So I kind of “like” Pastor Wilson, something that should be somewhat apparent by the number of times I mention his name in various blog posts. “Liking” him does not mean I think he is spot on about everything, in fact, I think he is bloody wrong about a whole lot of things.
But I like to focus on him because he is a part of a broader target, a bit of tangible evidence of a much bigger issue. He is a safe example to use to demonstrate the nature of the problem, “safe” in the sense that I wouldn’t want to call out someone who was not writing prolifically, who was struggling to understand, who was already overworked and worn down by the world.
So it is with Pastor Wilson, the author of “Black and Tan,” the author of “Southern Slavery as it Was,” among other books, who now writes a blog post called, “The Moral High Ground of Free Grace.”
Here is how I see it. When people around you are hurting, when your brothers and sisters in Christ are trying to tell you there’s a problem, there really is a problem. The problem in this case is cloaking what basically amounts to outright racism hidden behind conservative values and proclamations that, “I am a minister of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
But it is way bigger then that, it is the suggestion that free grace is the moral high ground and so anyone who has been victimized by slavery, racism, oppression, domestic violence, sexual abuse, just needs to just shut up and be more forgiving towards their oppressors. So Social Justice Warriors, #Metoo Advocates, and anybody attempting to address on going injustice and current victimization within the church and without, just needs to, suck it up buttercup and accept the fact that we’re all sinners.
Which is partially true. Forgiveness is actually the path to healing, the road to victory, it sets the captives free. And whom the Son sets free, is free indeed.
BUT, BUT, BUT, justice and restoration are a two-way street. There’s nothing quite like having crooks, bad guys, and pastors, not only refuse to see the blatant injustice right before them, but to refuse to empathize with victims at all, and to avoid feeling any sense of responsibility, protection, or a desire to right these wrongs.
I see hurting people and grave injustice and my first thought is, we need to attend unto thy needs, remove the threat, stop the bleeding, rework the historical equation, rewrite the script, and help you to heal. I do not see hurting people, cluck my tongue, declare myself to be in possession of the moral high ground, take great offense, and then suggest “those kind of people” just need to be more forgiving, and repent more themselves.
That’s kind of what has happened within a lot of conservative evangelical Christianity for decades regarding multiple social issues, including race relations. We aren’t talking about the “sins of our ancestors” here, we’re talking about Bob Jones University refusing to admit black folks as late as 1971. We’re talking about their legendary ban on inter racial dating and marriage and their fight to reinstate their tax exempt status, that ended what, only two years ago??
And of course, in the culture at large that kind of thinking continues today, right beneath the surface. So none of this stuff is “ancient history,” nor simply the “sins of the ancestors.” It’s often so embedded in our own behavior and our own thinking that we can’t even see it.
So here’s a really good test of whether or not you actually do possess the moral high ground, that place Wilson refers to as, “high ground….on top of mountains of grace,” So do you invite others to come sit on that mountain top with you??? Are you willing to share this Mountain Top of Grace? Is your Moral High Ground a weapon you use simply to proclaim your own rightness, or is it a ladder you do everything in your power to help others climb??
That’s a serious question, one I’ve had to ask my own self over and over again. It’s not an easy question either, because a bit like Jonah, I’m not always so sure I want to share the mountain top with some real Ninevehians. I’m a hospitable sort too, the people of Nineveh are probably even my own people. But still…ewww…
But many people within conservative, evangelical Christianity, have traditionally NOT been very hospitable. Not hospitable in how they pay wages, invite people into leadership roles, welcome people into our churches, admit them into our universities, or relate to them on the street. It’s a fact! Don’t shoot the messenger.
I’ve been fighting against this my entire life, so it’s not as if I just pulled stuff out of my hat. People by nature can be very tribal, very territorial, and so we’ll often minister to “the poor,” just so long as they stay in their designated place. Same is often true of race relations. And often, true of gender relations. In fact, declaring oneself to be in possession of, “the one true moral high ground” at the exclusion of all others, is kind of the epitome of entitlement. It’s a privileged and entitled attitude that just shuts all others out.
Grace for me, but not for thee.
So why are there so many divisions and strifes among you? Because we cannot seem to ever listen to one another. Because we have this attitude that it is my way or the highway. Because we believe there are none righteous, but ME. Because we demonize one another and reject other people’s humanity. Because we falsely believe either that we’re the only ones who care, so, so much, or else we’re the only ones that have the eyes to see things as they really are. Everyone else is just stupid. Deplorable. Racist. Because we insist our God backs up our position and favors us alone. Our “god,” by the way, can just as easily be atheism or secular humanism or a political party or ideology or even red pill rubbish.
So exclusion, meaning you’re now out of the cool kid’s club, due to politics, class, race, gender, pink hair, yoga pants, tattoos, circumcision, eating meat sacrificed to idols, are all just signs of tribalism and fear, a desire to try to control the grace narrative. God only likes the people I happen to like, those who are acting, thinking, and presenting themselves in a manner that validates my own perceptions of having earned grace.
And of course, grace cannot be earned, but that does not ever seem to stop us from thinking this way, from insisting that the number one priority is really just about taking captives and bringing them into our own world view.
The number one priority is actually to love one another. People’s stinking thinking tends to straighten itself out when they actually experience Jesus Christ’s love. His grace is what we demonstrate to others in tangible ways. We do this by placing others before ourselves, by addressing their emotional and spiritual needs, rather than our own. So when you are confronted by a victim of sexual abuse your first thought should NOT be, yep, Potiphar’s Wife. Your first thought should be, so how do we stop this person’s bleeding?? How do we change the script? How do we restore what was stolen from that person, ten fold?
Restoration is about rewriting the whole equation, not teaching people to just resign themselves to their lot in life. If the math is not working out, the equation is all wrong, not our understanding of the math. CS Lewis once said, “A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on.”
And when somebody tells you that they are experiencing hatred, rejection, injustice, victimhood, criminality, hardship, you come alongside them. That is their reality. That is their affliction. It actually makes little difference whether their affliction is real or imagined, current or historical, their fault or someone else’s. We are simply called to, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.”
I’m King of the Hill standing on the Moral High Ground and y’all must submit to my vastly superior wisdom or be doomed, is actually just a child’s playground game. It is a failure to spiritually mature and see the truth written in Romans 12, “Be of the same mind one toward another.”
So I mention Pastor Wilson, simply because he conveniently wrote a timely post. I could have just as easily written the very same thing about John Pavlovitz, a liberal pastor who also like to play King of the Hill, declares himself to be in possession of the Moral High Ground. Neither one of these men seem to understand why people might find their words disrespectful, their ideology so hateful, their theological application more about themselves and their own world views then about the Christ they claim to serve. Pavlovitz is somewhat comical in the sense that he wrote a book, “Hope and Other Superpowers: A Life-Affirming, Love-Defending, Butt-Kicking, World-Saving Manifesto,” one that proceeds to celebrate the very act of exclusion, one in which “curse words abound” allegedly in service to, “readers looking to channel distress into self-betterment.”
A bit funny, I seem to have no problem knowing how to “condescend to men of low estate.” It’s those religious leaders who seem think they are now in possession of the Moral High Ground, allegedly perched on the Mountain Top of Grace, and looking down on the rest of us, that give me great pause.
So call me crazy, but near as I can tell, at the end of the race, the Lord is not going to be asking, So did you manage to capture the Moral High Ground and demonstrate how right you are?