Food for Thought: Innocence, Victimization and Otherness in Our Civil Discourse

The past few weeks have seen a myriad of eruptions among Christians of all stripes in our country.  I have been encouraged by some of the discourse, but disheartened by most (here is an example of an excellent article).  The following quote by Miroslav Volf has helped me wrap my head and my heart around the problems inherent in these kinds of debates – we try to delineate too neatly between the “right” and the “wrong” over these issues, blaming the other for all that is wrong, and exempting ourselves in the process.  Just once, I would like to see the flavor of our rhetoric match the flavor of God’s love, mercy and grace each of us have received in Jesus.

“Solidarity in sin underscores that no salvation can be expected from an approach that rests fundamentally on the moral assignment of blame and innocence.  The question cannot be how to locate ‘innocence’ ether on the intellectual or social map and work our way toward it.  Rather, the question is how to live with integrity and bring healing to a world of inescapable non innocence that often parades as its opposite.  The answer: in the name of the only truly innocent victim and what he stood for, the crucified Messiah of God, we should damask as inescapably sinful the world constructed around exclusive moral polarities – here, on our side, ‘the just’, ‘the pure,’ ‘the innocent,’ ‘the true,’ ‘the good,’ and there, on the other side, ‘the unjust,’ ‘the corrupt,’ ‘the guilty,’ ‘the liars,’ ‘the evil’ – and then seek to transform the world in which justice and injustice, goodness and evil, innocence and guilt, purity and corruption, truth and deception crisscross and intersect, guided by the recognition that the economy of undeserved grace has primacy over the economy of moral deserts. Under the conditions of pervasive non innocence, the work of reconciliation should proceed under the assumption that, though the behavior of a person may be judged as deplorable, even demonic, no one should ever be excluded form the will to embrace, because, at the deepest level, the relationship to others does not rest on their moral performance and therefore cannot be undone by the lack of it….[At] the core of the Christian faith lies the persuasion that the ‘others’ need not be perceived as innocent in order to be loved, but ought to be embraced even when they are perceived as wrongdoers.” – Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation (84-85)

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