Over the last week I’ve been fairly heavily criticized for critiquing the theology of a couple of the larger faith communities that exist within my city.
I put these idea’s out into the public square, so I expect critique, in fact I welcome it. The challenge of ideas is healthy, in fact it is necessary for our collective and individual growth.
And yet, the majority of the criticism I’ve received has had very little to do with the idea’s that I have sought to put forward, and far more to do with concerns that I have publicly critiqued the idea’s and beliefs of these two prominent men of faith.
I’ve been told to “be careful” about critiquing these men, and had people make assumptions on my motives and question my integrity as a result.
Now, I want too again be clear. I do not have a problem with the individuals in question. I also do not support dehumanizing, and degrading comment’s being directed towards them. I believe they are sincere in their beliefs, and through the theological framework and worldview they operate out of, that they truly believe that their theology, and their leadership is serving others.
And yet, Peter Motlock and Brian Tamaki are public figures. Men who are on the record standing for freedom of thought and freedom of debate, men who have in recent days publicly critiqued – and criticized – individuals in the Government, health officials, and even overseas businesspeople (Bill Gates is a common target, poor dude). So, there is a strange irony that upon being critiqued themselves (by a simple blogger as myself, with very little notoriety, and nowhere near the reach of the bro Pete and Brian), that people who love and support these men, feel the need to shut down any critique of their idea’s.
For me, it has been a further example of what I wrote about here where I spoke about the concept of the Man of God. This idea that the head of the Church, the Man of God, has received a special blessing from God, and that if you also wish to be blessed, that you need to be under his covering. Which is to say, serve him, obey his teachings, and never, never publicly question or critique him. Doing the opposite of these things can take you out of the Man of God’s covering and open you up to spiritual attack. So, we’re taught not to question, not to debate, not to critique. Because, by speaking against the Man of God, we speak against God. The Spiritual consequences are severe. I won’t go into that in more depth now but read the previous blog if you’re interested.
As I’ve been reflecting however, this week’s conversation has highlighted something else for me.
There is a toxicity within Western Christianity which I think is important to name.
There was a time when Christianity was the dominant force in the world.
We were so used to being the one’s in power, that when we lost that power, we struggled to come to grips with that reality. Our worldview, our faith, our values, are no longer the dominant faith, values and worldview of the culture we live in. The culture at large does not need the Church, nor do they require, nor always desire, our voice within the public square.
And that makes us uncomfortable.
Because, we aren’t just used to our voice dominating the square, we’re used to owning it all together.
And our response to this changing place in the world?
Has it been to take accept this changing status, and in humility and Love, seek to reevaluate and renegotiate our place?
No. Largely, we have gone on the attack.
We have sought to double down on our conservative, traditional values.
We have sought to fight tooth and nail to bend the state to our will.
At every opportunity seeking to legislate our morality, rather than recognizing that we don’t have that role, or even that right, anymore.
And these attacks move past simply political action, into the realm of personal attacks on individual groups, and people. The Prime Minister, our gay whānau, liberals, and also the media and the Greens, are all common targets for our anger and anxiety.
The way I have heard some church leaders, Christian elders, and just some Christian’s in general, talk about people they disagree with is just shameful.
It is anti-Christ and is in direct opposition to the Way of Love that Jesus has invited us to walk.
Now, this isn’t just large church communities. It’s easy to point a finger at City Impact or Destiny Church, but actually this attitude is fairly pervasive within Christian culture. This sort of vile, dehumanizing kōrerō happens in at least every Christian space I’ve been in. It’s common to hear Pastor’s flinging insults from the pulpit, or Church members let loose in conversation or on the socials, using dehumanizing language to degrade individuals in the media, or paint out our Prime Minister, or the members of the Green’s as socialist monster’s, hell bent on murdering your kids, and implementing totalitarian rule.
And hey, even if you believe that stuff. That our government is actually in cahoots with the media, and that they’re actively seeking to create a one-world totalitarian Government, the sort of dehumanizing and degrading language used to name that, is still light years away from the spirit of Love that comes from Christ.
I want to say this fairly clearly. The constant derogatory attacks on our Prime Minister, the vile accusations targeted at the members of the Green Party, the incessant and personal insults directed to members of our media, have nothing in common with the grace, Love and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I can’t say this enough. If you have chosen to follow Jesus, then you have chosen to accept Christ’s invitation to walk the Way of Love. This means that we are called to Love all people, regardless of whether we agree with them, regardless of whether we think they are right, regardless of whether we think their polices, and beliefs are Just or beneficial.
And yes, Love does involve critique. It does involve speaking Truth to power, it does involve challenging ideas and beliefs that cause harm and hurt others. But the way that we do this is vital. Always in Love. Never losing sight of the humanity of the person we are speaking about. Never dehumanizing or degrading another, simply because we disagree with them.
I know I don’t always get this right and I truly appreciate it when my critics highlight to me my weaknesses in this area. It is a difficult line to walk. And though I try always to write in Love, I know that at time’s I miss the mark.
Yet, I do believe, that when we are having these difficult conversations, that always, we must do so in Love. We must resist the temptation to dehumanize and degrade another, simply because we disagree with them.
We must stand firmly on Love, critiquing ideas, and actions that cause harm to people and planet, and yet still acknowledging the Divine Image in the person that we disagree.
It is important for us to recognize that these two things can be true.
We can both disagree with a person, believe their beliefs and their actions are harmful and problematic, and also recognize their humanity, acknowledging that the Divine image is alive and well in them, just as it is in me.
Whānau, whether you identify as a Christian or not, Love is the Way.
Love is the path.
If we as a community, as a people, want to survive this cultural moment we are in, then we must learn to walk it.
The path of hate is the path of death.
It kills and divides our communities.
Love is the only Way worth walking.
Love is the only Way our communities, our people, and our Nation, will find Life.
A.J. Hendry is a Laidlaw College graduate, and now a Youth Development Worker and housing advocate, working in the Youth Housing and Homelessness space. He leads a service supporting rangatahi experiencing homelessness and is also a an advocate working collectively to end youth homelessness in Aotearoa. He is also the curator and creator of When Lambs Are Silent.