Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen– 2nd Timothy 2:14b NIV
Warning: weird personal confession ahead.
Lately, I have been a bit down. 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 fired-up over stupid stuff willy-nilly. However, I have found that getting angry over an issue of right and wrong 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 next morning, on Facebook I came across a story about a memorial at Wheaten College.
The memorial in question honors the death of Wheaton graduate and missionary Jim Elliot and four of his missionary colleagues. The men were murdered while attempting to evangelize the Huaorani people of Ecuador in 1956. The plaque has been deemed problematic because it uses the word “savage” to describe the Auca tribesmen who brutally executed Jim Elliot and his colleagues.
What the heck? This is about more than a difference of opinion regarding the suitability of a word. Among other things, this is a brazen attempt to reframe and rewrite someone else’s story.
Who are we to think that is okay?
Is it really our place to reframe or 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 or wise enough to get to decide how past generations tell the stories of THEIR life experiences? Isn’t that arrogant and more than a bit condescending?
The wording of the plaque was composed with the consent of Jim Elliot’s wife as well as the families of the other martyred missionaries. They had no issue with the words that were chosen. It should also be noted that the tribesmen and women who later converted to Christianity because of the martyrdom of the missionaries described their own behavior as completely unacceptable and even savage. It was guilt over their actions that eventually led many in the tribe to repent of their sins and embrace Jesus.
This is a vastly different time than when the memorial was created. It is true that words like savage can be dehumanizing when used the wrong way. Most Christians (me included) would not use the word savage to describe a people group in the year 2021. It is also true that many Christians feel the church has gotten missions work wrong for the last two thousand years. Those folks feel it is this generations responsibility to right the wrongs of past Christians.
Is it really?
Are Christians in 2021 really clever enough or righteous enough to correctly judge the intentions or even the actions of past generations? Wouldn’t it be wiser for contemporary Christians to worry about themselves 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.
I believe with all my heart, soul, mind and spirit that ALL people are made in the image of God. Dehumanizing others 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 world when God Himself describes the human heart as “wicked” and so “corrupt” that no one but Him can even come close to understanding it. Let me be clear: telling the truth is not the same as dehumanizing someone. In fact, 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 honest 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 in church world. 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”.
After all the Bible was intended to offend (John 6:60-62, Matthew 11:6)