Email Exchange

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Update [1 November 2005]: Someone is selling T-shirts with an image like the one described below. I don't know if it's the same design or not, but this guy found this post and linked to it, which led me to discover the graphic. It provides a nice context for the discussion below even if it's not the same graphic (the information below seems to attribute the design to a different person). Now back to the original post:

I've been involved with an email exchange on a discussion list for one of the campus ministry groups at the university, and I decided this might be worth moving to my blog rather than clogging the mailboxes of over 100 people who are on that list. This way it will be accessible for those who want to see or take part in the discussion, but it's also not in the mailboxes of all the people who would otherwise have to see the messages.

It started with someone named Stephen (a common enough name, so I won't bother to anonymize him, though I've removed other identifying characteristics) who sent a message calling for people to protest the College Democrats' poster picturing Jesus punching President Bush. As bad as such a poster is, I don't think it's the Christian thing to do to engage in the kind of protest he was calling people toward, so I responded. The exchange is captured here.

Stephen's first message:

Perhaps you have noticed them while walking around campus. They are in every residence hall, and posted in every building. They are posters entitled "College Democrats present WWJD? - Comedy Against Evil...."

These posters feature an image of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ fistfighting with President Bush, having just punched him in the face.

Regardless of what your personal political preferences are, this is a blasphemy against our Most Holy Lord. I encourage all of you ... to do your part to see that these posters are taken down wherever you see them, insomuch as you legally can in accordance with University regulations, and to discourage your friends from attending this event. If you know anybody in the College Democrats, I encourage you to challenge them as to why they would dare mock our God in order to advance their agenda. Fight the good fight...

Thank you.
~Stephen.

Caritas Christi Urget Nos
Ad Infinitam Dei Gloriam

My first response:

I want to offer a different view regarding Stephen's encouragement to oppose this event.

Is it a Christian's moral responsibility to protest about what people are saying about Jesus, regardless of whether it's blasphemy? Or is it our responsibility simply to preach the gospel? Is it our duty to go to non-Christian civil authorities to protest what people who are probably not Christians are saying about Christianity? After all, this is what Jesus and the apostles told us to expect. Did they tell us to resist those who govern us? What did the apostles and those directly under their teaching do in such circumstances? It's highly unlikely that they were going to the Jewish and Roman leaders to complain when someone treated them unfairly because they were Christians or said false and mocking things about Jesus. What did Jesus do when he was unjustly brought up on blasphemous charges to be killed? What did he complain about? He said nothing. WWJD indeed!

I'm not sure it's blasphemy either. Jesus is a warrior who will return with the sword to judge the wicked. This is therefore a statement about the president's politics, and it's consistent with the poster that they believe in Jesus and simply think the things President Bush has done are things Jesus would disapprove of and will judge him for, demonstrating that point with a picture of the judgment Bush will receive for his misdeeds. I happen to think such a view is at best misguided and misleading, but I don't think we want to confuse that political statement with opposition to the Christian gospel itself, even those of us who tend to agree with the president's policies. This isn't a statement against Jesus or the gospel. It's a statement that Jesus would oppose particular policies of the president. Whether that's true or not, it's not about Jesus or the gospel and thus not clearly blasphemous.

I'm not saying it's wrong to follow Stephen's recommendation. I'm just wondering what the justification would be given that it's possible that it might even hinder rather than promote our witness by confirming the stereotypes the event is probably promoting. How you go about it might also make a lot of difference, but I encourage you to think about these things before doing anything. How we respond in such situations says a lot about Christianity to those who do not believe, and the reception of the gospel itself is at stake, so I ask that you prayerfully consider these things before acting. If it's the love of Christ compelling us for the glory of God, as the Latin in Stephen's signature expresses, then I think we need to be careful about whether our actions do demonstrate the love of Christ and will promote the glory of God. If this course of action will do that, then by all means go for it.

