I have never been a fan of the WWJD (“What Would Jesus Do”) phrase. It sets up the idea of Jesus as merely an exemplary human from the past that we are supposed to copycat, as opposed to someone we can be in dynamic relationship with in following today.
In addition, the Biblical accounts of Jesus show him as a first century middle eastern man reacting to a very specific set of situations in a very specific culture that we cannot easily translate to our modern western world. While certainly the integrity of his character would remain the same, beyond that it becomes a guessing game of how exactly Jesus would react to every modern situation. The result is that we often manipulate him to be the kind of Jesus we want him to be and to justify our preconceived notions.
There is in the West, after all, on one far end of the spectrum a “social Jesus,” that stands as proof that the central point of Christianity is that we are to do good works by demolishing all power structures and setting up a future utopia with a completely equitable society. On the other far end is “American National Jesus” whose teachings led to the foundations of building the greatest nation the earth has ever seen. Followers of American National Jesus, of course, feel that we have departed from those beginning principles and that our central priority right now is to fight against all those “woke” social Jesus people in order to live out the freedoms that Christ truly intended.
In all my years of both studying and getting to know Jesus, of course, I have found that he is not always as predictable as we would like him to be, and that he is not so easily boxed in. In truth, that is one of the things that so much attracts me to him.
And that is why when my wife suggested the title “WWWJD: What Would ‘Woke’ Jesus Do” for a recent article I wrote for Baptist News Global, the idea of it really intrigued me. Baptist News didn’t end up going with that title, but I wanted to include the article here for my Honestly Thinking readers because, while Jesus can’t be boxed, I think there are certain things about Jesus’s character that remain true for all situations and that should challenge both ends of the spectrum in terms of the gospel we share and how we truly love our neighbor.
Please read the article here.
In a Facebook post I also followed up the article with the following words:
To be fair, I know many conservative Christians that are doing the good work – that are out there truly loving their neighbors.
I work for a ministry organization that dedicates itself to compassionately caring for the poor and the needy and alleviating suffering throughout the world (by helping provide food, water, shelter, and other needs). It also fights for justice – such as helping to rescue people out of human trafficking. Most of the employees are conservative Christians that passionately care about what we do, and the outreaches are primarily funded by conservative Christians who sacrificially give because they desire to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
I regularly meet conservative Christians who head up various types of ministries dedicated to making a difference: helping to alleviate struggles and poverty in inner cities, making changes to the foster care system, helping to heal abuse survivors, leading conversations to heal the racial divide, meeting the needs of pregnant teens and young women, advocating for more compassionate approaches to marginalized groups, and yes even some working to protect our environment.
I’ve also met many missionaries, who hold conservative views, who have given up everything “comfortable” in their lives in order to live amongst and serve the poorest of the poor.
(Now I also know many compassionate liberal Christians as well, but I’m addressing here those who identify as conservative)
The problem I have is with much of the current messaging. So caught up in our nation’s current political divide, much of the messaging (particularly on social media but in other places such as school board meetings, etc.), much of conservative Christian messaging has shifted from pro love and pro people, to basically “anti” everything – with a huge part of that being “anti-wokism.”
Part of that is due to the fact that many of those quietly doing the actual good work are not the same as the obnoxious loud ones putting themselves out there as “spokespeople.”
At the same time, I’ve seen others who have previously done good work so caught up in politics and fear of perceived “marxism,” etc. that they’ve shifted their whole focus to fighting ANYTHING the “Left” is concerned about – even if it’s things we as Christians should normally care about.
Thus, if anyone wants to talk about racial justice – even if it’s simply acknowledging our racist past or slavery – they immediately try to shut it down as “WOKE!” Talk about better ways to steward our resources and environment? WOKE. How to give people experiencing homelessness more dignity? WOKE. How to help women advance their dreams? WOKE. How to prevent sexual harassment and abuse? WOKE. How to have add diversity and multiple points of view? WOKE. How do we make LGBTQ+ folks know they are loved by God rather than hated? WOKE. How can we help refugees? WOKE.
As I stated in the article, this does not mean we have to accept every proposal offered to resolve these issues. There are certainly ones that can be more damaging than helpful. I’m a huge believer in religious freedom, and I agree that cancel culture has often gone too far.
But if every time these topics even get brought up for discussion, the immediate response is to shut it down with claims of “WOKE” and making “social justice” a derogatory phrase, it is absolutely no wonder that the rest of the world perceives us as unloving or even hateful to our neighbor. It also makes us guilty of our own form of cancel culture.
In conservative Christianity’s desire to fight all things “Woke,” I’ve actually seen compromises of theology itself. We’ve created a new “gospel.”
I read a recent Christian article that tried to argue that the gospel does not include loving your neighbor. In another one a while back, the author argued that Jesus’s meaning for neighbor was only literally your next door neighbor so could not apply to refugees.
One author, in an article from a decade ago, argued essentially the same thing I did in my article – that instead of criticizing those we disagree with, we should join them in “social justice” efforts (and, yes, he used those words) and demonstrate Christ’s love through the ways that we do it. But that very same author nowadays eviscerates anyone who even mentions “social justice” in a positive sense.
A 3rd reason for “anti-wokism” messaging these days is because there’s been reasonable challenges to some harmful teachings and behaviors that the church has maintained for years. But rather than self-reflect and examining the ways we might need to change (which is supposed to be a regular part of sanctification), many have buckled down and absolutely refused to even humbly listen to the cries of those who have been hurt.
I interact with many who have left the church (even though many still love Jesus) and this is cited as one of the number one reasons they have left. I’ve seen that stated hundreds of times by now. Yet, those who refuse to listen or consider changing often simply dismiss the ones who have left as becoming too “woke.”
Yes, there are many doing good work, but overall the church has still got to do better than this. It has to wake up.
“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14)
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