Yesterday was an election here. The idea of elections in general got me thinking. Every time a new round of candidates comes around, the question always comes up, “is he or she electable?” What exactly does that mean? More often than not, it means, “is this person likely to offend the public in some manner?” Inevitably, this “electable” person ends up on the ballot, and more often than not, this person loses. Why?
The answer is incredibly simple. A person who stand for something; a person who stands for ANYTHING, is going to eventually offend someone. A person who stands for nothing and therefore offends no one is by nature and definition not a leader, and not worth following. A leader who offends no one is therefore a person that in fact does not exist.
Nevertheless, I’m not writing about politics. That’s not what this blog is about. I’m writing about missions, and I’m writing about Africa. Our culture in recent years has held not being offensive as a virtue. Being offensive is not in itself a virtue, as there are all kinds of reasons one might be offensive. On the other hand, I would argue that not being offensive is a vice. If you are not offending someone, it means that you’re doing nothing. We’ve become a culture where armchair moral authorities do nothing to make the world better, but feel good about a hashtag they put out to “bring our girls back”, in reference to the kidnapped girls in Nigeria. Let me tell you what a hashtag is. A hashtag is a way that people who do nothing, express their displeasure about something and hope someone else will do something about it. They haven’t offended anyone, but they also haven’t made the world a better place either. I’m digressing though.
I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine a while back. He said something along the lines of, “You don’t honestly think anyone will attack you if you’re there (South Sudan) helping people, do you?” Now if you go off what you were taught in grade school, that if you’re nice to people, they’ll be nice to you, then that statement makes sense. If it were true, then it would be possible to stand for something and not offend anyone. Unfortunately, what I was taught in school is profoundly false. The world is simple, but people are complex. If I help someone, there are any number of reasons why someone won’t like it. People have enemies. Help someone, and their enemy puts a target on you. If you help one tribe, another will oppose you. Some people don’t want to be helped because it hurts their own pride for the situation they’re in. Some people are going to hate you simply because you’re white, and you look a lot like the British or Turkish or Arab former colonizers. People may oppose you because they’re there to help also, and think they have a corner on the market. There are so many reasons. If there was no such thing as pride, or jealousy, or fear, then the grade school advice would work much better. But the fact is that they do exist. South Sudan is second only to Afghanistan in violence against aid workers.
In Romans 12:18, the Apostle Paul writes, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” The major caveat at the beginning expresses this fact, that no matter what you do, you will face opposition. The point is that one should not look to offend, but realize that if you take a stand it’s going to happen. So if you offend someone, pray about it and try to understand why they might be offended. There’s a good chance it’s because you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.