Jesus and Outrage Culture: Poking the Beehive (part 2)

In each Outrage Culture event, there is a beginning: a moment when something is said, or done, whether intentionally or not. Someone waves a stick at a beehive, and the bees swarm.

The story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) is a famous biblical example of outrage.

Jesus went to the temple courts, and a crowd gathered around him to hear his teaching. This outer court where Jesus stood was a public place for the Scribes to gather their students and teach the Law. People looked on in interest.

In this case, the beginning of the Outrage event was when a woman caught in adultery was dragged in front of Jesus and the hostile crowd. They were ready to expose Jesus and hurl insults at him. Would he forgive this harlot as he had been known to do and break the law? Or would he keep the law and condemn the woman for her sins (and thus lose his reputation as the defender of the people on the margins of society)? The religious bees were swarming.

If you make an incendiary statement you will potentially provoke a swarm: the risk is, the swarm might just fly back on to you. I’m not just talking about intentionally aggressive talk. Sometimes, the 21st century liberal past-time of pointing out the oppression of the subaltern will do it.

For example, in 2015, SBS soccer journalist Scott McIntyre tweeted that Australia’s ANZAC war memorial day was:

  • “a cultification of an imperialist invasion of a foreign nation” and
  • “Wonder if the poorly read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers pause today to consider the horror that all mankind suffered.” And
  • “Innocent children, on the way to school, murdered. Their shadows seared into the concrete of Hiroshima.”

Outrage Culture rarely leads to healthy debate. In this case, following McIntyre’s tweets, the then Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull publicly spoke out against him. And he was sacked by SBS for the ‘crime’ of a sort of national blasphemy.

Christians are not afraid to wave our sticks at hives. And we often get into trouble. This has been going on since New Testament times. Remember Paul’s words, ‘Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels’ (2 Timothy 2:23). There are many contemporary examples I could site to demonstrate the ignoring of this instruction.

Just last Monday, on the ABC show Q&A, Lyle Shelton, the CEO of the Australian Christian Lobby, was questioned about the ACL’s recent guest, Eric Metaxes, who has made comments on a number of occasions that the proud Lutheran church in Germany in the 1930s sleepily let the ideology of National Socialism infect their church. In the same way, says Metaxas, the proud mainline church in contemporary America is also asleep, not teaching the Bible, and is letting new secular ideologies such as “issues of sexuality” and Obamacare take over. [You can hear the actual quotes of Shelton and Metaxis here]

I’ve always wondered why people insist on making Hitler Germany comparisons in public; it doesn’t matter what you say, you’re stuffed – you will be stung. I know we should be able to grasp the nuance of an argument, but we don’t. It’s not a mistake to make these kinds of comparisons, however, if you want to provoke a response (I suspect that is the case for Metaxas). Whether you agree with him or not, his excuse is that he recently published a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and so WWII is often the historical context of discussion points in his interviews and speeches.

ACL’s Lyle Shelton did his best to defend Metaxes, but fellow Christian panelist Julie McCrossin described the comments as introducing an “an intensity and a savagery that is not normally part of our pluralistic society” and “brutality.” Very strong words. Perhaps she’s right?

After doing my homework on Metaxas, I came to see that he has been portrayed on Q&A and elsewhere unfairly. Sure, he is an evangelical Christian and a proud Republican, and we might not agree with his views on ethics and public policy, but he is a million miles from being a rightwing crazy. In 2012 he was the keynote speaker at the Washington D.C. prayer breakfast attended by Obama. The Eric Metaxas radio show, broadcast daily across America from the Empire State Building, attracts high profile media guests such as Dick Cavett and Peter Hitchins, and Christian scholars such as Rodney Stark and Craig Keener.  People across the political spectrum appear on his show. There are still some people who believe in freedom of speech in America.

Vice President Joe Bidon photographing Eric Metaxas and President Barack Obama at the Washington D.C Prayer Breakfast 2012

I wonder if the people protesting out the front of Metaxas’ Melbourne appearance on 27 April 2016 at Scott’s Church were interested in fully understanding his perspective or broad message? I doubt it. Incidentally, there were other right wingers out the front who made the peaceful protest aggressive. I’m sure they weren’t across the details either. The bees have little regard for a rational discussion. As I will discuss in a future post, Outrage Culture is a child of German Romanticism: what we feel matters more than what is true.

You might not be a politically conservative provocateur like Lyle Shelton or Eric Metaxas, but have you ever waved your stick at the beehive? Perhaps you’re a politically liberal agitator, responding to the many and varied gestures and comments that fly across your finely tuned micro-aggression radar? Perhaps you’re a facebook preacher who likes to point out the sins of society to all your ‘friends’?

Just remember that your typed and broadcasted comments are being recorded and noticed. What will people see? What are you expecting will happen? Is this how we strive for the Kingdom of God?

Next post, we will examine how Jesus chose his moments carefully with outrage. We will see how, with the unnamed woman caught in adultery, he kept the bees in the hive.