I have a confession. I don’t always know how to respond to big events in our culture. I mean, I’m an evangelical pastor; we’re supposed to have our responses ready-made from the very pages of scripture, aren’t we?
You might want to remove my credentials when I tell you that I haven’t even known how to respond to the allegations made against Bret Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford. I mean, from perusing the internet it is clear that everyone else knows exactly how to respond. My friends don’t agree in their response but they are all very sure of what they see, how they see it and how they should respond. The whole world seems to know instinctively how to respond and who to trust.
But, I don’t.
I listened to the hearings and when Christine Blasey Ford spoke I found her credible and felt sympathy for her.
Then I listened to Bret Kavanaugh speak and I found him credible and felt sympathy for him.
All the reports the next day told me I was wrong and that in fact only one of them was even the slightest bit credible; although, again, the sources all disagreed on exactly which was which along already preconceived opinions. Few opinions seemed to have changed.
Then I had a discussion with my daughter and realized I might not be the only Christian who is more frustrated than enlightened about not only this event but many such polarizing events in our culture. And so I began to think. As Christians, as those whose allegiance is to Christ first what should our response in such events be?
As expected, Scripture doesn’t actually comment on Supreme Court Justices or the #metoo movement directly, but are there sign posts, markers to help guide our way?
I think there are, and so for the benefit of people like me I pose the following suggestions. If you are not like me, meaning you have no interest in trying to respond in a Christ like manner, or that you already have complete confidence in your own response, then this is not for you. I am not writing to persuade anyone of who’s wrong or right but only to give some sign posts to help guide the way for this and other similar moments which ar sure to come to us.
1. Your only allegiance is to Christ. It’s good to be part of community. Loyalty is also a positive value. It’s good to labor together with people of similar convictions, ideals and pursuits. On the other hand, the decades since I first voted in a presidential election, it appears to me that the tribalism of the parties and other communities has gotten worse. It’s not helped by the fact that our tribes are so big we end up defending complete strangers about whom we know nothing simply because they are part of our tribe. As Christians we can certainly decide that one group or another may more closely align with our values as believers, but closely align is not the same as exactly align. Never should we confuse a political victory with a moral one, just because it happens to fall on a certain side of the political aisle. We must always seek to rise above the prepackaged beliefs of the particular group to which we happen to belong in the interest of defending the values of Christ. Women are expected to respond one way, white men another, minorities another, democrats, republicans, conservatives, liberals…all have prepackaged ideas of how we should respond and all too often it becomes easiest to simply follow the course of least resistance. Both sides of the argument regarding Kavanaugh and Ford like to tell themselves that it’s all a big moral issue but if that were the case would it really split along such strict party lines? if there are any heroes in this whole story perhaps they are Senators Joe Manchin and Lisa Murkowsky who were the only two to break with their respective parties in the vote and each likely viewed with scorn by their respective parties for that reason. One can hope they did so for reasons of conscience, but it’s easy to be cynical about that too. Tribalism avoids having to actually spend time consulting our consciences, our scripture, or our Lord and assume someone else already did the hard work for us. If our allegiance to anything or anyone becomes more significant than our allegiance to Christ, we may find it too easy to justify almost anything for the sake of our tribe. The crowd with which we associate cannot be our final guide to what’s right.
2. Defensiveness causes a failure of imagination. So much of what I see as I watch things unfold in the media, social and serious, seems to be a failure of imagination. My liberal friends tell me there is no reason a woman would ever lie about such things. My conservative friends tell me there is no way a judge of such standing could be guilty without corroboration. Now I know I have a pretty active imagination, but I can come up with dozens of scenarios for either possibility. Interestingly both sides are screaming injustice, accusing the opposite side of caring more about their own agenda than about justice. Neither side is claiming that justice doesn’t matter. In their defensiveness they’ve just become unwilling or possibly even unable to perceive the potential injustice on the other side. My conservative friends, how much better would your conversations be if you could simply say, “If Bret Kavanaugh did what Christine Ford claims then he has potentially ruined her life and there has been a grave injustice which needs to be corrected.” My liberal friends, how much better would your conversations be if you could simply say, “If Bret Kavanaugh did not do what Christine Ford claims than she has potentially ruined his life and there has been a grave injustice which needs to be corrected.” Instead I hear defenders of Kavanaugh saying it doesn’t matter what he did and defenders of Ford saying it doesn’t matter if she’s telling the truth. So as Christians what do we do about this failure of imaginations? I’m not entirely sure, but mostly I would suggest we make sure that we don’t get trapped into defending and essentially bearing witness for people we don’t know simply because they are part of our tribe.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.–Micah 6:8.
3. Act justly: It is good and right that we be concerned about justice in this. However justice is so easily confused in our minds by our own partiality. I am old enough that I was also paying attention during the Clinton Impeachment hearings and It’s hard not to be disconcerted watching the Democrats of today use arguments made by the Republicans then and vice versa. Its not that the arguments on both sides don’t have their points; it’s that those points seem only to be seen by someone inclined toward them in the first place and completely not seen when it doesn’t suit our allegiance. Some of the strongest laws in Scripture relate to giving false witness due to reasons of partiality. While it’s not exactly the same thing, our tendency to aggressively side with complete strangers based not on evidence but on our allegiance to a tribe seems similar and is strongly warned against. Consider::
Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.2“Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, 3and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit.
“Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. 7Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.
And in the New Testament James says this
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
4. Love mercy: While we do justice, we are to love mercy. We are to recognize that all of us need mercy, someone to advocate for us and be more gracious than we deserve. The tension between mercy and justice is real in our effort to respond as followers of Christ at moments like this. All I want to suggest here though is that just as Justice can be peverted by partiality and false allegiance so too can mercy. In the verses above, notice that neither the rich nor the poor should be judged based upon their richness or poverty. There is a healthy normal desire to speak for the oppressed and powerless. Jesus often does this and encourages us outright to do the same. This might incline us towards defending Ford and this is not a bad thing. Those who believe Ford will rightly make the argument that it’s wrong to overlook her allegations because of her status as compared to the powerful and prosperous Judge Kavanaugh. But what I want to gently suggest is that as Christians we need to be careful to recognize that in any argument among strangers we will be inclined to be sympathetic to those we most immediately relate to. It’s probably true that as a white evangelical pastor, I find it easier to imagine a scenario where someone out of power would speak completely false claims in order to bring someone down in power. I find it easier because I’ve experienced it in far less significant ways. it’s not a theory to me that someone could lie about me for completely inscrutable reasons. To feel personally the injustice and pain of such a thing is an experience I can easily relate to and imagine. This doesn’t make me wrong, but I should recognize my partiality here. On the other hand this scenario I’ve laid out is almost impossible for my daughter to comprehend, and yet her ability to believe someone might assault a young girl, get away with it and then lie to protect themselves seems much more real to her. My point is this, it’s easier for us to show mercy to someone in whose shoes we can immediately see ourselves. My only suggestion is not to curtail these instincts towards mercy and advocacy, but to recognize our own inclinations and accept the inclinations and experiences of those who are inclined differently. As we listen to each other we can become people who love mercy more, with a greater reservoir of empathy. Our confidence, in other words, may not be based on truth and raw reason as much as we’d like. And that leads us to…
5. Walk Humbly with Your God: Humility. I suspect this is a value in which no one is intuitively strong; but worse than that, while it used to be aspired to, it is now actually seen as a weakness in some corners, even among Christians. So much of polarization seems to me to come from a sense of arrogance and supreme confidence in our own ideas and opinions. So rarely do we see the willingness to consider we might be wrong. Humility in the public eye often appears only as humiliation. Only after someone falls beyond repair, when they have not only been wrong but been caught and completely shamed by the media do they then come forward in tones of something approaching humility. That should not be our practice as Christians. We should always remember that our allegiance is to the God of the universe who has sacrificed Himself because we were wrong, supremely wrong. Only He could make things right and He did so with great Humility, seeing our needs as more important than His own rights as God. This should be our attitude as well.
It is not my intention in this blog to fan any flames. I don’t expect anyone’s opinions about the Kavanaugh or Ford will be changed by this and as I’ve tried to honestly convey, I don’t even know for sure what your opinions ought to be. I have my own conclusions, but based on such little actual knowledge as I personally feel I have, I think those conclusions are much less important for me to share as a pastor than what I’ve tried to do here, which is simply to help us continue to think about how we, those whose allegiance is to our Lord Jesus, ought to respond when the rest of the world seems so certain.
Any comments in keeping with this goal will be welcome, even (maybe especially) ones which disagree. Any comments which declare an absolutel certainty of what’s right in this instance complete with excoriation and demonization of opposition will be stricken from the record.
Thanks, Dave. I will not comment on the Kavanaugh situation, but as someone trying to live in what you have described in a different situation, I appreciate your words. It is so hard not to ardently defend the one unjustly accused by others. What is disconcerting is how easily good people seem to have a different understanding of just who that is. Ultimately, God will judge it all. He who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know (1Cor 8:2). I bristle at the bridle of your words, but I know it is a bridle from God. May he teach us more about how to rest in Him and to have our own fear of a coming accounting. Again, thank you.
John. Thanks so much for reading and replying. I know you to be a good and faithful man who will appropriately seek Gods will over your own.
A friend of mine named Tim replied in an email. I post it here without comment (with his permission of course). You can discern from my long blog that his views do not entirely represent mine.
For me not to hold to the premise that a person is innocent until proven guilty moves into the arena of treating the righteous and unrighteous the same way (Genesis 18:25). Far be it from God. Far be it from us. Being accused is not being guilty. An accusation with a denial of the accusers four witnesses does not make someone guilty. Repressed memory acquisition … I won’t even go there.
I simply believe all Christians should agree that Kavanaugh is innocent, at least until he has been proven guilty and that was not done and probably can’t be done.
I personally think unity of the body is best secured as strong leaders lead us into these convictions strongly. Perhaps Trump’s remarks at Kavanaugh’s swearing-in provides the best example of a leader teaching and leading people to the conclusion they should come to: that Kavanaugh is innocent … since he wasn’t proven guilty.