Monday, 5 September 2011

Controversial? Who, Me?

Photo Credit: Thomas Quine
"No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval"
(1 Corinthians 11:19; NIV)

Now if that isn't "controversial"...

Love that picture! "This is the church, this is the steeple. Turn it upside down, and see all the people." OK, the old children's rhyme didn't go quite like that, but maybe one day it will. Turn it upside down and free all the people out of their pews and back into the world where they belong. Hmm, controversial? Maybe.

Recently I was once again called "controversial" because of some of my theological views pertaining to the church and to Christianity in general. Controversial? Who, me? In a way, I expect no less. The accusation happens quite frequently. Unfortunately, the way the word "controversy" is often used is with a negative implication, and not as the dictionary defines the word. Is there a distinction between the dictionary definition and the negative connotation that the word "controversy" often seems to receive? Exactly what does the word "controversy" mean?

When in doubt, I always go back to the dictionary. My dictionary defines the word "controversy" as, "1. the act of arguing a question about which differences of opinion exist; debate; dispute: The controversy between the company and the union ended in a strike, 2. a quarrel; wrangle."

If we hold to the dictionary definition, then it is true that I am controversial. It is also then true, however, that just about every conversation that ever existed is also potentially controversial. Every time any pastor begins his sermon, it is awash in controversy. Why? Because "differences of opinion exist" among many Christian groups. Every time two or more believers get together, their fellowship is potentially controversial. The only way this cannot be true is if you and I are exact carbon copies of each other. Mindless robots are not controversial, but two or more thinking people in the same place at the same time are likely controversial.

It seems to me that people who tend to use the word "controversial" as a negative do so because they don't like controversy. That is, they don't like to debate ideas and doctrines. They are quick to say, "why can't we all just get along?" They don't like to upset the status quo. "We've always done it that way,"they say. "It's tradition," says another opponent to controversy. I've heard others say, "why do you insist on upsetting so-and-so?" Fact is, though, I don't go out of my way to upset anyone. If someone gets upset, isn't it because the discussion forces them to evaluate their own views? Isn't it because, if they see merit in the other person's opinion, then that becomes like receiving the proverbial "slap in the face" on the their own cheek? I would suggest that we are looking at "controversy" the wrong way. I would like to suggest that "controversial" ideas are a good thing, that is, if done the right way.

Photo Credit: Harbor88
If a controversial idea is presented in the right fashion, that is, with peace, gentleness and love, then it becomes grounds for simply a healthy discussion. If, on the other hand, the controversial ideas are hammered in an unloving and militant way, then we have problems. The infamous Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka Kansas comes to mind. In such a case, "controversy" is truly a big negative. I would like to suggest that the word "controversial" really isn't even adequate to describe this group, since the word "controversy" is in and of itself NOT a negative word. Perhaps in such situations where negativism is implied, we would be better finding another word. "Hate-mongers" comes to mind as does "lunacy," and maybe even "sacrilegious," but NOT controversy.  As a matter of fact, this "pseudo-Christian" group has already been labelled by many as a "hate" group for their attacks on everything from Jews to the American military presence overseas to homosexuals. Their practice of carrying signs saying, among other things, "God Hates Fags" is not a positive controversy. Apparently they didn't get the memo that says that, while God maybe does hate homosexuality, He does not hate the homosexual. It is the proverbial "love the sinner, hate the sin" scenario. Jesus died for their sins just as much as He died for your sins and for my sins. I don't want to view such groups as controversial, for that would give them too much credit. Again, "controversy" is NOT a negative word in and of itself.

Photo Credit: Time Archive, April 8, 1966
Time magazine was also "controversial" with its cover entitled "Is God Dead?" But, if they were simply promoting discussion, then that is not to be taken as a negative. Of course God is not dead, but can we not in gentleness and love discuss this with the atheist and the agnostic who maybe thinks differently on this matter? Would such a discussion be a negative? I do not believe so. Who knows, but that "controversial" discussion could potentially lead to that person's conversion thus making them our brother or sister. That would then be good news, wouldn't it? Of course it would.  I remember one pastor friend who had this particular cover of Time framed and hanging in his church office. While "controversial," it made a great conversation starter.

