Pity & Intersectionality

If we are in Christ, we are not victims. In Christ, we are “more than conquerors” (Rom 8:37).

It may be tempting for the Christian to adopt a worldly understanding of society and culture, but we recognize that no person is left without excuse before our sovereign God, regardless of sex, race, class, socio-economic status, citizenship, sexuality, or any other worldly distinctive. The created has nothing to leverage against the Creator. We dare not claim to be oppressed before a God who sent His Son to die on our behalf. God will not be blackmailed by our futile attempts to prove ourselves helpless.

 

Sarah was sent down the mountain of God to speak with her husband, who was taking a bus to hell. She noticed immediately that Frank had shrunken in stature, and that he was chained to someone. Frank was chained to a horribly thin ghost, who spoke for Frank when Frank pulled his chain. Sarah told her husband how happy she has been waiting for his arrival. She invited him to join her in God’s presence.

“Do you mean to tell me that you have been happy all this time? Happy without me?” Frank whimpered.

“Didn’t you want me to be?” Sarah exclaimed. “You didn’t want me to be miserable for misery’s sake did you? Did you want me to be miserable in the absence of your presence? We used to play that game on Earth, but not here. Come with me up the mountain and experience true love.”

“LOVE!” cried the slender ghost who spoke for Frank. “How do you know what love is? Do you know how much suffering I went through, bending over backwards for you?! All the days of our marriage you never cared for me.”

“Don’t let it speak like that Frank.”

‘Ah, YOU cannot bear to hear it can you!’ he shouted with miserable triumph. ‘That was always your way. You could never get over yourself. You always enjoyed being sheltered from my miseries in life. You never would hear them…you who could be happy all this time, WITHOUT ME!’

Sarah bent over and spoke to her husband “Give up the act, Frank. Stop it right now. He is killing you. Let go of the chain!”

“Great…what else can I do for you, Sarah? the ghost answered pejoratively

Sarah smiled and replied,

Using pity, other people’s pity, in the wrong way. We have all done it a bit on earth, you know. Pity was meant to be a spur that drives joy to help misery. But it can be used the wrong way round. It can be used for a kind of blackmailing. Those who choose misery can hold joy up to ransom, by pity. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, p. 534.

This is a paraphrased scene from my favorite novel by C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce. In this particular chapter, Lewis beautifully illustrates humanity’s tendency to abdicate responsibility by embracing a victim mentality. Every day we are tempted to leverage pity for selfish gain. Think of the child who stomps his feet and screams “I HATE YOU” in order to get his way. Think of the jaded politician who refuses to work across party lines until he gets a kickback. Think of the person you wronged all those years ago who won’t let you forget about it. Weaponized pity is toxic to relationships, culture and society. Using pity to take advantage of others is sinful.

Why do I bring this up? Because we live in a society that has wholeheartedly embraced Critical theory. Critical theory is a Marxist ideology which divides people into two classes: oppressed and oppressors. Originally an economic philosophy, Critical theory seeks to unmask systemic ideologies that support social and economic oppression in order to liberate the oppressed from their oppressors. Critical Theory has an incredibly skeptical outlook: you are either an oppressor and contributing (knowingly or ignorantly) to oppression, or you are the oppressed and deserve liberation.

This theoretical framework is perfect for those who would hold the world ransom by pity. And you don’t have to look far to see it, not even within the church.

One of the analytical tools Critical theorists use is called Intersectionality. Intersectionality is a framework which evaluates the interconnected nature of oppression based on race, class, gender, and sexuality. In short, people are evaluated according to their varying degrees of alleged oppression. This means that the more a person can demonstrate his or her own “oppressedness”, the more society is indebted to them.

In recent years I’ve noticed many of my evangelical friends adopting intersectional theory as an ideological framework; a worldview, a lens in which they base all their assumptions. Unfortunately, this can lead to an overly simplistic, incredibly skeptical and even nihilistic view on life.

Brothers and sisters, we should not play into the oppressed/oppressor paradigm, seeking to make ourselves victims in order to earn the worlds favor. We worship a Savior who died for the religious and the pagan, for the “haves” and the “have-nots”, for rulers and servants. As such, our God forbids favoritism for the rich and the poor (Lev 19:15) and demonstrated this by sharing meals with the upper and lower class. Jesus did not discriminate against the “oppressed” and “oppressor”, but rather taught us to love our enemies, especially our leaders. Unfortunately, I see very little of this within my own generation, and I feel we’ve been too influenced by a culture of protest and resistance.

I find it striking that neither Jesus nor His Apostles protested the invading tyrannical empire of their day. Indeed, that’s exactly what the Jews wanted from Jesus. They wanted Him to be a warrior-king. They expected a king who would drive out the Romans who devoured their land. The same Romans who massacred Jews by the thousands, murdering women and children and imposing heavy taxes. If Jesus had been a Critical theorist, He would have certainly liberated the Jews from their economic oppression…But He did not. He came proclaiming the Kingdom of God. He commanded His disciples to love their enemies, and even to pray for them. Jesus spoke favorably of being poor, both spiritually and financially. He never advocated using one’s own “oppressedness” as a means of blackmail or favor.

Individually, we are responsible for our own sins. Before the throne of God, we will not be held accountable for anyone’s sins but our own. That is why each of us is called to repent of our sins and trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Every Christian should realize that we live in a world that does not recognize Jesus as Lord. Our world is sinfully corrupt and will continue to be until Christ returns.

This does not mean that we ignore injustice or oppression. It does mean, however, that no amount of cultural transformation can occur without the gospel. We are called to proclaim the gospel, and only the power of the gospel can change hearts and lives. Only the gospel transforms godless societies, just as it once transformed our cold-dead hearts.

Victimhood, resistance and political protest can do nothing apart from the proclaimed gospel. I see too many Christian Millennials placing more trust in political leaders and secular ideologies than in the power of the gospel. This is true for the political right and left.

If we are in Christ, we are not victims. In Christ, we are “more than conquerors” (Rom 8:37), unable to be separated from the love of Christ (Rom 8:35), given victory over sin and death (1 Cor 15:57), made “overcomers”(1 John 4:4) and given a spirit of power, love and self-control (2nd Tim 1:7). We shouldn’t regard ourselves as anything less.

It may be tempting for the Christian to adopt a worldly understanding of society and culture, but we recognize that no person is left without excuse before our sovereign God, regardless of sex, race, class, socio-economic status, citizenship, sexuality, or any other worldly distinctive. The created has nothing to leverage against the Creator. We dare not claim to be oppressed before a God who sent His Son to die on our behalf. God will not be blackmailed by our futile attempts to prove ourselves helpless.

Charles Stover is an MDiv student at Covenant Theological seminary, the denominational seminary of the Presbyterian Church of America. Charles also serves as an intern at Kirk of the Hills (PCA) in St. Louis, MO. This article is used with permission.