The Unsafe Gospel


By Jojo Ruba

As a public speaker, you get used to being called all kinds of names. Considering all the tough topics we cover, one learns to develop a tough skin.

But I wasn't ready for what one Christian leader called me. He was to meet with my dad and another representative of the church. As pastor, my dad had to meet with him about some of the issues at the church and wanted to bring me as the youth coordinator.

The Christian leader however insisted that my dad bring someone else with him because he felt "unsafe" around me. Now this leader knew about my pro-life work where I did some pretty bold things like speak on abortion. I also had a reputation for asking pointed questions of him at public meetings. One time, during a Q and A session, I asked him to explain some of the financial decisions that he had made on behalf of our church and other churches (as a good ambassador, I of course asked in as kind a tone as I could). I knew these questions challenged him but I never thought they threatened his safety!

When I finally got a chance to ask him why he described me as "unsafe," his response was, "Because you are so intense in your views." That wasn't satisfying as an answer and I had to ask more pointed questions.

I asked, "But how does being intense make someone unsafe?"

Conformity_HazardThe more he responded, the more it became clear to me that he was using that word the same way too many in our culture are using it—when someone's ideas or beliefs challenge or threaten your own and make you feel uncomfortable. If someone's thoughts or words make other people feel bad or wronged, they are "unsafe" people.

What's interesting is that though Christians and pro-lifers are used to this kind of treatment, the secular media are starting to pay attention too. There have been several well-written pieces about this phenomenon, particularly on university campuses.

For example, the (very liberal) New York Times published an op-ed piece by Judith Shulevitz that talked about the extents to which people on campus go to feel "safe." The article cites a debate planned at Brown University centered around the term "rape culture" and whether it was being used to censor free speech on campus.[1]

Because the debate featured someone critical of the usage of "rape culture," Katherine Byron of the local Sexual Assault Task Force organized a "safe space" for people who could be hurt by the debate. "Bringing in a speaker like that could serve to invalidate people's experiences," she told Shulevitz. It could be, in her words, "damaging." The "safe space" was for people who might find comments "troubling" or "triggering," and needed a place to recuperate.

One of the workers at the "safe space" was Emma Hall, a rape survivor herself who helped set up the room. She admitted that she did go see the debate but returned to the "safe space" because she "was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs."

Not only then are safe spaces supposed to protect students from views that offend them, but now they are seen as protecting views that go against deeply held beliefs!

But it gets worse. In the same article, Shulevitz mentions a lecture at the University of Chicago by Zineb El Rhazoui, a journalist at Charlie Hebdo. She spoke about how her colleagues were killed by radical Muslim extremists. And as someone who works for the magazine that published pictures of Mohammed, she had to travel with armed bodyguards because of death threats made against her.

Amazingly, a few days later, a student newspaper editorial said that El Rhazoui failed to ensure "that others felt safe enough to express dissenting opinions." It argued that Ms. El Rhazoui's "relative position of power" gave her a "free pass to make condescending attacks on a member of the university."

In other words, by speaking on her own experience of being silenced and attacked, El Rhazoui was silencing and attacking people who disagreed with her.

Now, none of this is new. Christians and pro-lifers were being censored and attacked for holding our beliefs in Canada for several decades. And the most common excuse for this was the so-called "safety" of students' views.

At Carleton University in Ottawa, pro-life students were arrested for bringing graphic abortion images to the student quad. The university wanted the group to set up in a closed-off space where no one could see them. The students pointed out that the university had hosted graphic images of dead Palestinians and female victims of violence before, but none of those images were censored. But the university cited "safety" as one of the reasons pro-life images were not welcome.

But it isn't just pro-life views that are being censored. At Mount Royal University in Calgary, a university administrator responsible for campus safety took down posters we put up advertising a talk on moral absolutes. Her argument was that because the poster asked if moral absolutes are objective or subjective, like chocolate or vanilla ice cream, our posters were potentially racist. Why? Because it compared brown chocolate with white vanilla.

In its September issue, The Atlantic (another liberal media source) suggests this isn't just political correctness run amok. Rather, it is the result of a generation that was coddled since conception. The students entering university now are the students whose parents were warned even before their birth of all kinds of dangers. They were warned about bad seafood that could hinder growth, or of escaped sex offenders who were living in the neighbourhood, or of peanut-butter sandwiches that could kill a classmate.

In response, these parents did everything they could to protect their children. But protection meant keeping them away from anything that potentially could hurt them. As The Atlantic article says, "children born after 1980—the Millennials—got a consistent message from adults: life is dangerous, but adults will do everything in their power to protect you from harm, not just from strangers but from one another as well."[2]

It's heartbreaking, however, to see this idea filter into the church. Jesus never promised that Christians would be safe from any kind of offensive comments. Rather, He said that whoever follows Him would be hated just as He was.

But time and time again, I am debating pastors(!) who tell me the way to successfully engage non-believers or even fellow believers is to make sure they feel safe.

That church leader who called me unsafe in fact invited a Christian author to speak at a conference about evangelism. The strategy he advocated was that Christians should pursue activities that would please the community. Activities like adopting after-school programs or providing school lunches would result in Christians "not being sued for doing it"—a phrase he used liberally.

This author, then, wasn't just talking about making non-believers feel safe, but now was arguing that the standard we use for evangelism was whether or not the technique ensured Christians feel safe!

Now, there's nothing wrong with providing meals for the poor, of course, but if we determine our evangelism standards by whether or not outsiders judge us or whether or not we are safe when we evangelize, then the early church in the book of Acts must have been terrible evangelists. Everywhere the church went, they were dragged before magistrates and judged for evangelizing. They were being sued!

Frankly, throughout history, Christians have proven just how unsafe the gospel is. Whether it was Stephen being stoned for his testimony, to Corrie ten Boom losing her family because they hid Jews during the Holocaust, Christianity has never been a safe belief for its adherents.

The book of Acts even described how some Thessalonicans reacted to Paul and others preaching the gospel, stating "These men who have upset the world have come here also; and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus" (Acts 17:6-7 NASB).

Sound like any university campus or even church you know?

As I have pondered about being called "unsafe," I've realized that I'm in good company. The Lord I serve and the gospel He has commanded us to share were never meant to make us safe or feel good—they were meant to help us be good and that requires us to accept some pain.

Ironically, my dad never brought me to meet that church leader who felt that I was too unsafe to talk to. Instead, he brought someone else from our church—my mom. And if you want to meet someone who isn't "safe" and who is "intense," just insult a Filipina mom's child and then try to talk to her about spiritual maturity.

[1] Judith Shulevitz, "In College and Hiding from Scary Ideas," New York Times, March 21, 2015, accessed August 13, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/22/opinion/sunday/judith-shulevitz-hiding-from-scary-ideas.html.

[2] Grek Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, "The Coddling of the American Mind," The Atlantic, September 2015, accessed August 13, 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind/399356/.

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