I read the letters section of Christian magazines for fun. I like to see who was insulted at what part of the last installment.
When I saw a not-quite-kissing couple on the cover of the "Britney Spears issue" of Christianity Today ( Kissing Promiscuity Goodbye ," July 10), I could not wait to see readers' responses.
I was not disappointed; apparently, though, lots of others were. And dismayed. And appalled.
We believers are the most offended, wounded, upset, shocked, thunderstruck, consternated, and (the enduring favorite) outraged group of people on the planet. Is there something in the baptismal waters that makes Christians thin-skinned? Once I even read a letter from a correspondent that began, "My wife … was disturbed." Well, pardon me. Didn't mean to disturb the Mrs.
And the letters we get to read are only the ones that made the editorial cut. What do they do with the leftover outrage we never see on page 3 of our favorite religious rags? You could fuel enough furnaces for a Minnesota winter if scientists could find a way to convert all that religious indignation into a useful energy source.
Outraged by blunders?
Perhaps we are moved to outrage more by cultural sway than theological concern. We practice our Christianity in the land of litigious opportunity: spill a cup of fresh hot coffee in your lap and win a $2.9 million settlement from a hamburger chain. We cannot bring civil action against a fellow believer and stay on the good side of 1 Corinthians 6, but we sure can be downright uncivil to each other.
Maybe it's something even less noble. Some of us get bent out of shape by an author's opinion not because it is a core issue of the gospel but simply because we happen to know something about it. You read an article on Schleiermacher's sitz im leben, which just happened to be the topic of your dissertation in 1973, and before you can say "theological precisionist" you're firing off a letter that begins, "Dear Editor, I'm outraged."
Gentle reader, get thou over it. If we bang out a letter to the editor every time some author doesn't spell shiboleth correctly, how are we going to respond when someone denies something really crucial like, say, the Incarnation or the Resurrection? (By the way, shibboleth has two "b's." Did you catch it?) If we can't read a Christian magazine without being offended, how can we survive in this vulgar, Philistine culture? Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners without getting his robes in a ruffle. Can't we handle a few faux pas from the forgiven?
Some worry that, in this age of moral pollution, outrage has become a nonrenewable resource. They point to the virtually countrywide yawn that greeted the recent Washington scandals. "Isn't anyone offended by anything anymore? Have our moral reserves run dry?" If so, maybe it's because we went to the ink well one time too many. We wasted our supply of outrage fussing at each other.
Why don't we extend a little mercy to Christian authors? Jesus countered the raw immorality and theological imprecision of his day not with sharp-tongued outrage but with whispered grace.
Sure, he kicked over a few temple tables now and then. But he didn't do it every Sabbath. And I can't imagine Jesus dashing off a quick and angry missive to the editor of Judaism Today. In fact, the only writing he ever did was in the sand. There may be a lesson there.
I am fully aware that by submitting an article expressing outrage at our rampant outrage, I have become a flaming hypocrite. I'm going to sit right down and compose a scalding letter of my own:
I cannot believe you published that offensive article I sent you."
Jody Vickery is preaching minister for the Campus Church of Christ in Norcross, Georgia.
For those of you—like me—who didn't know that a shibboleth can mean a catch phrase, slogan, empty saying ,or a peculiar way of distinguishing a class of persons, check out it's biblical foundation . Read the whole story in Judges 12 .
Last year a Baltimore columnist asked Christians to stop reading her column if they were going to write angry letters about her negative remarks about religion. Two Christians did write in and their responses were considerably milder than the hyperbolic headline the paper's editors ran over them: "Why doesn't she just shoot herself?"
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