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The problem with Christian call-outs


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Spencer Klavan - published on 07/06/17

Christ’s followers have always found one another’s opinions and customs appallingly offensive

The Christian call-out is becoming a thing, and I’m getting antsy about it. As a hip cat like you surely knows, a call-out is a public accusation of bigotry, intolerance, or some similar enormity. The call-outer identifies the perceived injustice, whereupon ideally the call-outee repents in sackcloth. A teachable moment for all.

In a Christian call-out, one Christian accuses others of perpetuating small-mindedness and hypocrisy in the name of the faith. Sometimes it’s done on conservative terms, like this blog post that depicts faith-based theology as a pretense to hide ethical laziness. Other times it’s socially progressive Christians calling out those they consider reactionary, as in Caitlin Stout’s assertion that she “can’t be your gay friend.” Your “unrepentant” disapproval of homosexuality, writes Stout, “tears families apart” and indicates that you don’t really love her as you claim to.

I probably ought to be down with this trend. I agree that the general welfare would be much improved if everyone stopped telling everyone else who to sleep with. I too get frustrated when a church insists that “judge not” means “scold the gays.”

So I get it: there’s a legitimate place for intra-faith criticism. People do use God’s name to justify all sorts of bogus arguments. Sometimes we should push one another to live out the implications of Jesus’ radical love.

But. My sneaking suspicion is that Christian call-outs involve an element of public posturing. When you vent online about the antediluvian notions of some backwater denomination, what you’re really saying is that you’re not one of “those Christians.” You’re one of the woke ones who have evolved beyond the outdated prejudices of their tradition. Or you’re a “real Catholic” in a world of liberal heretics. Yours is the true faith; those other guys are using their religion to mask … fill in the blank. Apostasy. Radicalism. Hate.

The thing is, Christ’s followers have always found one another’s opinions and customs appallingly offensive. Matthew the apostle was a tax collector — his entire career must have seemed morally indefensible to the devout Jews among the twelve. Early Christians differed over everything from ritual practice, to charitable obligation, to political rectitude.

I can basically guarantee that they found each other’s stances on those issues just as unconscionable as you find your friend’s endorsement of capitalism, or contraception, or whatever. Jesus, who knew everything about everyone (John 2:24-5), would have fully expected this kind of disagreement in His church.

The Gospel is meant to transcend that disagreement. In Christ “there is no Jew or Greek,” declares St. Paul (Galatians 3:28). When it comes to food, “we’re no worse if we don’t eat, and no better if we do” (1 Corinthians 8:8). People from every nation and background believe Jesus died to rescue them from death. If the guy next door is one such person, he’s my brother, full stop. Doesn’t matter how abhorrent I find his way of life or his other beliefs: I’m looking at a saved sinner. As in, someone just like me.

The irony of calling out call-outs isn’t lost on me. When it comes to condemning other Christians for their mores, I’m as guilty as anyone. But that’s exactly the point. If I dismiss someone’s faith as disingenuous because his opinions infuriate me, I’m dictating how far God’s love can extend. If instead I remember that, to God, some of my ideas must look equally ignorant and contemptible, then I might learn something about grace. About how it’s possible that this person, so utterly beyond the pale in my estimation, is in fact just as forgiven and sanctified as I am. How God could have seen His way to washing us both with the blood of the same Lamb.

Jesus announced “a new commandment: love each other as I’ve loved you” (John 13:34-5). Not “love each other until one of you says something idiotic and you find it unpleasant to be in a room together.” No, “as I’ve loved you,” that is, at any cost. We’ll still disagree. We should still argue, and hard, for our political principles and societal ideals. But those principles and ideals don’t make us righteous. Christ does.

Stout writes, “For a gay person to love a non-affirming friend is . . . Christ-like.” Perhaps. But I reject her assertion that the same isn’t true in reverse. Revolutionary or traditionalist, we’re all in this body with someone we deplore. Our commitment to each other in spite of that is our testimony that God’s love conquers all hostility: “in this everyone will know that you’re my disciples.” Not one of us is innocent; every one of us is saved. And by the grace of God, we’re stuck with one another.

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