Jeremy

Stephen's first response to me:

In response to Jeremy Pierce:

Firstly, yes, it is every Christian's duty to ever give infinite glory, praise, and honor to the Lord of Lords, the Host of Hosts, name which is above all names, that of Jesus the Christ.

"Because of this, God greatly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11 New American Bible [NAB]).

Thus, we as Christians have the moral responsibility to stop those who make a mockery of our Lord and Savior in order to advance their own agenda.

Secondly, I would hope that every Christian would indeed go to non-Christian civil authorities to protest if those authorities were making a mockery of Jesus and Christianity. Such on their part would be a blatent action against the constitutional separation of Church and state, and is a form of oppression against us. If Mohammed were to be mocked, would the reaction of Muslims be any different? And certainly, they would have every right to protest. And most Muslims don't believe Mohammed to be God. We believe Jesus to be God; thus, how much stronger our protests against blasphemy must be!

Yes, we were told to expect oppression, but that by no means is to say that we must go along with it. Did the early Christian recoil or waver under the early oppresion of the Romans? Hardly! Their resolve only became that much stronger! Thus, our resolve must become stronger in fighting against such posters, much less a society and culture, that makes a mockery of our Faith. This is not a matter of complaining; indeed, I am not complaining. Freedom of speech - the Democrats may say or do whatever they wish. This a matter of ensuring that due respect and honor is given to our Lord Jesus the Christ.

Jesus will return to judge the wicked. But, then, who are you, or me, or any human, to judge who is wicked and who is not.

"Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you" (Matthew 7:1-2 NAB).

Certainly, you can disagree with our president and his decisions. It is one thing to judge actions, just as I am judging the College Democrats' action of putting up this poster as blasphemous; yet, I am not judging the College Democrats as people. Thus, it is quite another thing, indeed it is an unwarranted personal judgement, to call the president "wicked" or "evil." That is for Jesus to decide when He comes in glory; not you.

"Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7 NAB).

Christ asked us to "turn the other cheek" (Matthew 5:39). Thus, of course, we ought ever resist reacting with undue vigor or with any violence. At the same time, however, Christ never backed down when others were disgracing or blaspheming against His Father in Heaven, our God. Indeed, look at his reaction to the vendors in the temple! It was a disgrace against the house of God, and thus Christ expelled them. He turned the other cheek, yet always defended and promoted the glory and goodness of God against all blasphemy.

Finally, what good is brought by mocking our enemies? Is this indeed against the above maxim of "turning the other cheek"? No, not at all. Christ, when confronted with sinners, healed them and brought them back to the fold not by mocking them (though he certainly did chastise and correct them when necessary), but by engaging in constructive conversation with them, dining with them, befriending them. He certainly would never have punched them in the face, as the College Democrats' poster seems to suggest. Shouldn't we all do the same with our enemies, rather than mock them, as the College Democrats intend to do to President Bush through the event that the aforementioned poster is promoting? I am not judging them, I am just disappointed by such an action, as it is certain only to drive deeper wedges, rather than build bridges, between Democrats and Republicans.

WWJD indeed!

~Stephen

P.S. Ad Infinitam Dei Gloriam = To the infinite glory of God. It was one of the mottoes of St. Vincent Pallotti. If feel that part of giving infinite glory to God is indeed not shoving Christ down their throats (though certainly we must always do our part to evangelize and bring people closer to Christ), but ensuring that when people choose to degrade the glory of God by blasphemous statements and actions, such statements and actions are protested and addressed, ever by peaceful means, yet ever with the vigilance that God deserves.

Charitas Christi Urget Nos = The Charity of Christ compells us. Indeed, it is never charitable to blaspheme against Christ himself.

Caritas Christi Urget Nos
Ad Infinitam Dei Gloriam

Stephen

I then forwarded a message from a Christian leader on campus, which sahad the following introduction (with identifying marks removed):

I've said what I had to say, and I don't think Stephen's reply addressed all of my worries, but I'm not going to say anymore. There's more information on this poster that's worth being informed about, so I'm forwarding a message from the [name removed; his name is not a common one, and I won't post it without permission].

