Friday, April 19, 2013

Passivity, Quietism, and the Church’s Non-Response to Mounting Injustice

Christians are very divided regarding our response to injustice, especially the mounting injustices directed towards Christians and the church. Yes, we generally agree that we should love and pray for our enemies. We even agree that we should rejoice in the midst of loss and hardship, as Jesus taught:

  • Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets. (Luke 6:22-23)
However, does rejoicing preclude active involvement? We generally would say that it shouldn’t. We regret the fact that the church became largely quiescent under Hitler and Jim Crow, and boast that, if we had been there, we would have been involved.

However, there seems to be a disconnect when the injustice occurs to our fellow brethren in Christ. One pastor wrote to explain why he wasn’t going to march with other churches protesting their unjust and discriminatory expulsion from the NYC public schools where they had been renting space on Sunday mornings. He claimed that we are to rejoice when we are persecuted. Although this is true, the pastor also claimed that rejoicing precluded “fighting for one’s rights”:

  • Unfortunately, one cannot rejoice at persecution while fighting for one’s rights in persecution. The two cannot go together, even if one mixes one’s protest with prayer.
However, the Bible doesn’t seem to separate rejoicing from protesting. Take the example of Paul and Silas who had been imprisoned at Philippi for preaching the Gospel:

  • About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. (Acts 16: 25)
As a result, a powerful earthquake sprang open all of the prison doors. The jail-keeper, thinking he had lost his prisoners, was about to kill himself. Paul intervened and the jailer received Christ. However, this isn’t the end of the story. Officers subsequently informed them that they were officially released and that they were to leave. Paul surely rejoiced at this, but this didn’t prevent him from exposing the injustice:

  • But Paul said to the officers: "They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out." (Acts 16:37)
Rejoicing and protesting can coexist! They did in the mind of Christ. Although He willingly went to His execution, this didn’t prevent Him from protesting the injustice:

  • Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour--when darkness reigns." (Luke 22:52-53)

Here is my letter to the pastor:

I want to take issue with your position to not march on behalf of the churches now being coerced to leave the NYC schools.

While I agree with you that we should rejoice in all circumstances, including this discriminatory action, I don’t think that rejoicing precludes either being prophetic by denouncing the injustice or by taking legal action.

However, you believe that there is only “one appropriate response,” and that rejoicing does preclude legal action. Therefore, you wrote:

  • Unfortunately, one cannot rejoice at persecution while fighting for one’s rights in persecution. The two cannot go together…
Instead, I think that they must go together. We might rejoice in the midst of our health problems, but this shouldn’t keep us from going to the doctor. We might rejoice in the midst of seeing our brother’s home in flames – we know that the Lord will work even this for good - but this shouldn’t prevent us from helping him put out the fire.

Even if you feel no overriding concern or justification to preserve your place in the NYC school, your brethren do. And we are responsible for them:

  • Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins. (James 4:17)
I think that today many Christians are afraid of appearing chauvinistic – a focus on me and mine - in their concern for their brethren. However, it seems that this is the very posture that Jesus would have us take:

  • "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)
When the brethren loose their jobs, buildings and even lives to discrimination, we have a responsibility to combat the injustice and to stand beside them, even in protest, even as we encourage them to rejoice in our Lord. If we are neglectful of this central responsibility, the world will not see our mutual love and will be deprived of the witness of our oneness. They will conclude, “We do not see their love for one another. Christ therefore seems irrelevant to them.”

I don’t think that our passivity will win hearts. During my brief period as a teacher in a public school, I too thought that Jesus had been teaching passivity – to turn the other cheek at the misbehavior of the students. This only won me the deserved contempt of the teachers. They didn’t find anything virtuous in passivity but rather, a clear display of folly. Instead of bringing glory to my Lord, I had briefly demonstrated that the teachings of Jesus (wrongly understood) had no place in the real world.

Instead, I have found that the teachings of the Bible display great wisdom (Deut. 4:6-8) that will impress others with the Light of wisdom. If we simply rejoice while we allow our homes to burn and our brethren to be murdered, we will only earn scorn of others. However, if we show them another way (and I think that it’s the Biblical way) of rejoicing in the confidence of our Lord, as we proceed in wisdom, people may be drawn to this wisdom.

You admit that the children of these schools will suffer loss as the churches are banished from their midst. Well, aren’t these children worth our efforts to stand our ground? Mustn’t we plead for them? Mustn’t we expose the works of darkness (Eph. 5:11)?

Please forgive my unsolicited advice. I think that we are entering increasingly troubled times – times through which the brethren must stand together in worship but also in word and in deed. I pray that you will reconsider.

No comments:

Post a Comment