A while back I expressed concern about the way in which some of the biblical identity texts could be divisive. I made particular reference to Paul’s letter to the Galatians that on the one hand so beautifully declares that “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus ” (Gal 3:28) while on the other hand wishing that those who disagree with him would just go ahead and castrate themselves (Gal 5:12). (Elsewhere in 5:2-4 he declares that if anyone is circumcised, Christ is no use to them, they have fallen from grace.)
A similar situation is present in the Johannine literature. The Gospel and the epistles of John have some of the most inspiring language around love for one another (see, e.g., John 13:34-35 or 1 John 3:16). At the same time, the Gospel has some of the fiercest vitriol in the whole New Testament aimed at Jews (John 8:44) and 2 and 3 John make it clear that the community is to show no hospitality to leaders of rival factions.
For me, texts such as these are uncomfortable. I want every one to get along. Picking sides and anathematizing certain groups and/or individuals challenges my ecumenical and pluralistic proclivities.
Bishop Desmond Tutu perhaps helps with this dilemma. He reminds us that “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
Maybe picking sides is not such a bad thing…
– David Creech