I’m no Star Wars fan.
If you ask me, most of those movies are sort of okay. Some are literally unwatchable.
So, I find myself on the outer when it comes to fan fights about the minute esoterica of a film series with which I’m not terribly familiar.
I don’t care that replacing Anakin at the end of Return of the Jedi made no sense.
I’m not gonna fight about whether it’s believable that a bunch of Ewoks could defeat the Galactic Empire.
Jar Jar Binks has zero effect on me.
And I have no opinion on whether Han shot first.
In fact, reading the high dudgeon being expressed by fans over whether The Last Jedi burns the franchise to the ground or not is kinda quaint to me, actually. When fans start carrying placards protesting that Disney has ruined Lucasfilm, I might look up from my breakfast cereal for a second, but, meh, I don’t care. Good for them. All power to them. I’m gonna keep scrolling through my newsfeed.
Which might be the same reaction most of the world has when Christians start splitting hairs and debating the minutiae of their doctrine. Like Star Wars fans, we can get so outraged so quickly by the tiniest difference of theological opinion, while most onlookers are, like, huh?
This happened this week, the last week of Advent, with the season of Christmas nearly upon us and everyone singing about peace and goodwill to all. Two well-known, and much-loved (in their own camps) Christian thinkers had a twitter stoush that resulted in an outpouring of outrage and indignation. The issue?
On December 19, Presbyterian pastor and writer, Tim Keller tweeted, “Jesus didn’t come primarily to solve the economic, political, and social problems of the world. He came to forgive our sins.”
Some have questioned whether this was in response to the tax cut debate occurring in congress at the time. You know, a friendly reminder that in the midst of the furore over taxes and social services we should remember that Jesus forgives our sins.
Then, that same morning, writer and blogger Rachel Held Evans tweeted this rejoinder:
Maybe I misunderstand Keller, but this strikes me as a false dichotomy. Jesus spoke of both personal and systemic, societal sins. And he spoke of nothing more frequently than the Kingdom, of God’s plan to achieve justice & righteousness on earth as it is in heaven.
Yeah, okay. Fair enough. Can you clarify, Reverend Keller? Well, yes, he could:
Folks, key word is “primarily.” Of course, he addresses economic, political, and social issues. See my book Generous Justice. Please don’t make a tweet of mine indictive [sic.] of my entire theology.
You might think that would be the end of it. Keller tweets something that could be misconstrued. Evans admits she might have misunderstood him and asks for clarification (in one tweet she mentions that she has always found Keller engaging and respectful in their online interactions) and then Keller clarifies.
Conversation over, right? Wrong.
Like rabid Star Wars fans, supporters lined up in their defence of their favorite character, er, I mean, tweeter. Evans’ followers were quick to condemn Tim Keller:
“Keller is polarizing.”
“This is not the first overly facile comment I’ve seen him make.”
“Straight up Gnosticism”
“Thank you for calling him out.”
And one even overtly borrowed the language of fanaticism: “Not a Keller fan.”
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Rachel Held Evans. She was dismissed as a “self improvement travelling speaker” and called “angry,” “intolerant,” “unorthodox,” “desperate for attention,” “hysterical,” “reprobate” and told she needed to repent of her tweeted comment and publicly apologize to Mr Keller.
As Evans herself asked, “That seems like an…overreaction….right?”
Right! That’s exactly what it was. All of it. The whole outpouring of disapproval and resentment over a couple of tweets that respectfully raised questions about the relationship between individual forgiveness and the common good in Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom.
Try to imagine an outsider looking in on this discussion. It would be like me reading a tweet thread by Star Wars fans about viewing order. Or the point of midi-chlorian levels, and how they affect Force users. Quaint. Esoteric. Irrelevant. Not worth getting worked up about.
Hey, I’m not saying we can’t discuss the finer points of our theology. But to become so readily and easily outraged, to drop into being “appalled” and affronted at the slightest point of dissension… come on.
We live in a world crying out for the followers of Jesus to not just preach about forgiveness but practice it. We live at a time when our neighbors need us to not merely debate the common good, but contribute to it, as Jesus taught us. Now is not the time to descend into sectarian outrage about religious esoterica.
As Yoda says, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you.”
(Yeah, I had to google that.)