Can You Be A “Yeah, but…” Christian?
“Yeah, but…” rationality has stuck around for millennia. It is a way of deciding sometimes to ignore doing the troublesome right thing in deference to the preponderance of good things being done.
There are common examples that stir conflict of conscience about remaining silent in the face of underlying social concerns. Corrupt government agencies that are otherwise aligned with our pet economic and political interests come to mind. Military branches will pride themselves in keeping America safe but are often highly discriminatory in practice. Corporations will sometimes fudge their data to keep the profits rolling in, justifying it because of a history of producing otherwise-effective products and job creation. Higher education corporations are among the worst, justifying themselves on the grounds of educating America. Then there are the political parties, resting their hopes on one or two favorable bullets in their platforms. The list goes on!
My wife, Barbara, reminds me that much of this silence comes from fear of becoming jobless. Those of us who have had enough supplementary income to cover ourselves if we are fired are simply freer to speak our minds. That’s been her way of reminding me not to take pride in my tendency to point out what’s wrong with an institution that faithfully is paying me to help keep the trains running on time. Our church president has labeled me, “An equal opportunity offender.”
When it comes to our responsibility as Christians, we may be held to a higher standard different from, “Yeah, that may be a bad thing, but we are doing so much good that it can be overlooked.” What pops into my mind is my experience as a chaplain at Maine State Prison. The responsibility of a chaplain is centered not strictly on evangelism but on social justice that opens the door to evangelism. There is no better mandate than that of Micah 6:7, 8:
Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?
With both the Confessing Church and the Departments of Correction in America actively resisting social justice advocation as some sort of liberal plot, prison chaplains and church members can either say, “Yeah, but…” and protect themselves and their job security, or they can point out injustice and likely be subtly ushered to the parking lot, albeit with love and appreciation, of course.
The Apostle Paul might consent to the “Yeah, but…”, stay-the-course approach: “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed, and in this I rejoice” (Phil 1:18). On the other hand, the Apostle Peter might suggest a more proactive position: “So we have the prophetic word made sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).
There being most folks these days who stay-the-course but an increasing number who are opting out, one can hope for a healthy mix that leads to dialogue. “Yeah, but, …”