There Are Things Worth Getting Divisive About
Over the past couple of months, I’ve had the joy of leading a Bible study on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. We are a couple of chapters in now, and here’s my main takeaway so far:
There are things worth getting divisive about.
The central conflict at the heart of Galatians is a group of teachers attempting to add to the Gospel. Jesus plus Law. Jesus plus rules around eating, circumcision, and so on. And Paul is having none of it. Paul gets absolutely fired up that someone could dare say, “What Jesus accomplished in His death and resurrection wasn’t good enough.”
Paul doesn’t get upset, however, because he wants to make some esoteric theological point. No. Paul gets angry because he sees how theology directly impacts lives. Any addition to the Gospel is ultimately a way to exclude people. The steps are easy. First, create a rule or standard to hold people to. Second, find the people who don’t want to follow your made-up rule or standard. Third, kick them out. Easy peasy.
Churches have followed this pattern over and over again. Forcing people to follow the (made-up) standards of heteronormativity, purity, whiteness, patriarchy, and wealth accumulation are different versions of “Jesus plus.” Follow Jesus plus pray the gay away. Follow Jesus plus maintain an inability to see systems of racism. Follow Jesus plus pledge your allegiance to your nation.
What I adore about Paul is that he has no time for that nonsense. Instead, Paul straight up calls the false teachers in Galatia:
Towards the end of the letter, he even famously wishes that these false teachers who want the men to be circumcised would go ahead, finish the job, and castrate themselves. 😬
Paul does not take an approach of conciliation, understanding, or compromise. Paul does not seek a “third way” or attempt to appease those who would divide the community. Paul, instead, is, divisive. He calls them out, explains how incredibly wrong they are, and how destructive their theology is to people. He draws a dividing line between a Jesus-only theology and a Jesus-plus theology.
Admittedly, not every theological difference deserves the anger and division Paul throws at this one. But we should have no hesitation calling out theologies that work to exclude others. Being a loving and kind Christian should not be equated to silence in the face of exclusion or the begrudging acceptance of bigotry.
Instead, lovingkindness will look like confronting harmful teachings. Lovingkindness will require us to walk away from communities defined by their exclusion lists. Lovingkindness will mean getting angry in the face of bad theology and calling it what it is: destructive and worthy of being dismembered.