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Cape Town is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. We have everything. The sweeping Table Mountain range, the stunning beaches, one of only six floral kingdoms in the world. Some of the best restaurants globally. A host of sub cultures that makes the city truly fascinating to work and live in.
But we also have our problems. We struggle with gangs and drugs in some of our neighbourhoods. A few years ago a young man was gunned down by a gang because he and his friends were mistaken for members of a rival. They weren’t a gang, and they weren’t rivals. They all just wore the wrong brand of clothing at the same time (Nike in this instance). He survived, but he lost the use of his legs forever. Ronel was on the team who treated him during his four month stay in hospital.
Absolutely tragic. He was caught in the crossfire.
Similarly, there are others kinds of crossfires which are not physically dangerous, but spiritually so. And getting caught in it can cause long term spiritual damage too. Unlike with physical danger, spiritual danger is not always so easily discernible.
And spiritual danger hides in the folds of polarisation.
I have been caught in some of these recently. Perhaps you have as well? Which of the following sentiments jump out at you?
- Not going to church during lockdown? You’re guilty of neglecting the fellowship of believers!
- Involved in education for the underprivileged? Contributing to job readiness programmes? You’re a Cultural Marxist because you believe in Social Justice!
- Did you ever #BLM, even once? You’re a Bible burner!
- Do you believe in a “traditional” definition of gender? You’re holding back our evolution as a species!
One of my friends recently posted a video on going into isolation during this time of lock down. Interestingly, one of the consequences of isolating yourself, he says, is being more susceptible to get caught up in the latest cultural storm. I think this is spot on.
Black Lives Matter and Cultural Marxism
One of the most notable controversies in recent times is the Black Lives Matter storm. I mean, who didn’t feel indignant and outraged (favourite attitude of social media) after watching the video of George Floyd dying at the hands of the police in the US? I’ve watched the news and social media go wild with the #BLM hash tag. And I saw a bunch of arbitrary groups of white people “taking the knee” across the world to show solidarity afterwards.
I must admit, I was quite sympathetic to this “cause” after the news just broke. Along with other Christians, I agree that all lives matter, including black lives. I also did not see anything wrong with acknowledging this tragic event in the US.
However, not long afterward an alternative hash tag started to crawl into my attention span: Cultural Marxism. At first I did not think much of it, but the source from which I heard the term was a trusted friend who knew a lot more about cultural trends than I do.
Maybe you were in the same boat? I realised that there was a lot I didn’t know about either #BLM or #CulturalMarxism. Many of the arguments resonated with me, but I did not have a lot of mind space to afford these matters, and controversial social media arguments are something I try to actively avoid.
We South Africans are dealing with a lot right now. You might be worried about a looming retrenchment, or your children’s school year, or your adult child living overseas. Perhaps your car does not have enough fuel and there is no money coming in because of covid, but life is returning to normal and you will have to start driving around again. Maybe your mind space is occupied by your spouse’s cancer treatment that is not so successful as you have once hoped.
And you know, while worrying about things like these, George Floyd was murdered. Wanting to show your support to the Christian view that murder is wrong, you hash tagged BLM in a post and handed back your mind space to its original every day life worries. Then, months later, you realised there is more to this BLM story because why in the world are they burning bibles in the name of BLM? Perhaps the Cultural Marxist proponents have a point after all…
Have something like this happened to you? Have you been caught in the crossfire of seemingly good causes just to find out later that they’re not all you thought they’d be?
Let’s play out another scenario. You have been involved for years in causes you felt the Lord drew you into. Perhaps you have even gone so far as to make it your life’s ministry. Let’s take Social Justice for instance. Are you involved in a social justice programme like caring for the poor in a night shelter? Or are you volunteering in schools where most learners are under privileged? Are you a mentor in an adult education programme, or coaching people in job readiness so that they can learn how to fish for themselves?
If this is you, then are Cultural Marxist!
And there we have it, you have just become a victim of polarisation. You have been caught in the crossfire.
Why? Because Social Justice is apparently one of the things the Cultural Marxist ideology uses to achieve their agendas. Click here to see a quick summary of these agendas – it will provide some perspective.
I have spoken with a few people in this exact situation. They are faithful followers of Christ, who has a heart for Jesus first. They are involved in social justice because of that first love, not because they’re culturally Marxist. In fact, many of them have not even heard the term before, at least not until it became a public matter of discourse in recent times.
I once (quite proudly) told a friend about some of the “social justice” initiatives in which my church was involved, mainly in the areas of Early Life, Education and Employment. I have not completed the sentence yet before he cut me off and criticised Social Justice without a root in evangelism. I was taken aback slightly, not entirely sure what he meant. The love of Christ and the yearning to serve him are the driving forces behind everyone I know who are involved in those ministries. However, I later realised that this dismissal came from exposure to the long term polarisation which often clouds this topic. Perhaps I should have chosen my words differently. I also now understand his reaction better. I was a bit slow to catch up on the terminology, it seems.
Controversies like #BLM and #CM enjoyed a lot of attention on social (and traditional) media recently. It even became necessary for
social biblical justice ministries to issue public statements on how they will adapt their messaging and terminology to combat confusion.
Aren’t you just annoyed when common words and phrases are being massaged to mean something other than it did originally?
And this is the nature of polarisation. It might be well intended, yet often enforces the opposite affect on those who do not hold that particular view. Polarisation drives the wedge deeper, pushing those in a particular camp further into its corners whilst creating a fight lust in those who hold the opposite opinion.
