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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Getting Offensive

So I posted a job description recently over on Wayfaring Pilgrim: "Wanted: ORFWB (Outgoing. Reformed. Female. With a Brain)." And that last little phrase has been drawing some fire.

Typically, complaints run something like this: "Hey, what's with this 'with a brain' part? Do you think most women are stupid? Don't you know how offensive that sounds?"

Which is, of course, not at all what we mean to convey. I've known many people (of both genders) who are smart, nice, good, and very competant at what they do, etc. But I've also worked with a handful of people in my life (again, of both genders) who are exceptional - in terms of their intellect, their ability to communicate, and in this case their understanding of the gospel and their love for the lost. What I'm trying to get at here is that we don't want just anyone for this position - we want a woman who is really sharp, intellectually (and theologically). So how are we supposed to convey that?

It's been interesting how many women have no problem with this language at all. Yet of those who did, most understand our intent, but still find the verbiage offensive. And that got me thinking about the nature of 'offense'.

Offense is a powerful force in our society - it's like approval in reverse. Many times, we use it as a weapon, to coerce people into changing their behavior, to justify rejecting them when they don't. As such, we often go to great lengths to avoid offending people.

We need to be careful in what we say here. Paul talks about being all things to all people in order that he might win some for the sake of the gospel (1 Cor 9:22). He seeks to avoid offending people - not simply because 'offense' is something bad to be avoided at all cost, but rather because the gospel itself is fundamentally offensive, a stone which causes people to stumble (Rom 9:33, etc). And that's important to recognize. There are times when offensiveness is vitally important.

Christianity is a bloody, offensive thing. And that offensiveness is there by divine design, because it requires us to get over ourselves in order to embrace it.

The very nature of 'offense' is that I look down on others (and smile upon myself) because I simply can't believe how right I am and how wrong they are. I am putting my confidence in my rightness, and rejecting others because of their wrongness. The gospel, however, stands this on its head: "You are in the wrong, my friend, so much so that there is no hope for you, at least not in you. Your only hope lies in another (Christ)." And that is very offensive to those of us who are constantly looking for reasons to take pride in ourselves.

One of the things I am finding in church planting is that unbelievers are extremely offensive in many ways - they regularly denigrate God, faith, virtue, and truth. Believers are often just as bad - the regularly take pride in their morality, their spirituality. And both sides often find real Christian faith quite offensive - "Who do you think you are, saying your way is the only way to be saved?", "Who do you think you are, hanging out with those sorts of people?"

Yet if I am to minister to people like these, I must excel at not taking offense. I must have thick skin. I must be able to turn the other cheek. I must love my enemies. I must choose to overlook the offense. I must be willing to bear all sorts of mistreatment - false accusations, misinterpretations, slander, jeering - all for the sake of God's message, that they might hear Christ, and stumble over him perhaps, but never over me.

In light of all this, perhaps it's best to just leave in the "With a Brain" part in our ad. We mean no ill by it (it's a complement, not an insult), and even if we took it out, there would be other things people could be offended by (the fact that we are complementarian, the fact that we are PCA, the fact that we want to hire a woman at all). Ultimately, those who desire to find offense will inevitably be able to find some reason for it if they simply look long enough and hard enough (after all, I really AM a sinner).

At the end of the day, it seems the real question is whether someone can overlook offense for the sake of the kingdom.


At 7:46 PM, February 28, 2007, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

Nice attempt at defending it, but no egalitarian would use such a phrase.

At 9:03 PM, February 28, 2007, Blogger Christian said...

I suspect most egalitarians would find the fact that I'm complementarian offensive. Unfortunately, the converse is often equally true.

I think part of the problem here is that folks have a hard time dialoguing across "party lines" like this, let alone appreciating where the other side is coming from.

And I think a big part of the solution is learning to listen to those who think differently than we do - not just to what someone believes, but also to the why. And that fundamentally requires an ability to avoid getting offended...

At 9:11 PM, February 28, 2007, Blogger Christian said...

One additional thought here - when we take an issue and make it a litmus test (go ahead, pick your issue - alcohol, women's issues, homosexuality, etc), and then say "If you do not agree with me on this issue, I will be offended" what we actually convey is that "My love for you is conditional. I will love you and accept you as my friend, as long as you agree with me on [fill in the blank]. Because I love my issue more than I love you."

I think that kind of attitude is the antithesis of the gospel.

At 4:20 AM, March 01, 2007, Blogger Joan B. said...

I've always thought offending and being offended was a two way street. Yep, I should prayerfully try not to offend others, but I'm also charged with finding my purpose, worth, and validity in Christ so the comments and actions of others don't easily offend me. I may be in the minority - but I loved the ad, 'cause I do have a brain (small maybe, but it works) and this ad makes me think that these would be great people to minister with, a place where a brain would be valued and appreicated, not found threatening. I appreciate the thoughts and spirit of your postings.

At 9:30 AM, March 01, 2007, Blogger Christian said...

Thanks Joan. It's encouraging to feel 'heard'. Glad to have you along for the ride...


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