No Comment Is an Option

Among several public remarks that pastors made to the press last week after the tragedy in Poway, PCA pastor, Duke Kwon’s to the Washington Post stand out for a failure of imagination. Here are some of the quotations:

In the manifesto, “you actually hear a frighteningly clear articulation of Christian theology in certain sentences and paragraphs. He has, in some ways, been well taught in the church,” said the Rev. Duke Kwon, a Washington pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, another evangelical denomination which shares many of its beliefs with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Kwon said he does not think most people should read the manifesto, which calls for its readers to also go out and attack Jews and tries to convince them they can do so without getting caught. But he found the letter darkly instructive for pastors. He tweeted snippets of it, and before Twitter removed those tweets, they prompted intense debate among evangelicals. Some castigated Kwon for casting blame on the church in any way. Some argued Earnest must be mentally ill; many sought to make clear that anti-Semitism is incompatible with biblical belief.

Kwon disagreed. He pointed to the evidence that the writer shares the Reformed theology of evangelical Presbyterians: that only God can offer salvation to those he preselects. “Obviously something went wrong. I think it’s important for Christians, both those in the pews as well as those in the pulpit, to take a moment for some self-reflection and to ask hard questions,” Kwon said.

Kwon said he already exercises caution when he gets to some of the very same verses of the New Testament that are quoted, verses that have long been popular among anti-Semites because they seem to cast blame on the Jewish people for the death of Jesus.

“For any of us who are preaching who are aware of the history of how these passages have been misused . . . there’s a learned sensitivity that you apply to the way you teach these passages,” Kwon said. He said the shooting should lead other pastors to greater awareness that they need to explain to their congregations what the Bible means when it says Jews killed Jesus. To Kwon, it means some specific Jews alive 2,000 years ago were involved, alongside Roman officials, in Jesus’ death — not that Jewish people today bear any guilt for the crucifixion.

But that nuance often gets lost, Kwon said. “There’s a deep and ugly history of anti-Semitism that’s crept into the Christian church, that needs to be continuously addressed, condemned and corrected,” he said.

Imagine if you were the pastor under whose ministry the shooter sat. How would you read those quotes?

The gunman “shares Reformed theology.”

“Obviously something went wrong.”

Pastors need to “take a moment for self-reflection and to ask hard questions.”

“There’s a learned sensitivity that you apply to the way you teach these passages,” which apparent the shooter’s pastor did not seem to have had.

Anti-Semitism in the church needs to “continuously addressed, condemned and corrected.”

The penultimate paragraph in the story belonged to Kwon:

“It’s possible to teach people in the church about personal individual salvation in Jesus Christ and still fail to instruct them regarding the ethical implications of that faith,” he said. Going forward, Kwon called for “a vision of the gospel that includes implications for the love of neighbor and those that are different from ourselves, to teach it as an essential feature of the gospel of grace and not just an add-on or an appendage to more important matters.”

Imagine this: thinking you understand and present the gospel in ways that show how Christians should love neighbors who are different and not considering that you yourself may have church members who are capable of sin and don’t apply your teaching to all aspects of their lives. An event like this may not be the time to instruct conservative Presbyterians about the social implications of the gospel or to promote your own theology.

You may have a point and you may want to instruct the rest of the church and America about a fuller explanation of the gospel. But why not let the dust settle, the tears dry, even the courts work? Why use this moment to display your own sensitivity to the gospel’s breadth? Why not imagine what it must be like for pastors and sessions (not to mention parents and Sunday school teachers) to see one of their own go so wildly astray?

Does not a better understanding of the gospel go with a wider moral imagination? What is so hard about “there go I but for the grace of God”?

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3 thoughts on “No Comment Is an Option

  1. “To Kwon, it means some specific Jews alive 2,000 years ago were involved, alongside Roman officials, in Jesus’ death — not that Jewish people today bear any guilt for the crucifixion.”

    Quote from Thabiti Anyabwile (TGC article 4/4/18): “I’m saying the entire society killed Dr. King.”

    Can entire societies kill people? I’m so confused by how these scholars guide us through these lessons of history. I guess social justician consistency is too much to ask for.

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  2. This incident has provided ample opportunity for stopping the mouths of the obstreperous. Kwon’s comments were rash and foolish. I can’t tell if Kwon an opportunist or merely scared of guilt by association. Either way, anyone allowing themselves to be used for evil purposes by the Press against a brother is guilty of a serious public sin demanding a public apology to Rev. Keele. Would it help to send a letter to his session?

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  3. I didn’t find Kwon’s statements all that troubling, but John Fea’s comments are…awful,

    This guy is operating in this very strict Reformed theology,” Fea, who studies evangelicalism, said of Earnest. “In replacement theology, all the promises to Israel in the Old Testament now apply to the church, so there’s no particular end-times reason to not be anti-Semitic. The Jews are no longer God’s chosen people. . . . If you believe in this replacement theology, that’s not an incentive to go kill Jews, but it does mean Jews are not as important anymore in God’s plan.”

    “There’s no particular end-times reason to not be anti-Semitic,” what in the world does that even mean? What a convoluted, asinine, and reckless statement. Moreover, does Fea know how Rev. Keele or other leaders in the church interpret Romans 11 given that there are varying interpretations within the Reformed tradition? Fea needs to 1) Apologize for this statement and 2) Educate himself on the finer points of Reformed theology.

    Liked by 1 person

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