“One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’: another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas”; still another, ‘I follow Christ.” 1 Corinthians 1.12 (NIV)
Most would find my title off-putting. Before you launch missiles and stones, read on. A friend made a comment on Facebook after he heard a lecture from an evangelical professor about how scriptures are formed before they were canonized and how the formation and creation of those texts have meanings before the canonized scripture assigns some kind of churchly secondary meaning to these texts. Straight forward enough! In fact, I’ve said this for years and in more recent years, I’ve built my reading of Paul off such a common fact. These are really elementary principles. So, jokingly, I asked, “How come they don’t accuse him of being an anti-Reformed heretic? I’ve been saying the same thing for years especially in my new construct of Paul.” The answer from my friend is telling, “That’s because you don’t have the evangelical umbrella to protect you.” Apparently, seeking and telling of truth aren’t enough. We need an umbrella from the stormy fallout. If I didn’t know better, I’d think we’re talking about a Mafia protection racket in the neighborhood in collecting protection money.
The above exchange really sums up the evangelical woes for recent years. We’ve formed a clique that goes by certain party lines under the guise of ideology (notice I didn’t say “theology”. Go ahead, google and note the difference), whether it is five-point Calvinism or an antiquated model of inerrancy. So long as we hang around with the right people saying the right spiritual jargons, we won’t be scrutinized. We have all become cliquish ideologues. Truth telling becomes a celebration party of our cliques. We love to party but we only party by the ideologies we set up. Our party line becomes our ideology and then we read all reality with that ideology. What if the ideology is inadequate? When faced with that question, most would just shake their heads and walk away. I think the problem with the above exchange is in the metaphor of protective umbrella.
Why do Christian truth tellers need a protective umbrella? It is because the forces around us, even in the faith community circle, is polemical. The question we need to ask is “Protection from whom?” Usually, people go with the idea of “protection from what?” The usual answer is “Protection from heresies.” The problem with a singular lens of viewing Christian spirituality and intellect isn’t that it’s wrong. It’s just inadequate. Faith isn’t all about a battle. Faith isn’t all about the danger of the unknown. Faith, least of all, isn’t about fear, but we have plenty of fear. The very reason why we need protection (either from “whom” or from “what”) is because we fear that we have no category to navigate life. We fear that we don’t have all the answers. So, we form protective gangs the way new immigrants form protective gangs in Chinatown or Little Italy etc. We create a holy huddle from our fear. Soon enough, our ideology that we use to envelope us makes all of us ideologues. Evangelicals read non-evangelicals (both Protestants and Catholics) using their own ideology instead of trying to see things from the perspective of others. We become ideologues.
Once we become ideologues, our intellectual honesty will die a quick death. Now, the problem of being ideologues isn’t limited to evangelical circles. It can occurs in all walks of life. What I find interesting is that we aren’t just trying to use our ideology to protect ourselves. We find other ideologues to form our holy huddle to create terrorizing gangs against those who don’t want to be ideologues. I question all ideologues. I don’t believe in umbrellas because I don’t always think that life is always a storm. The very fact the ideologue needs an umbrella shows that he is insecure about his truth. The fact he needs an ideological umbrella is not so much to be protected from the storm of the outside, but from the storm created by the illusion of his fellow Evangelicals that somehow that’s a storm. For the man with the umbrella, everything looks like a storm. Yet, the same man often fails to ask, “Where is the storm from?”
In Chinatown, the recent influx of mainland Chinese immigrants create new social challenges for the old Chinatown crowd. Many came from other provinces other than Canton. These immigrants are low-level workers. Many are upstanding people living under less than ideal circumstances. Some have form cliques and groups that come in form of gangs. The new gangs are a headache because they don’t really provide protection from the white men or black men around Chinatowns all over the US. They provide “protection” from their own kind. The protection money is what people pay to their own kinds who created the problem to begin with. The threat is, “If we don’t get money from you, we can’t guarantee that ‘someone’ won’t burn down your store.” That “someone” is often a thug INSIDE the gang. THIS is the reflection of the evangelical protection umbrella. We often create illusion that the threat is from the outside (and sometimes, we aren’t wrong), but many times, the threat is within our ranks. Our holy huddle has become one big ghetto of our own Chinatown. When we start making faith a battle all the time, our imagery and politics will look more and more like the Mafia’s racketeering schemes rather than the vibrant resurrection faith we believe. That’s the tragedy of our time.
If I were to rename this blog post, I would call it “truth murdered by the ideologue”, but someone surely would accuse me of being unloving. At the end of the day, when telling the truth requires protection from ideologues, truth dies on the altar of an ideology. Ideology isn’t the truth. It’s a caricature of half-truths, and that’s the pity of our faith community.
To qualify all of the above statements, I still believe in a lot of what evangelicals hold dear, but that’s besides the point. The very fact I have to write that qualifying statement in shows how far off we are from seeking the truth without an ideology. One question remains, Since when did the Body of Christ operate like organized criminals? As far as truth is concerned, the ideologue has murdered it.