For the record, my political views don't line up with [his] (and we disagree on the issue of using religious language in political speeches, for one thing), but I agree with him on the main issue at hand.

Forwarded message from this Christian leader on campus:

Friends,

I do understand the visceral response to the posters Stephen describes. I will comment, though, that it is the character of satire to be provocative. Considering the title of the event together with the illustration, it's likely that the point of the image is to suggest how absurd it is to imagine Jesus engaging in a fistfight--especially ironic if his combatant were George Bush.

But the image did not begin with non-Christians. Artist Stephen S. Sawyer's painting, "Undefeated" (http://www.christcenteredmall.com/stores/art/sawyer/undefeated.htm), depicts a buff Jesus as pugilist leaning against the ropes, his gloves slung alongside.

Many have been as offended at the language chosen by Bush's speech writers associating Jesus with a particular political agenda. In his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush asserted "there is power, wonder-working power, in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people." This is language any conservative American Christian would recognize from the old revival hymn, "Power in the Blood." Similar allusions have been in other speeches (see: "Dangerous Religion: George W. Bush's theology of empire" by Jim Wallis at http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=magazine.article&issue=soj0309&article=
030910
).

It would be far better for Christians to attend this event and look for what may be affirmed than to reinforce the pugilist image by looking for a fight. Our Lord does not need us to defend him against insult. "When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly" (1 Peter 2:23 ESV).

Peace of Christ,
[Name Deleted]

Stephen's response:

Friends,

I am not looking for a fight. I am not reviling in return for the reviling of my God. I am not threatening. I am not judging. I have full faith in God, and entrust myself entirely to Him. However, though not reviling, maliciously fighting, judging, or threatening, I will defend my God. I feel that it is wrong to mock the Lord, and I feel that the poster by the College Democrats, even if satirical, is a form of mockery. Do we not have the duty to defend the dignity of our Lord against the insults of the world? I certainly hope so. If you disagree, so be it; this is what I believe.

I'm sorry, Jeremy, that you feel that I didn't address your fears well enough. But then, you didn't address mine, either, about the wrongness in publishing and posting an image that defiles the image of our Lord. I feel that the presumption of the right not only to judge President Bush as a person, but to presume Jesus' judgement of him, as demonstrated by a poster showing Jesus beating up the president, is wrong. It passes judgement unduly against the President as a person, and it degrades the image of Jesus in the process.

This isn't about the president; you may publicly disagree with him all you want. That is freedom of speech; that is your right. But then, this, too, is my right to defend the Lord. I would hope that you would not attack him or anybody as a person, for only God can judge men's souls; furthermore, I would hope that Jesus wouldn't have to be blasphemed in the process. That simply is not right. That is my opinion, and that is what I believe.

Attend the "College Democrats present: WWJD?" comedy night if you wish; that is your choice. But I simply cannot comply or morally permit such blasphemy against Jesus.

I have said what needs to be said; I will say no more on this topic unless I must.

~Stephen

My final response not posted to the list:

Stephen,

I never said anything that should make you think I disagree with President Bush on anything. In fact, agree with him on a lot, and I even indicated that. I can't think of any reason why I'd want to go to this event or why you should think I would.

I wasn't looking for a fight, which was why I wanted to keep it to one message. I thought one message representing each view should be enough for anyone to evaluate on their own. I just wanted to make sure anyone considering this could see reasons that would count against what you were making sound like a moral imperative for all Christians. They could have evaluated that with your first message and my first message. My second message was simply to pass on the background behind the poster, nothing else. You've misrepresented me and misstated my objections in two messages since then.

Everything I said about our Christian response is consistent with believing that these posters are the worst moral outrage that someone could come up with. My point is that that's irrelevant. Showing how much more of an outrage it is doesn't touch that point, but that's what your later messages have focused on. That's why I didn't think you'd addressed my main point.

