Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen– 2nd Timothy 2:14b NIV
Lately, I have not felt like myself and I am not a fan of not feeling like myself.
After one especially gloomy day it occurred to me that getting mad about something might pull me out of my funk. I don’t enjoy getting worked-up over stupid stuff for no good reason. However, I have found that genuine moral outrage has a way of taking my mind off of my feelings and helping me get some perspective about what really matters.
Sometimes God takes His sweet time responding to my requests. Other times I get what I want when I want it. This was one of those times. The very next day, on Facebook I came across a story about a memorial at Wheaten College.
The memorial honors the death of Wheaton graduate Jim Elliot and four of his missionary colleagues. The men were murdered while attempting to evangelize the Huaorani people of Ecuador in 1956. The wording on the memorial has been deemed troublesome and will be changed because it uses the word “savage” to describe the Auca tribesmen who brutally murdered Jim Elliot and his colleagues.
So, (here comes the genuine moral outrage part)
What the heck? Seriously.
Changing the wording of the memorial feels like a brazen attempt to reframe and rewrite someone else’s story.
Who are we to think this is okay?
Is it really our place to reword someone else’s experience, especially when they are no longer around to weigh in on the situation? What makes this generation of Christians righteous enough, insightful or wise enough to get to decide how past generations tell the stories of THEIR life experiences? Are we really that arrogant and condescending?
The wording of the plaque was written with the consent of Jim Elliot’s wife and the families of the other martyred missionaries. They had zero problem with the words chosen. It should also be noted that the tribesmen and women who later converted to Christianity after murdering the other missionaries described their own behavior as unacceptable and yes, savage. It was guilt over their sin that eventually led many in the tribe to repent and embrace Jesus as Lord.
It’s true that this is a vastly different time than when the memorial was created. It’s also true words like savage carry a lot of baggage and can be dehumanizing when used thoughtlessly. No one with any sensitivity would use the word savage to describe a people group in the year 2021.
It’s also true many modern Christians feel the church has gotten missions work wrong for the last two thousand years. Those folks feel it is our responsibility to right the wrongs past Christians committed. Is it really though? Are we really clever enough or righteous enough to correctly judge the intentions and actions of past generations of Christians? Wouldn’t it be wiser for us to worry about ourselves for a change? Perhaps it would be spiritually safer to leave the job of judging past generations up to God and let Him decide who got it right and who got it wrong?
I’m just spit-balling here.
ALL people are made in the image of God. Dehumanizing other people is ALWAYS wrong. Nonetheless, some actions are wrong, evil and yes, even savage. It’s okay to call out evil and savagery when we see it. There is simply no room for woke idiocy in the Church when God Himself describes the human heart as “wicked” and so “corrupt” that no one but Him can even come close to understanding it. Telling the truth is not the same as dehumanizing someone. Being real about who we are and what we’ve done is the only way to bring about repentance, salvation, personal healing and restoration of relationships. Furthermore, telling the hard truth about the past is the only way to prevent ugly events from being repeated.
The bigger issue at play here is where woke ideas concerning words will eventually lead us. Rewriting a memorial some might judge offensive might not feel like a big deal. However, it sets a precedence. Non-Christians have been rewriting history and censoring what they don’t like for some time now. Christians would do well to remember that writing and art from the past chronicles history and helps us understand the feelings and experiences of those who lived before us. Literature and art also helps us to understand and even define what it means to be human. If we lose or revise those works we will remove some opportunity for offense. However, we also lose a chunk of our history and even some vital pieces of our humanity in the process. Most concerning to me is what will happen to the Bible if Christians decide to start taking their cues on this issue from the world. It could very well be next in line for some serious “rephrasing”.
The Bible was intended to offend (John 6:60-62, Matthew 11:6)