in and lead our world. We have the answer to identity: true identity, one that cannot change and cannot be taken away, is found in Christ alone. We discover this throughout the scriptures. In 1 Peter 2:9-10 God defines us as “chosen,” “royal,” “God’s own people.” In Titus 3:3-5, we discover who we used to be without Christ, “foolish, disobedient, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” But when Christ enters the equation, your identity changes; and more than that, your identity is solidified and founded on that which cannot change: Jesus Christ. Hebrews 13:8 tells us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
As Christians, our identity is found in Christ and Christ alone. And more than that, I would argue that because of our identity in Christ, our diversity is highlighted, elevated, and even celebrated in a way not possible apart from Him (but more on that in a moment). Yet far too often we allow ourselves to be influenced by the society in which we live. We find ourselves “offended” at those who would disagree with our political affiliations. We are “offended” at someone who would dare to disagree with our ideas and thoughts on a topic. I would challenge that where you find yourself offended is where you find yourself placing your identity.
Let me pause here to make two things very clear:
1. This is in no way a license to denigrate another person's opinions on the basis of “religious freedom.” Far from it, this is a call to the church to a be place where no person is denigrated, but instead have their ideas challenged in a constructive manner so that we can collectively grow and mature. The church must be a place where personhood is esteemed, not on the basis of ideas, opinions, thoughts, feelings, or affiliations. Rather, we esteem every human being’s value on the basis of God’s truth alone; namely, that we are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27).
2. I am not saying that the church has historically represented what I am arguing for in this post. I know that in the history of Christianity and the church, there have been instances and even eras of racially motivated crusades, poor treatment of women and other minorities, political leveraging of religious power for personal gain, and many other abuses of power. I do not contend that the church has always been a proper example of this historically. What I am arguing for is that the church is called to be this type of place Biblically.
The church is supposed to be the one place where, no matter your ethnic, political, socio- economic, familial background, you can dwell unified in Christ. The church is supposed to be the one place where God’s love is strong enough to conquer our differences. The apostle John paints a beautiful picture of heaven in Revelation 7:9 when he writes, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” Every tribe (who you affiliate yourself with). Every people (type of person, shape, size, color, etc.). Every language (every word spoken proposing ideas and opinions). Every nation (where you find yourself living and growing). In all of this, the people John saw in Heaven were unified in their worship of Christ.
I want to compare two Johns for a moment: the Apostle John, and John Lennon. One of the most celebrated songs in history is John Lennon’s song, “Imagine.” In it he sings, “Imagine there's no heaven It's easy if you try No hell below us Above us only sky Imagine all the people Living for today... Aha-ah... Imagine there's no countries It isn't hard to do Nothing to kill or die for And no religion, too Imagine all the people Living life in peace... You... You may say I'm a dreamer But I'm not the only one I hope someday you'll join us And the world will be as one.” And yet, I believe Lennon’s idea of unity is cheap. Unity without diversity isn’t unity at all; it’s uniformity.
Yet look at what the Apostle John writes in Revelation 7:9. He does not ignore the differences of the people, he celebrates them! He understood that true, powerful unity comes by recognizing, inviting, and celebrating diversity! We as Christians should do the same. The church should not and cannot be a place where we leave our diversity at the door. Rather, it is a place where we bring our diversity inside, and stand unified in Christ in spite of the differences we have. The church is a place where constructive dialogue and discourse should thrive, where different opinions and ideas can be openly discussed without the fear of one’s identity and personhood being devalued because we all recognize that our identity does not lie in our ideas, but rather is found in Christ alone!
Jesus makes room for diversity to exist without the risk of being marginalizing. It’s the forgiveness we receive from him that unifies us, it is the identity that we receive through Him that defeats marginalization, and it’s the love that we receive from Him (and demonstrate to one another as a result of His love) that enables us to celebrate our differences. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
So often, Christians find themselves describing their perspective as the “good” while labeling the opposing perspective as the “bad,” especially as it relates to politics (whichever party you are affiliated with, in my experience this seems to be the case). We have to move beyond this “good guys vs. bad guys” perspective. We have to strive to see people who might have a different perspective as people, not the enemy. Ephesians 6:12 tells us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” American Christians are in danger of falling prey to just that: "Americanizing" Christianity. We can fall into the trap of exchanging "what is it for a man to gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36) for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We can fall prey to exchanging “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute” (Proverbs 31:8) for "my personal rights and freedoms must be protected, even at the expense of someone else’s."
I believe that Jesus was intentional in his final recorded prayer before his ascension to heaven. In John 17:15-23 Jesus prays first for his disciples with Him, and then for us (for all who would believe as a result of his disciples’ ministry). He says,
“15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by[d] the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. 20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
My challenge is this: are you sanctified by his truth, or are you more influenced by the world around you? Are you seeking unity in Christ, or are you more concerned about protecting your own ideas, rights and opinions? Are you celebrating diversity, or are you becoming divisive?
Jesus understood this one fundamental truth: when, in the midst of our diversity, we stand unified, “the world will know that you [God] sent me [Jesus] and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
It’s time for the church to step up, stand unified, and change the world.