I fail to see how Philippians 2 justifies our doing anything. It says that the Father exalted Christ and that eventually everyone will acknowledge him as God. That doesn't tell me much about how I deal with secular people who say things about him inconsistent with that.

The perseverance of the early church was in preaching the gospel, not in whining to the authorities. The authorities were the ones persecuting them. The apostles tell us to endure it, which means not to sin amidst it and to continue to affirm the gospel. It doesn't mean complaining when people say bad things about God. You say it's not complaining but instead is simply seeking to assure that everyone pretends they have the same degree of respect for Jesus that you and I have. The problem with that is that non-Christians should not be expected to conform to Christian standards. They should be expected to blaspheme. That's what being opposed to God is all about, and if they don't believe then they're opposed to God. Are you expecting secular Syracuse University to enforce some rule that no one talk about Jesus unless they acknowledge his lordship over all?

Calling the president wicked or evil is not just the kind of thing we can expect the university to regulate. It's what we should expect the College Democrats to do! I don't like their view of Bush, but that's no reason to act as if a bad portrayal of Bush is a bad portrayal of Christ, which seems to me what you're doing. Assuming what they assume, Jesus would judge Bush, and if Bush isn't a real believer then he'll do a lot worse than punch him in the face. I think he is a believer, but the important thing is that what's driving this doesn't seem to me to be anything about Christ but your political views. It's that they're doing it to Bush. If you someone told a joke that ended with a punchline about God's judgment on Bill Clinton for his adultery, I bet you'd find it funny. Most conservatives would. For most conservatives, it's politics that would drive something like this, or at least a mixture of politics with some concern for Christ's glory.

Neither is sufficient reason to act, because politics as a motivation will always interfere with gospel concerns. Political agendas are not something we should ever identify with Christianity, which is not a political movement but one that critiques all of culture, including Republicans. I think George W. Bush is the best president we've had since Teddy Roosevelt, but I could list maybe ten things off the top of my head about the Republican party under his leadership, including some of his own views and tendencies but extending into the Congress and the general tendencies of his supporters, that I think biblical principles would condemn today's Republicans for. It's dangerous to connect Christianity with any political party or political leader, and your emails on this topic have seemed to me to do so.

You accuse them of not being like Jesus, but are you being like Jesus? You accuse them of not building bridges but driving deeper wedges, but I can't see how what you're doing is any different. The way to open dialogue is to listen to them and engage in a decent discussion, starting from an understanding of where they're coming from. Displays of outrage do not accomplish that, and they simply fulfill the stereotypes some of the people involved have about conservative Christians, ones that mask the gospel with other issues.

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4 Comments

We've had some similar situations over in the UK in recent years, though I have to say I think your response is the correct one. Secular authorities generally couldn't care less about Christianity (and why would they?) and when people react in the way that some of your co-students (or are you faculty?) have done it only serves to reinforce stereoptypes that Christians are reactionary whiners who only speak up when they get upset.

There was a not-too-dissimilar incident here when a local school announced it would be installing condom machines on the premises. Cue outrage, protest and much noise from the local church who marched on the school. When they met with student leaders the kids told them to get lost because they had never been there for the students when they had needed them, or wanted a youth group to belong to, and so on. As far as they were concerned, the Christians could get lost because the only time they had ever made their presence known was when a non-Christian school authority put in condom machines for non-Christian kids.

Not 100% identical to your situation but just goes to show that public outbursts of moral horror can very easily have a negative impact on the witness of the church.

I think you handled this well, Jeremy. I'm not sure of Stephen's intent to begin with, as there aren't a whole lot of things which can be done in a University setting to protest a bit of artwork. Stephen seemed to be attempting to proof text his reasoning, which you effectively exposed as being irrelevant to his argument.

I wonder what Stephen would do upon seeing a person wearing an upside-down cross. Being zealous is a tremendous handicap when it keeps you from seeing the whole battle.

