According to the Bible, love is one of God’s defining attributes. This is so basic to biblical Christianity that believers sing this truth, preach this truth, teach our children this truth. But a multitude of problems ensue when we ground our understanding of love in some matrix outside biblical theology. An anecdotal survey of our culture—including much of its Christian element—suggests that love has been increasingly rendered therapeutic, sanitized, and purged of anything we find uncomfortable.
While sitting in church on a recent Sunday, Matthew Dowd, a Democrat candidate for Texas lieutenant governor, had an epiphany. “If Jesus were here today,” it occurred to him, “he would be accused of being woke.” Dowd shared his inspirational thought in a tweet, adding: “How about we just say it is human decency to treat all people with respect and dignity.” A short while later, in response to the backlash, Dowd complained that Christians “on the way right” get “nasty and cruel” when other Christians “speak out with a different message based on the loving way of Jesus.” This linkage of “woke” to “Christ-like love” and “human decency” betrays deep confusion about both decency and love.
A pair of caveats are in order. First, we need to clarify what we are talking about when we talk about “woke.” A tour of the dictionaries reminds us that words evolve. “Woke” has narrowed in definition from a jazz-era idiom describing anyone who was “well-informed and up-to-date” to a current signifier of someone specifically “alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice.” Let’s be clear that it shouldn’t be controversial to suggest that Jesus—and all his followers—ought to be alert to discrimination and injustice. Second, it’s true that some Christians can be both nasty and cruel to those with whom they disagree. It’s a downside to being human, even if such behavior is even more reprehensible when committed by Christians. The Christ-follower must mortify every temptation toward cruelty and nastiness.
But here the problems begin.
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