To Whom It May Concern #8 – Pharisees

To Whom It May Concern,

I don’t like troublemakers.

Let me be clear and concise. I love people who pick, joke, and laugh with others and themselves. I even like sarcastic people who don’t lay it on too thick and give us a break here and there. What I don’t like is genuine troublemakers. People who see the problems most struggle with and merely expose them or shame them for it. I dislike those people because they aren’t the solution, they’re merely fuel to the fire of the very problem they despise.

In case you don’t know, there’s been a commotion unfolding at my alma mater. While I won’t go into the sordid details (to keep the troublemakers from latching onto this post, or me for that matter), I will set the stage for you. The university I attended for both undergrad and graduate degrees has an art department. In that art department, students occasionally (to my understanding in just one class), view some classical paintings and statues of nude men and women. There may be more to it than that (quite frankly I’m not sure and don’t have time to check it out thoroughly), but that’s the gist. Under those circumstances, several preachers (a father and his two sons alongside their cronies) have waged a verbal war on social media with the president of the university and anyone else they can find associated with the school (i.e. alumni, students, parents of students, etc.).

These troublemakers have drawn attention to this textbook by posting its contents (the supposed pornographic images) online. That seems overtly hypocritical since they say the images are graphically wrong, yet they scanned and shared them online free of charge and any firewall for the world to see (even underage eyes).

They’ve also condemned the actions of everyone who doesn’t outright join their attack against anyone associated with the university. Needless to say, many people have been verbally assaulted under that ruse. These troublemakers went after everyone they could find from university staff to alumni to people who casually ventured into the debate not knowing who they were dealing with. In their call for repentance, they come across as angry, narrow-minded, McCarthy-esque vigilantes wielding God’s divine vindication and wrath. Obviously, that approach has gone over like a led balloon in our politically correct society. Even to Church members who don’t usually subscribe to the same standards as those who are “woke”, it seems heavy-handed, hateful, and downright vindictive.

I’ve set back and watched all of this unfold and can’t help but think, what good is it doing? Over the last few weeks, the statements (or rather, lack of statements) from the university have bordered on indifference. If you’re wondering, they actually addressed the issue in a public forum last year when the issue first arose to a public audience and subsequently moved on. This year, to up the ante, the troublemakers actually purchased a UHaul truck and displayed a large banner around town directing people to the aforementioned website. Then, they unleashed a wave of social media harassment through pointed questions, arguments, and the perpetual tagging of anyone associated with the school across several platforms. Even casual observers couldn’t help but notice several people requesting the troublemakers leave them alone only to be met with more harassment and finger-pointing.

Personally, I find their tactics sleazy. It’s the worst kind of tabloid fodder and the equivalent of a school-yard bully calling you a “chicken” or something much worse. In their actions, I see a pharisaical approach to righteousness. They believe everyone who disagrees with their interpretation of the book’s content is a false teacher, deserving of open contempt and shame, who’ve left behind the very Christian faith they profess. Their blind trust in their own righteousness and belief in everyone else’s sinfulness resembles the worst forms of fanaticism. I imagine they’d fit right in with the hooligans who ruin sports for most people who just enjoy the games, win or lose.

Watching it unfold I can’t help but think of a famous story from Scripture. That story is full of troublemakers not too unlike the people I just mentioned. Most of us know about the woman caught in adultery from John 8:1-11. Most of you also know the details, but if you don’t, here’s a brief rundown.

The Pharisees (a Jewish sect that valued strict obedience to the Law over everything else) brought a woman caught in the very act of adultery before Jesus. They brought her before him as a setup. They wanted to catch Jesus in a no-win situation. If He condemned her, was He really a loving, benevolent Savior? If He forgave her, wasn’t He rejecting the Law of Moses and God’s Divine Word? In their mind, they knew He was stuck either way and they would be able to finally expose Him as the fraud they knew Him to be.

The funny thing about that story is Jesus knew them (and their hearts). He saw through their sham, their self-righteousness, and the public spectacle. His famous response in 8:7 has gone down in history as one of the fundamental benchmarks for graciousness. He said, “he who is without sin, throw the first stone.” The passage tells us the accusers left one-by-one beginning with the oldest (see 8:9) after the remarkable statement from our Lord. When Jesus was the only one left with her, He did not excuse her sin, rather He forgave her with a commandment, “Go, and sin no more,” (see 8:11).

As I watch the scenes across my social media driving people crazy I can’t help but think about Jesus. I don’t see Him creating a website to illustrate, expose, or describe someone’s sin (or accusations of sin). I don’t see Him making a public spectacle of someone the world calls a sinner. I don’t see Him casting stones or hurling insults. I see Him having compassion for a sinner, caught in an ugly situation that she should have avoided.

While I can’t speak to the allegations at my alma mater and their merit, I can say that I’ve never thought of classical nude photos or statues in the same vein as modern pornography. I might not have a deep theological explanation for that distinction, but I do have one that makes sense to me. Those photos and statues were not meant to profit off the degradation of a man or woman, pornography is. Its sole purpose is to degrade and excite and promote consumption (and addiction). While I don’t know for certain, common sense tells me Michelangelo’s David most certainly wasn’t created for that reason. That seems to represent a line of separation that my brothers can’t or won’t see.

I worry that their line of thinking has no end. Will they apply this to medical textbooks that show naked bodies? Will they begin to skip the parts of the Bible (i.e. Song of Solomon) that allude to sexual desire? Will they jump to conclusions about anyone (and anything) that violates their view of Biblical interpretation? Will they condemn anyone who doesn’t follow their views of Scripture as a false teacher worthy of scorn, demonization, and ridicule?

At the end of the day, I would like to see them learn a valuable lesson from the Pharisees they so closely resemble. Walk away. If they can reasonably stand without sin before the people they accuse of lewd behavior, let the stones fly. Since they can’t, stop making trouble for people who are your brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s not doing any good. It’s actually doing the opposite, it’s causing division, strife, and trouble. Enough is enough. Like I said earlier, I really dislike troublemakers.

Sincerely,

A Brother Who Can’t Stand It Any More


Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

About The Merger

The Merger began when Neal Mathis and Matthew Higginbotham sat down to write together. Since then, it's blossomed into so much more. The Merger is meant to be a place where faith and life meet. In these stories, we hope you'll find deep theological value right alongside life-changing practical advice.

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