Discipleship: Moving Beyond Good Intentions

by Jessica McArdle


“This is the most shameful thing America has ever done!”
Hearing this, black comedians, Dave Chappell and Chris Rock, looked at each other and burst out laughing.
Aired after the presidential election, Saturday Night Live featured a skit that took place on election night.   Gathered for what had been expected as a victory celebration, white comedians playing the part of progressives were shocked and utterly devastated as the evening progressed.    How could such an outcome be even possible?
Yet in contrast, the “business as usual” reaction on the part of the black comedians spoke volumes.
Recently I’ve been listening to an audio CD[1] that recounts the terrible choices architects of the American Civil Right’s Movement faced.  Drawing from the prophetic Biblical tradition, along with insights gained from Mahatma Gandhi and Reinhold Niebuhr, the path facing them could not rest merely on the goodwill and best of intentions of others. Instead, two distinct and divergent paths were dominant during the Civil Rights movement; two trajectories that still echo today.  
As now, the first approach emphasized that through education, civility training, better opportunities and discussion; people’s “better angels” would in time emerge. The desire to do the right and just thing would prevail. Ultimately, innate human goodness would overcome the guile of human sinfulness.
Yet the path that the architects of the Civil Right’s movement chose, meant renouncing the first approach as idolatrous, however well intended its adherents were.  The banality of evil that perpetuates injustice, intolerance, corruption and the stain of racism on American consciousness exist in part because mere optimism and expressions of goodwill are wantonly deceptive.  They disturb and disrupt nothing.   
Yet in contrast, while the Biblical lens does not provide a guarantee of happiness for those who seek to follow Christ, it does unfailingly assure us that bearing for Love’s sake is redemptive.  Bearing for Love’s sake in non-violent protest, responding to hatred without malice while unmasking the treachery of others through relentless love is to stand in solidarity with all of God’s children.  But bearing for Love’s sake also requires vigilance, given the formidable temptation of that first path.   
But that second path, the one that asks us to pick up and carry the cross of Jesus…
is to move beyond good intentions…
and testify to the One whose light has come into the world.      

[1] David Brooks, The Road to Character, (New York: Penguin House, 2015)

Jessica McArdle

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