Offending and being offended

August 22, 2010

church / culture

I have a close friend, Andy, and Andy runs in a number of different circles that give him an interesting perspective on political and religious debates. Out of his perspective, he wrote something on his blog the other day, and I was planning to just leave a comment but it got to be too much for a comment and I decided to post it here instead.

His post looks at the excuse that the gospel is offensive and therefore we are allowed, even expected, to be offensive also. You should read the whole thing, but I want to look at this part:

How does this translate today? Does it mean we need to post status updates about the extremist muslim that will surely burn in Hell? The homosexual or the stay at home dad who is worse than a non believer? I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s offensive, I think that’s more of the same. It’s the same hate that this world is filled with. It doesn’t surprise anyone, and surely, it can’t offend…

The same hate the world is filled with. Not surprising.

Now. If we could just grab onto that, I think we’d be alright, but he’s got me thinking in a different direction. The folks who he’s talking about, and I’m sure their counterparts who post status updates about other things, may think they’re being offensive for the gospel. But as they do it, the vast majority of them are easily offended when people who disagree state their cases. The ones who rant about Muslims get offended that the Muslims want to built an Islamic cultural center in a neighborhood they have served for many years, and the ones who rant about homsexuals are offended that they want to be able to get married.

Clearly, there is a double standard. We – whoever “we” are – are allowed to offend people because we think we’re doing it for the gospel (even though, as Andy points out, we’re just using the same hate everyone else does). But others are not allowed to offend us (by our criteria of what offensiveness is) because they’re doing it for their own reasons?

As I reflected on why this is the case, it occurred to me that there are a couple of reasons. One is that we are too busy thinking of ourselves. We think everything that we disagree with is an offense to us, and therefore it must be an offense to God. If it is an offense to God, our logic goes, it is our job to do everything we can to stop whatever the offense is. The problem, though, is that God isn’t like us. Brennan Manning wrote an incredible book called Ruthless Trust that dealt with some relevant issues. One of the things he wrote forever changed the way I try to look at myself:

Feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, inferiority, and self-hatred rivet our attention on ourselves. Humble men and women do not have a low opinion of themselves; they have no opinion of themselves. The heart of humility lies in undivided attention to God, a fascination with his beauty revealed in creation, a contemplative presence to each person who speaks to us, and a “de-selfing” of our plans, projects, ambitions, and soul.

Can you imagine if folks who are easily offended lived this way instead? A heart of humility, in the way he speaks, can’t be offended by ridiculous culture wars, and isn’t preoccupied with what other people are doing. Deeper still, if we lived like that we wouldn’t be preoccupied with what we are doing.

And that’s the issue, I think. It’s possible to think that God needs us to defend him, and to be preoccupied with doing that instead of living humbly before him. This is why folks think it is a positive thing to be offensive for the sake of being offensive. If we don’t piss people off, the logic goes, we aren’t defending the gospel well enough. And it spirals from there.

Now instead, as Andy mentions, the offensive thing of the gospel is its love. It’s Jesus eating with sinners, it’s the divine dying on a cross to deliver people from their sin, it’s people loving their enemies, and it’s people who have no opinion of themselves.