Christ on the Cross between the Two Thieves, Peter Paul Rubens (1577)
In all the polarizing responses coming out about the Duck Dynasty saga from Christians hunkering down in one ditch or another, it might be a good time to consider the fact that the ministry of Jesus, and therefore the ministry of the Church, begins with an indiscriminate command to all–“Repent!”–because Phil Robertson stands under the wrath of God in precisely the same way that the LGTB community stands under the wrath of God, in the way that Pope Francis and Tim Tennent and Billy Graham and Barack Obama all stand under the wrath of God, equidistant from the standard of righteousness by which alone they can be saved.
It is such a terrible prospect, indeed, that Jesus knew he could not make his way down the paths of a fragmented and compromised world pointing out groups and ethics and opinions and platforms–this ditch or that ditch–that might serve as an alternative for repentance. He pointed to himself and said, “Follow me,” down a path that will always, insofar as it is the one Jesus walked, take blows from both sides of the road from ditches ever in a holy war, both condemning the other for unrighteousness while unwittingly standing condemned before God in self-righteousness.
If the Church is going to find its center in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is going to have to come to grips with the fact that repentance is not simply a departure from our most sinful categories, it is also a departure from our most righteous categories, and the expanse that is envisaged in the command to “Love your enemies” is never even a fraction of the expanse that God has condescended in his stubborn insistence in loving you, which means that even the most unloving and unrighteous among us, whether for you that means “bigots” or “gays,” are still love-worthy. And if we are going to be committed to truly hating sin and loving God, our way of calling bigots or gays to repentance—rather than spinelessly affirming one or the other, so as to not lose friends, even if it means falsely assuring them that God accepts them just as they are—is going to begin by dealing with the greatest sin of all, pride, and proceed to the other side of the ditch, into homes and lives and conversations, where the only common ground is, “No one is righteous, no not one,” the solution to which is not inviting the ‘other’ to your side, or telling them to remain in their own, but emerging from both sides to stand together in the middle of the road where the judgment of the world and the salvation of God come to an acute intersection, while the ditches on either side are swallowed up in flames.
So make sure if you are going to condemn either party involved in this debacle that it does not come across as though the other party, or you yourself for that matter, is not also condemned. And then be thankful that “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” and proceed in the ministry of the Church in declaring the only thing that matters–“Christ crucified!”–which is only intelligible to those who know they are under the same sentence (Lk. 23:40).
One thought on “Damned Dynasty”
From related discussion:
From a subsequent discussion:
I hate to be the guy to jump in at the point when everyone is sick and tired of being in, but it seems to me that there is a real polarization evident in the comments over this, which suggest something far more black and white than the truth of the matter, especially when there have been multiple concessions of ignorance alongside condemnations of the inevitable products of such ignorance. Who can be condemned for ignorance, if it is truly ignorance? I suppose that Phil Robertson is being the most faithful kind of person he knows how to be, given his social conditioning, which itself likely included prejudices that were believed to be God’s own prejudices.
The Catholic theologian Von Balthasar speaks of the problem of finite persons in a finite world, both of which evince signs of glory and corruption, of what is love-worthy and what is not, the result of which is that human beings, in an attempt to absolutize something as love-worthy, begin to separate, “withdrawing into islands of reciprocal sympathy: the island of eros, of friendship, of patriotism…”, perhaps of southern conservatism or the LGTB community. But I’m not so sure certain (not all!) attitudes toward someone like Robertson from the LGTB community and its spokespersons are any different in principle than Robertson’s attitude toward them. Both are ultimately guilty of limiting their love according to a humanly defined boundary, and thus reducing love itself to something humanly defined, which is better than selfish individualism but still exists as a form of self-righteous collective self-preservation.
It seems to me that everyone wants to appeal to Jesus for the basis of their love, but who among us is willing to stretch ourselves out to embrace what we readily perceive to be most damnable of all, that which the world and humankind would quite frankly be more love-worthy without?
But if we are to hang judgments of the universe in all its finitude on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we are going to have to find ways more creative than the spineless ‘other-forming’ that goes on in the name of the One who is not like us but became like us so that we could become like him, which is how he made us to be in the first place. The the cross reveals the glory of God in its own antithesis–the sinfulness of humankind–in a love that is furious enough to die for another and a hate that is furious enough to kill for itself. This is the damning revelation of just how love-worthy even the most unloving ‘other’ still is and how boundless is the reach and therefore the command for anyone who hears the terrible call of the Crucified One to “Follow me” down the Via Dolorosa, praying in perfect freedom, “Not my will,” all the way down to that place where “Love your enemy” and ‘save yourself’ cannot coexist. This is why the truest thing that can be said about love is not “Love wins.” It is–with alarming clarity–precisely the opposite.