Let’s look at another example. Blake Crouch is one of my favourite sci-fi authors of all time. Dark Matter and Recursion are two mind rides like no other. I absolutely love them. Yet in the real world he recently echoed on Facebook what seems to be the belief of many. Traditional Christian beliefs about things like transgenderism or homosexuality is “fundamentalist” and is “holding us all back as a species and cannot be eradicated fast enough”.
Ok, so I am not a Fundamentalist Christian but I am a Conservative Evangelical one, theologically speaking. I believe men should be men and women should be women. Fundamentalist Christians (and Neo-Nazis for that matter) also hold that view. Does that mean I am also holding back the species because I share a particular view, even though I don’t share what actions should be taken as an outlet of that view? Does it also mean I am a friend of Neo-Nazis? And why would some call me “phobic” of a particular lifestyle if I peacefully and reasonably disagree with that view? Should I call them “Christo-phobic” because they don’t like my worldview, especially when they air their views in the most un-peaceful of manners?
Go to church!
Let’s just look at one last example. Should we be going back to church or not?
My own church have not decided to reopen yet, but if I look at the passionate arguments and counter-arguments online, I find myself being painted with a broad brush of guilt for neglecting the fellowship of believers and meeting together.
Caught. In the crossfire of polarisation. Incredulity. Outrage.
How does the Bible help with our attitudes?
The Bible often has a role to play in some of these polarised debates. Sometimes it is used quite well. The original context has been properly considered (exegesis), the principles applied appropriately to our current context (hermeneutics), and the contemporary cultural setting has been thoroughly considered. At other times, a verse or two has been lifted out of context and made to say whatever the proponent wanted it to say (eisogesis).
For Christ followers, knowing our Bibles is a crucially important building block to learn how to distinguish between these concepts.
What we should avoid though, is to think that the Bible is not a good place to go to just because it is being misappropriated by some.
What are we to do when it comes to handling polarisation better, where we feel the strong pull and urge to jump on a band wagon because some words we read struck a nerve deep within our souls? While I was pondering this, a few verses came to mind:
Two ears one mouth
Have you ever wondered where this saying comes from? It was James who wrote about this in chapter 1:19-20:
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
I think this is a good point of departure, but this is not say that we should just be apathetic and not stand up for a good cause. Take time to breathe. Have the patience to listen to make sure we don’t commit polarisation by jumping to conclusions. Just because someone uses a word or phrase that means something in particular to us, does not mean he/she means it in that way.
Sticking with the theme of ears, have you come across this Proverb yet?
Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own. – Proverbs 26:17.
Is this your dog, or a stray one? Which brings me to the second point.
Paul writes to the Philippians in chapter 4:5-9
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.
The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Before you hit post on Facebook, or before you like a particular comment, or before you get hot under the collar whilst having a beer with your friend, ask yourself… will my reasonableness be known right now?
This is even more true in the company of unbelievers. It’s easy to forget that our main aim is to be witnesses here on earth, not necessarily to win arguments. So Paul advises in Colossians 4:5:
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
The foolish prophet
But what if you are still misunderstood, or intentionally being undermined in your service to Christ? What if people are not really interested in reason or healthy conversational debate, but rather just interested in shooting down your answer, dodging the real issues, or advancing a certain viewpoint because they think they’re right? There is a little verse in Hosea which I think is very relevant right now, especially in a world of polarisation. He wrote to the Israelites when they were ignoring Yahweh and following the worldliness and idols from the nations around them. Much like today, sin and faithlessness were bountiful. He writes:
Because of your great sin and hostility, you say, “The prophets are crazy and the inspired men are fools!”
Perhaps you will be called “crazy”, or “a fool” for your beliefs and your faith rooted in the Bible. Perhaps all this polarisation will be causing you to doubt your own beliefs, making you feel guilty and uncertain about things that you should not have to doubt. Perhaps you’re being gaslighted by popular culture, media, colleagues or friends?
Let’s dress for the occasion and put on our armour! Our battle is spiritual, not physical. Let’s stand firm… Paul the Apostle reminds us:
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Read more in Ephesians 6:10-17.
Don’t forget that we are sojourners, and while we are sojourning we are led and guided by the One True God.
He will never leave us, nor forsake us. – Hebrews 13:5
And finally, after all is said and done, we have Revelation 21:1-21!
8 thoughts on “Polarisation: caught in the crossfire like me?”
Wrenching. I think now more than ever. I read a short report in Evangelicals Now about a young Asian woman stopping in tha pavement to hear some French youth were explains the gospel to passers by. She got so emotional that one of the young men came down the steps to ask what the matter was. She said, “Nothing’s wrong, it’s just so beautiful; I’ve never heard this before!”
Hi Colin, thanks for sharing this!
Thought provoking! Thanks Paul. I think in these uncertain times, ignorance might be big sin ot causing us to sin. With Google and whatever internet search function at our finger tips, their isn’t much excuses for being ignorant. So, we should, I concur, be even slower to respond, seeing as we have less excuse for being ignorant of our choices. Loved reading your blog.
Thanks Eldoret, appreciate the encouragement!
Well though out and presented.
Grace to you
We are all guilty I’m sure, some will never get things right, well at least not most of the time. I really appreciate the depth of reasoning here Paul, and I guess many should do well to understand more the reasoning of others, instead of being dismissive. I’m reminded of the term “ High horses”, and of this, John Wycliffe said this, “Your Emperor…made him (self) and his cardinals ride on high horses”. Thank Paul for bringing much of our unreasonableness down to earth…
Much appreciated thank you John. Interesting to know where the “high horses” phrase comes from!
I am very aware of how easy it is to be guilty of such things, and also painfully aware that it wouldn’t be hard to accuse me of being polarising in the post! I hope it is not taken that way, especially by those who faithfully engage with the kinds of topics in question (and may they forgive me if they do!).