Jesus was "controversial." The prophets were "controversial." The apostles were "controversial." They were constantly being challenged by the religious status quo of their day for being controversial. Yes, and I can proudly say that I too am "controversial" in my own way. I make no apologies for often challenging the religious status quo of the modern institutional church. If some of my "controversial" statements make people to sit up in their pew and think for a minute, then I count that as a positive outcome to my controversy and not a negative one.

Source unknown
I've said it before, one of the problems with the institutional church system is that it creates lethargic Christians who no longer know how to think for themselves. Why? Because so much emphasis is placed upon the pastor to do everything. This includes telling the people what to believe. Long before leaving the pastoral ministry (as defined by the institutional church) I had already become known for telling people, "Don't take my word for it; look it up for yourself." I would give people the references, but I believed it was important that they got used to searching the Scriptures for themselves. This seemed to be a novel concept for many. I could almost read some of their minds, "What, me read it for myself?" I love the Scripture that says, "Now the Bereans were of a more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11; NIV - emphasis mine). The point is, they didn't just take Paul's word for it; they examined the Scripture for themselves. What a novel and controversial idea! Listening to God for ourselves? (OK, that was a little sarcastic. Please forgive me).

"I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as His anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit - just as it has taught you, remain in Him" (1 John 2:26-27; NIV). Is that "controversial" too? If so, then I guess God's Word is also "controversial." He said that one; I didn't.

  • Do you see controversy in a negative or positive fashion?
  • Is there a better word to use when speaking of negative controversy?
  • What should our response be to groups like Westboro Baptist Church?
  • Are you controversial? How so?


  1. Great stuff. We have let the religious people of our day turn us into apathetic zombies. It is high time to shake things up a bit!

  2. I don't think a lot of the things people say are "controversial" actually are. Lady Gaga's outfits aren't controversial, they are cries for attention. The Westboro Baptist Church isn't controversial, it's just full of dicks. I believe that the word "controversial" is misused as much as the word "ironic". People think that just because they are doing something that someone may not approve of, they are controversial.

    For a perfect example, look at the current controversy surrounding Chaz Bono and Dancing With the Stars. People are up in arms because a transgendered person dares (DARES!) to appear on television and dance. The nerve! An openly gay woman can be mayor of a town in Texas, but a woman who now has boy parts better not get his peanut butter in people's chocolate! The controversy!

    No. There is no controversy. He isn't trying to convince the other dancers to trade in their genders. He doesn't get a free sex change for every 5 referrals. All he's trying to do is dance on TV.

    Real controversy is what's going on in the Middle East. Real controversy are the "agencies" that are thinly disguised pimp houses in Russia.

    As for the Westboro Baptist Church, I think they should be ignored. Well, I think that Fred Phelps should be found in a hotel room with an underage male prostitute so that he is forever branded a hypocrite. But barring that, they should be ignored. They, like everyone deemed "controversial", are in it for the attention. They are real life internet trolls. Once they have no audience, they will have no power.

    Unless they picket funerals. Then beat the ever loving crap out of them.

  3. Hey Gabrielle... don't hold back, tell us how you really feel! ;o)

    Seriously though, I agree... what we don't want to do is turn them into martyrs.

    Each will receive his (her) just reward.

    Good article Will.

  4. Will,

    Great thoughts. You've put into words what has sort been wandering around in my head for a while. I suppose whenever we challenge tradition, we will be accused of being divisive and controversial all at once. I guess that is the reaction from those who have no better defense of their man-made activities. Christians ought to be willing and eager to discuss hard questions. God has given us all we need to answer them.

  5. con·tro·ver·sy
    [kon-truh-vur-see; Brit. also kuhn-trov-er-see]
    noun, plural -sies.
    1. An idea, or opinion that disturbs an idiots pollyanna world view.
    2. Words that may cause one to break out of the robotic mindset instilled by fascist leftist school teachers/"Christian" Ministers/Lame Stream Government Media.

    See also- Bed wetting weenies who don't like it when the proles question the "progressives" right to decide how we live our lives.

    Oh yeah.....:) Fist pumping in air, bird flipped out..I...wanna...beeeee..AN...AR...CHY