The Christian Outrage Machine: A Counter-Proposal

This is a mini-lecture/presentation that I shared today at Oklahoma Christian in a chapel service, and while certainly not everything that could be said is here, this is a good start I hope to a new way forward...


Maybe you've heard that there are some people in the world who say stupid things. This is complicated by the fact that those who agree with them and those who oppose them typically respond by saying their own kinds of stupid things. 

Two examples that have been cascading through the Christian outrage machine that is the Internet have been Donald Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the country along with creating some kind of database requiring registration and increased surveillance. This could include Trump suggested the closing of some Mosques and the blocking of US citizens from returning home if they visit nations associated with radicalization. 

To pour water on the grease fire, Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, a school at the center of conservative, though some would say fundamentalist, Christianity, suggested that students follow his example in carrying concealed weapons on campus. The university even provides a free course to acquire your licensure. He suggested that in doing so the school could defend themselves from terrorists. He ended his "sermon" (which never quoted Scripture by the way) by suggesting that these measures would help to "end those Muslims" if they ever came to Liberty. 

My first reaction to both of these stories was... NOT APPROPRIATE FOR CHAPEL AUDIENCES.

My second reaction was condemnation. And so I took to the place of reason and dialogue,of good faith and good will to express my rejection of these ideologies: Facebook. 

I signed a Change.org petition asking Church of Christ universities to collectively condemn this rhetoric, I posted a meme about the "liturgical bankruptcy" of Evangelicalism. (Yes, theologians post crap like this.) And believe it or not, I did NOT feel better. In fact, I felt worse. 

Because I found myself in conflict with two fundamental convictions of my Christian faith that I hold dearly and struggle mightily to embody. 

That every human being is made in the image of God...even Donald Trump. That I am called to love my neighbor as myself. 

What does it mean to be made in the image of God? 

Often times people appeal to the capacity to think and reason or to create and to understand the world in which we live. While this has some credence it doesn't make sense of our experience with everyone. Not all human beings contain this kind of capacity, and yet we would quickly affirm that they too are made in the Image of God.

What if the Imago Dei is instead the capacity not to understand God, but to reveal God? 

What if the vision of speaking of us as eikons is that we contain capacity to point beyond ourselves to who God is? 

I want to suggest that the Imago Dei is this:

That each and every human being has the capacity to reveal something about God in an unique and irreplaceable way. 

This is not to say that I cannot learn the same thing about God somewhere else, but that I cannot learn it in this unique and "God-breathed" way from anyone else. And that there is something about God that I can experience, and that particular experience can come through you and only you. 

This is why the Imago Dei imbues each and every human being with inestimable value and worth. This is why it is fundamental to the Christian faith that dignity, honor, and most importantly love be shown to all people. 

Even Donald Trump. Even Christian university presidents who call people to take up weapons in the name of Jesus.

But this brings me to the second conviction that I hold, and which for me, is currently the most difficult text in all of Scripture:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10, NRSV) 

Another translation articulates that last line like this:

Love does no harm to its neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (NIV)

I had condemned what Trump had said... My belief that all people her the Image of God and my love of neighbor led me to do that. I rejected the suggestion of Falwell that Christians take up weapons to "end" anyone... My belief that all people her the Image of God and my love of neighbor led me to do that.

But I had also done all of this, in the name of my Christian faith, with an utter disdain for those two image-bearing neighbors of mine. 

In my attempt to fulfill the law, I had undermined it entirely. And this is not a tension easily resolved. 

Karl Barth in his commentary on Romans, which is incredible, comments on this passage:

Therefore—Love worketh no ill to his neighbor. Love is the good work by which evil is overcome (12:21). Love is that denial and demolition of the existing order which no revolt can bring about. In this lies the strange novelty of love. In the cycle of evil unto evil, of reaction to revolution, it plays no part. Love is the inversion of all concrete happening, because it is the recognition of the pre-supposition that lies in every concrete event. Love, because it sets up no idol, is the demolition of every idol. Love is the destruction of everything that is—like God: the end of all hierarchies and authorities and intermediaries, because, in every particular man and also in the ‘Many’, it addresses itself, without fear of contradiction—to the One. Love does not contradict; and therefore it cannot be refuted. Love does not enter into competition; and therefore it cannot be defeated. ... If, therefore as a protest against the course of this world, I cease to love, I thereby simply—do not love God, offer no sacrifice, and do not renew my mind (12:2). This is the relentless, impelling, earnestness of the command of love; and—Therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
— Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 496-497

So what are we to do? How are we to learn how to live and to love in this way? 

I believe we must rediscover the meaning of one thing: Mercy. 

The words of the prophet Hosea, picked up again by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew:

Go and learn what this means, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." (Matthew 9:13, NRSV) 

Pope Francis has called for this year in the Christian calendar to be a Jubilee of Mercy. A year in which the church learns to embody the mercy of God in the world. 

I want to leave you with he prayer that Pope Francis has written to usher in this new year, which just began last week. It seems to me that if we ever needed a year of Mercy, it is now.

Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father,
and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him.
Show us your face and we will be saved.
Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money;
the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things;
made Peter weep after his betrayal,
and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.
Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman:
“If you knew the gift of God!”

You are the visible face of the invisible Father,
of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy:
let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.

You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness
in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error:
let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.

Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing,
so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord,
and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor,
proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed,
and restore sight to the blind.  

We ask this of you, Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of
Mercy; you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and
ever.

Amen.