We live in a complex world full of complicated people. Our moment in history and the social issues at play are not simple. Our brains tend not to like that.
We want so desperately to make sense of it all, because unresolved tension brings a sense of anxiety and uncertainty. We want to know who our friends are and who the enemy is.
Unfortunately, individuals and organizations with public platforms often tap into that sense of fear and uncertainty in order to rally us behind themselves. They weaponize terms and hurl them at people outside the camp. They convince us that if only we vanquish the enemy, our country and our lives would enter a state of blissful perfection.
This makes things simple. It boils a complex network of issues down to one simple question: are you woke, or are you anti-woke?
In this climate, fringe ideas have become mainstream. The worst of us seem to always be speaking for us. Extreme anti-woke people decry the ongoing efforts of civil rights activists. And ultra-woke people are apparently fans of Fidel Castro.
Surely, these two categories don’t represent the majority of bible-believing American Christians. Yet, this is the tenor of our collective narrative. It’s the basis upon which we interact with each other and form friendships.
This woke / anti woke binary is so incredibly damaging. It damages the unity of our communities and our ability to work together on important social issues. It divides our churches and takes us off mission. It even divides families across party lines. There has to be a better way forward.
Here are 3 vital ways Christians fail when we embrace a woke / anti-woke binary view of the world.
1. We fail to see the truth in between the polars.
When arguing our position, we tend to assume the worst about our opponent’s intentions. And the media always pulls us to those fringes, because sensationalism boosts ratings.
But the constant threats of apocalypse have eroded our ability to recognize that most of the people we know don’t exist on the fringes. We actually agree on more than we realize, if we’re just willing to remove ourselves from the “us versus them” echo chamber.
For example, most advocates of racial justice don’t see all white people as racists. Quite the opposite; they see many of them as good and godly people. It’s our inherited institutions that have privileged whiteness over and against blackness and brownness that are racist. And since we all agree that racism is bad, then we should be able to work together to amend those racist structures and make them more equitable.
To give another example, most racial justice advocates don’t hate the police either. But if we can invest more resources in communities of color, providing more opportunities and better infrastructure, then maybe we won’t have a need for a hyper-militarized police force. And that’s because the community will be safer and better for both citizens and law enforcement.
When we acknowledge problems without accusing each other and operate in genuine good faith, our conversations will be fruitful and godly. While we may engage in spirited discussion about the best solutions, we absolutely need to stop taking it as an indictment of our personal piety that these shared problems do exist.
As Paul says in Philippians 4:5, “let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” Listen to others under the assumption that they aren’t on the fringe. And be willing to meet them in the middle.
2. We create senseless division.
The prevailing wisdom (and perhaps I should put “wisdom” in scare quotes) is that if you aren’t woke, then you’re an anti-woke, racist patriarchalist. And if you aren’t anti-woke, then you’re a radical Leftist who wants the American way of life completely upended.
Obviously, these are gross mischaracterizations. Yet many people on both sides do their best to maintain them, regardless of all evidence to the contrary.
This is what’s known as the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. If someone who claims to be with us doesn’t conform to a very specific set of criteria, then they must not be one of us.
“No true conservative would acknowledge the lie of systemic racism.”
“No true racial equity advocate would disagree with abolishing the police.”
Specifically within evangelical circles, many have condemned longtime trusted conservative Christian voices like Tim Keller, Russell Moore, and David French––simply because they aren’t sufficiently anti-woke.
Whether the offense is advocating for investigations regarding sexual abuse allegations or the mere acknowledgement that systemic racism has lingering and ongoing effects in America, these voices and many others are “no true conservatives.”
This kind of line drawing between woke and anti-woke is wholly unhelpful.
It also strains credulity to accuse people like Keller, Moore, or French of being leftists who are captivated by our godless society. For many years, they have faithfully advocated for a biblical worldview, and they have proven that we can trust both their intentions and biblical exposition.
Throwing them under the bus now indicates that some are more interested in winning a cultural and political battle than seeking truth. They’re more interested in casting judgment about who is in or out of the club than building bridges and seeking God’s wisdom to do what’s right.
3. We fail our Christian witness.
The message of the gospel is that Jesus is powerful to save us and to offer us an eternal life where we will become everything we were intended to be. By the power of Jesus, we will be eternally transformed and made whole.
But to an outsider, the question that often arises is this: Where’s the proof?
We can provide apologetics based on sound reasoning and historical and archeological evidence until we’re blue in the face. And all of that is important. But none of it can undeniably prove that Jesus is actually powerful to change our lives.
The most important proof we can offer about the good news of Jesus is the testimony of our own lives. It’s the fact that he has already begun to transform us and make us new––both as individuals and as a body of believers––that is the proof that he will eventually make us completely whole.
So when the Church becomes a mirror of the woke / anti-woke binary cultivated by cable news, we inadvertently communicate that Jesus isn’t actually powerful enough to transform our lives in the here and now. And if Jesus isn’t powerful enough to begin my transformation today, why should I trust that he will complete that work on the day of my death?
In other words, how can we trust Jesus with our eternal lives if we can’t even trust him with the lives we have today?
To be sure, Jesus does have transformative power beyond our comprehension. We just too seldom accept his invitation to be transformed in our affections, convictions, and interactions with others. When we play by the same rulebook as the world, that’s exactly what we’re doing.
We need to be discipled more by Jesus and less by cable news.
When we fall into the woke / anti-woke binary, we leave a lot on the table. There’s so much of our Christian calling that we fail to step into.
Many people have built their platform by feeding into a perpetual “us versus them” mentality. But that doesn’t mean that we should continue to follow their lead. Hate sells. Outrage sells. But what turns a profit isn’t necessarily what turns people’s hearts toward Jesus.
We must resolve to be discipled more by Jesus than we are by cable news and divisive social media personalities.
The world is a much more complex place than we’re often willing to admit. And people on the other side of the aisle are often more reasonable than we realized. We just need to start talking to them, rather than talk at them or behind their backs.
MORE RESOURCES TO CHECK OUT
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- Compassion (&) Conviction: The AND Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement by Justin Giboney, Michael Wear, and Chris Butler
- Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World Is at Its Worst by Ed Stetzer