The illustration by Sven, above, does speak to the same mentality by too many Christians -- protest when we're offended, but keep to ourselves when everything is OK. That's just plain sad.

I received this from a Christian privy to this whole conversation:

I just feel I should let people who may not know and are continuing with the discussion that a Christian in the college Democrats has felt convicted by God and admitted to being behind the posters and has chose to tear down all the posters he's able to. God was working in his ways with his spirit. He used the situation for his Glory and showed, us who were there, a man humble in heart admitting to what he did, which convicted me of times in my life where I should have been doing what he did. This can be a testimony to all of us of how God is working in ways we don't even know, and that we should always be in prayer regarding any issues regardless of how sure we think we are of whats going on. It was an amazing thing really. God Bless you all and by all means continue the discussion on Jeremy's website. It's good to discuss how to handle these issues for when they come up again. But definitely pray for those involved with it before hand. Never know what Gods doing.

Some from the College Democrats issued this statement to the Christian groups:

To my brothers and sisters in Jesus,

Many of you have seen the posters up around campus advertising the performance of the Comedy Against Evil troupe this coming tuesday, and, as far as I have heard, been deeply offended by them. As the perpetrator of this offense, let me offer a few words of my deepest apology, both to you and to the Lord (to Whom I have already begged forgiveness). The posters were a mistake. The picture, while not my creation, was my discovery. I was initially impressed by it, and discussed the matter with my colleagues, who felt likewise. As I put up the posters, however, I began to feel doubts about whether this was right in God's sight. I prayed, and recieved a sign (that part is a long story), that it was not right. Then I found out that many of you guys were deeply offended as well. I recalled that Jesus is not a man of violence, and that there is no political lock on His will. I have discussed the matter with my colleagues, who agree with me that this was a mistake.

I suppose that some of you are completely suprised that a believer would do such a thing. I am under the distinct impression, judging from some complaints that I heard, that a common perception this must have been the work of non-believers intent on insulting Our Lord Jesus, rather than the work of believers who did not know how to properly respect Our Lord. This is perposterous. The poster was meant to affirm the Lord's will, as we saw it. I had forgotten that nobody fully knows the Lord's will, and while it is acceptable to interpret Scripture, one must always pray humbly, that their interpretations, and actions that result, are right in God's sight. In fact, a motto of the Democratic Party is "We do not confidently assume that God is on our side, we pray humbly that we are on God's side." What I realize now (that I did not a few days ago), is the poster is a confident, even mocking assumption, rather than an earnest, yet humble statement of belief.

This brings me to the interpretation of scripture. Believers all over the world hotly debate the application of scripture to earthly matters. A major example are the current political conflicts in this country, in which believers take many perspectivs on what is God's will regarding the actions of our government. Some believers are Republicans, others are Democrats. Both acknowledge that their parties do not totally follow God's commands, yet both believe that God's will, as shown in scriptures, is better, if not best carried out by their own party, which, supposedly, is safely less corrupted by ungodly elements and ideas than the opposition. I am such a person, and the Democrats are my party.

I, and my colleagues, are in fact, as Steve [last name deleted] my friend and brother in Christ puts it, eager to build bridges, rather than drive wedges. The application of Scripture in American politics is an issue that we must continue to explore, discuss, and implement. Again, we are truly sorry for this offense, and we are thankful that you guys for bringing this to my attention. The show is still on schedule, and I urge you all to come (though I do not know the content of the intended performance).

My special thanks to Steve, for his protests, to Jeremy Pierce, and [the staff member whose message is above] for their very articluate defense of my intentions (which I was a lot less eloquent at doing myself), to [names deleted] for discussing this with me, and helping me out, and mostly to the Lord, for his infinite love and understanding. To Him be the power, and Glory Forever. Amen.

God Bless,
[name deleted]
SU College Democrats

All the more reason not to complain to Syracuse University about this:

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud -- even your own brothers!

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (I Corinthians 6:1-11, ESV)

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