The Common Good

Confession: 'Radicalism Often Turns People into Jerks Rather than Lovers'

Righteous anger, one of the best weapons in the satirist's arsenal, can eat me alive if I'm not careful. Jesus must look at some of my moves and shake his head. But then he takes me in his arms and loves me. Why can't I do likewise to those who let me down?

As much as I want to be the humble tax collector, I often come off as the self-righteous, judgmental Pharisee. (See Luke 18:9-14). Even when I'm spot-on in my assessment of those whose missional myopia places self-appointed pastors/speakers/authors on a pedestal, my response at times is definitely not Christ-like. Time after time, I fail to put the Greatest Commandment into practice.

During one of my recent holy hissy fits, Mark Van Steenwyk's posting titled "A More Gracious Radicalism" graced my Google reader. Turns out I'm by no means the only one who struggles with righteous anger. As Mark writes that his wife noted:

something that needs to be addressed here and in all the various corners of the radical Christian world: radicalism often turns people into jerks rather than lovers.

He elaborates on this blunt admission of our failings:

When Christians, upon discovering the deficiencies of their traditions begin, in earnest, to tap back into the root of Jesus' provocative Kingdom message, they are often likely to become judgmental and angry towards their brothers and sisters in Christ than they are to weep for those brothers and sisters. They become increasingly aware of the failures of the Church, of the compromises (large and small) of their friends, and more tenacious in exposing falsehood wherever they find it.

He admits this may be painting with a broad brush but he paints a caricature that isn't a pretty sight.

The prize for biggest downer used to go to the hyper-Calvinists; now that prize is increasingly going to the would-be radicals. Some of the most divisive and harsh people I know are (ironically) committed to nonviolence. Some of the most unloving towards the Church are the very ones who stress again and again the need for the Church to embody Christ's love in the broken places. I don't say this to condemn, but to confess. I think I may have contributed to this grumpy trend.

To be fair, some of the most gracious, loving, and tender people I know are also radicals. It seems that the heavy business of following in the footsteps of Jesus lends one to extremes: either extreme sourness or extreme compassion.

So how do we move out of this missional muck? Here Mark offers some practical advice:

We must mourn the old world, the old ways, and its cycle of death

Sojourners relies on the support of readers like you to sustain our message and ministry.

Related Stories

Resources

Like what you're reading? Get Sojourners E-Mail updates!

Sojourners Comment Community Covenant

I will express myself with civility, courtesy, and respect for every member of the Sojourners online community, especially toward those with whom I disagree, even if I feel disrespected by them. (Romans 12:17-21)

I will express my disagreements with other community members' ideas without insulting, mocking, or slandering them personally. (Matthew 5:22)

I will not exaggerate others' beliefs nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes. I will always extend the benefit of the doubt. (Ephesians 4:29)

I will hold others accountable by clicking "report" on comments that violate these principles, based not on what ideas are expressed but on how they're expressed. (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15)

I understand that comments reported as abusive are reviewed by Sojourners staff and are subject to removal. Repeat offenders will be blocked from making further comments. (Proverbs 18:7)