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Four American Heresies: Christian Wokeism

In this last installment looking at prevalent American heresies, I want to look at Christian Wokeness of Wokeism (not sure if there's n officially coined term for this already, but as you'll see, it is a real thing). We are pretty aware of people who call themselves "woke" among those who affirm cultural values associated with the left side of the political spectrum. The driving force behind them - egalitarian treatment of people regardless of their actions, preferences, or simply who they are by nature - is actually laudable and has roots in Christian moral teaching. We live in a society that espouses Christian moral values generally, even as people are increasingly disassociating themselves from Christian beliefs or practices (or at least formal identification with them, however much those last two aspects remain).


Thus, being woke finds a natural home in Christianity, especially among Christians whose politics, morals, and/or theology trends to the more "liberal" end of the spectrum. Certain general affirmations among those who claim or strive to be woke are (at should be!) non-negotiable: affirming the humanness and worthiness of respect of all people no matter their race, or affirming humans the right to worship (or not) as they see fit, for example. Some affirmations are more open to questions in light of traditional Christian teaching: affirming homosexual relationships as worthy of marriage, affirming gender identity expressions that are different than one's biological gender. But these are unique issues to which woke moral thought is attempting to apply a universal positive regard - which in itself is a moral good from a Christian perspective, even if applied incorrectly in particular cases according to the predominant teaching of most Christians globally and over the ages. Thus to call this aspect of woke belief a heresy is uncharitable. Woke morals on LGBTQIA issues may be heterodox, but there is growing body of thougthful biblical and theological argument that has been mustered that traditional believers need to take seriously and not dismiss out of hand. (In full disclosure, I err on the traditional side personally, but recognize that fellow Christians who hold a different conviction on these matters are still Christians and their theological ruminations are not patently wrong even though heterodox from a historical perspective.)


Where woke belief becomes heresy is when Christians adopt the same vindictive tactics as non-Christian people who claim to be woke. The practice of "cancelling" people, akin to shunning but with a social media dimension to it, is wicked. But didn't St Paul practice this with the adulterer mentioned in his Corinthians letters? Yes, but no. Paul advocating "handing over to Satan" this unrepentant person, which included some degree of distancing in terms of fellowship and we presume exclusion from receiving the sacrament. But note the specifics: 1) it was applied to someone who was unrepentant (which we assume at least meant multiple attempts to address this sin per Jesus' instruction in Matthew 18), 2) it was not meant to be permanent, 3) even being treated as a "sinner or tax collector" meant basic civility and care for basic needs would continue as with any person outside the Church, 4) it was the last resort, and 5) it had a purpose, to appeal to this unrepentant man's love for his fellow Christians to inspire him to repent and welcome him back into the fold free from sin.


However, some people in their efforts to be woke, have blocked people on social media who merely respectfully disagreed with them, or had questions about their position. Or distancing yourself from someone who did something in the past that was less than woke (or kind, or prudent) even if they've made a genuine apology and have turned over a new leaf in terms of their current behavior. Jesus does not give us the right to withhold forgiveness when someone is genuinely contrite and has taken steps to avoid falling into the same moral traps. And, yes there is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation or trust. But to the degree that we can be in unimpaired relationship with others, we should be open to it.


What about abusive relationships? There are a handful of stories of people who inflicted great harm on others and God has healed enough to allow reconciliation. There are some heart-touching stories of reconciliation after the Rwandan genocide for example. But generally speaking, most long term abusive relationships are instigated by someone who does not recognize what they are doing is actually wrong. For the sake of the abused's physical and psychological well-being, it is best to keep that distance. And even if by some miracle of grace the abuser has a change of heart, it is often too much for the abused to process sufficiently to feel safe with that person again.


But the woke heresy of cancelling is generally over petty stuff, and only occasionally over something of importance. It is one thing to say you can't in good conscience watch Bill Cosby do comedy again. It's quite another to cut off ties with a longtime friend because you found out they wore a belly-dancer costume 20 years ago for Halloween, but you both recognize now that it may have been culturally insensitive. We need to allow people space to grow and learn. We are not born pre-programmed with discernment; it's something we learn over time. Likewise, the Holy Spirit works out our sanctification progressively over time as we're changed "from glory to glory" more and more into the image of Christ Jesus. We are no position to declare some absolute judgment on others who - like us - are learning and growing. If you want to be woke, go for it. But recognize not everyone is on the same journey as you, even if you share the same goals. And for those with whom you differ, remember that they may have a point or two you need to consider. If you give them that liberty to become the person Jesus wants, they may even be open to the points you have to offer. Graciousness goes hand in hand with grace.

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