A Primer That Shouldn’t Be Necessary

It seems like it’s time to establish some terms, mark some boundaries, set some parameters:

When I say that Sarah Palin doesn’t appear to be especially intelligent, that’s an opinion. It’s an opinion when you say it, too, or when you say she’s brilliant.

That it’s not “nice” of me to say it is not only your opinion, but likely one I’d agree with.

If I, believing Sarah Palin to not be terribly bright, say she’s that way because she was kicked in the head by a caribou, or was dropped off a cliff as a baby, or took LSD one too many times, those things are lies, vicious slander, innuendo, mean-spirited, and entirely unbecoming a Christian. I would hope someone would denounce me — loudly, quickly, and publicly — if I ever said that.

If you, believing Sarah Palin to be of especially high intellectual caliber, tell me she’s a Yale grad and Rhodes scholar, and you really believe it, it’s no less true. It’s a “lie” if you continue believing it in the face of evidence to the contrary, or if you know it’s not true and say it anyway.

If I say that someone who thinks hip-hop mogul P. Diddy speaks for African-Americans is an idiot, that’s an opinion. It’s also not a very nice one, not me at my best, and there are better ways to express that opinion. “Naive,” “uninformed,” “bigoted,” “comfortable with prejudices” — those all work just as well. The conclusion is idiotic, but calling someone an “idiot” isn’t how I like to talk.

If I am a Christian, I will get angry. I will speak strongly, and I will likely offend people. If I do those things and sin, if I lie, or judge someone’s heart, or say something ugly when the truth can be expressed otherwise, I should be called on it.

If, though, I get angry as a Christian and point out — strongly, graphically, angrily — when someone does something evil, the reader’s offense isn’t in itself a verdict on my sinfulness in doing so.

As a Christian, I speak strongly against other Christians. I very rarely, if ever, speak strongly against individual non-Christians. People outside the Church don’t damage the Gospel. People inside do. If Joe the Belching, Lecherous Racist, as an unbeliever, says something racist, I’ll jump on what he said, not on Joe. But if Joe the Christian belches out some racist garbage, I’ll jump on him, because “as a Christian” can never modify racism with being challenged.

If I truly believe someone is dangerous to me or to my country, I have the right to try to persuade people to vote against him or her, using truth and employing every ounce of God-given wisdom, discernment, and passion I have.

If I truly believe someone is dangerous, though, I don’t get to engage in lying, “covenant” or otherwise, to defeat him. I also am not relieved of the responsibility of voicing opinions that, while subjective, must also never be unloving. Notice that Jesus said “whitewashed tombs,” which, while harsh, makes a cogent point. “Ignorant a–hole,” while harsh, makes only the point that the one saying it is, unfortunately, all too familiar with the qualities of an a–hole. That’s not our Lord’s way. It cannot be mine.

If I say I love Doug Wilson, would do anything in my power to help him or anyone in his church, or anyone else in need, that’s true. I do love him; I just don’t like him. The latter doesn’t negate the former, nor does it make it impossible for me to see any good in the man. Further, “good in the man” isn’t a criteria for me or any other Christian to minister to another person, and so I can rail on him for promoting hate and division while knowing in my heart that I’d offer him money, a kidney, a bowl of soup, or a battery jump if I knew he needed it.

Whether you believe me or not, or care one bit, doesn’t change the truth above.

Whether he would do the same for me or not — and I bet he probably would — doesn’t change the truth above.

Finally, if I confess to having been driven to tears by some offense committed by Christians, or if I say that something “breaks my heart,” or if I despair that mine is a lonely Trinitarian voice against the madness, you are free to make fun of me, remark on my “hormonally-infused rants,” or chalk it up to whatever you wish. It comes with the territory I’ve chosen to walk on. If you curse me, I forgive you; if you think I’m an idiot, you get to; if you hate me, I’ll love you; and if you call me a liar, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m not.

So go ahead. See, it’s not about you. It’s not even about me, really, as anyone other than someone who sees victory only in what Jesus has done, and can suffer any number of “defeats” knowing that I know the One who wins in the end.

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