Watching the World Burn

“Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

So said Alfred Pennyworth, butler to Bruce Wayne, the Batman. Pennyworth was right.

When people began to protest against statues erected to honor men who fought for the Confederacy, reasonable people across the political spectrum agreed that a national conversation about such monuments was long overdue. When protests then turned to vandalism, some people lamented that vigilantes had taken the law into their own hands, while others felt that vigilantism is—sometimes—justified, especially in the face of long-standing offenses. But the destruction of statues and monuments has now become largely indiscriminate.

On June 10th rioters in Philadelphia defaced a monument to Matthias Baldwin, an abolitionist who fought to end slavery prior to the Civil War. On June 19th rioters in San Francisco destroyed a statue of Ulysses Grant, whose battlefield prowess drove the final nail into the coffin of the Confederacy, and who, as President, helped to destroy the Ku Klux Klan. Just last night, rioters in Madison, Wisconsin tore down a statue of Hans Christian Seg, an anti-slavery activist, who died during the Civil War fighting for the Union. To top it all off, the same mob that tore down Seg’s statue also assaulted and beat up a 60-year-old, gay, Democratic, progressive state senator who was supporting the protest.

This is no longer about racism or the Confederacy. It’s about watching the world burn.

But it should not surprise Christians. It is in the heart of fallen men to love wickedness, and to usurp a peaceful protest to incite violence, to twist a good cause into an evil act, and to employ the cover of night to loot and to destroy. Even as Proverbs 21:10 teaches, “The soul of the wicked desires evil; his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes.”

When men want to watch the world burn, any attempt at rational argument about the relative merits of a given statue proves fruitless. The answer to mindless, indiscriminate destruction is not to argue politely in favor of keeping some statues free from scorching. You cannot engage in a rational conversation with irrational men.

What then is the answer? Rather than wringing our hands, rather than lamenting the loss of a “kinder, gentler” age, and rather than looking for political figures to fix what is most fundamentally a spiritual problem, Christians must proclaim the truth, declaring that evil committed in the guise of a protest against racism does not fool the LORD. Wickedness done in the name of reform is wickedness still. Every protestor—every human—is accountable for his actions before a Holy God, and those who are using peaceful protests in order to wreak havoc will incur wrath. Judgment is coming, and it belongs to the Church to warn everyone who will listen that the only escape is found in Christ. Christians must proclaim Christ. Jesus alone subdues the hearts of men, making servants of rebels, and saints of sinners. The Church must extend far and wide Christ’s invitation to mercy and forgiveness, and his promise of coming judgment.

Some men do just want to watch the world burn, and no legislation or political leader or social movement will change that. No wringing of hands will put an end to it. No polite conversation will curb it. People act from their hearts, and Jesus alone changes those.

Those who repent, turn from their burning, and embrace Christ will soon find a purpose much greater than watching the world burn, while those who reject him will eventually get more of a fire than they ever bargained for.

Principled Silence?

“Silence is consent.”

Maybe you’ve read such things on social media lately. Maybe you’ve expressed such sentiments yourself. And if you value expressing your moral outrage via social media, then do so, and know that I support you. But please don’t disparage the character of those who choose not to make their feelings, thoughts, and opinions public via Facebook or Instagram. A form of virtual peer-pressure seems to be consuming social media these days, suggesting that if you don’t publicly proclaim your anti-racism, then it proves you’re a closet racist. Such suggestions are absurd, but the pressure remains.

Maybe I’m just naïve, but do I really need to post on social media that I believe that murder is wicked? Should I do so each and every time a person is murdered? If that were the case, I would do little else each day, for people die unjustly every moment of every day. Am I really required publicly to express moral outrage on Facebook each time a politician lies on television? If so, my days would be spent doing little else, for politicians lie with almost every breath. Must I change my profile picture each time sin occurs in the world or one human being mistreats, denigrates, or abuses another? If so, I would never rest from the work of protesting on Facebook. No doubt murder, lying, racism, and other evils should promote grief, sorrow, and even outrage in every heart, but must I be constrained to make sure everybody knows just how outraged I am every time I’m outraged? When outrage becomes a mere status update, it also becomes empty.

So I’ve chosen not to spend too much time posting on social media just how consistently sin perverts and destroys that which God created to be good, or how much it grieves me to see people destroy one another. Instead, as a Christian minister, I have dedicated my life to serving others, to teaching anybody who will listen that all human beings are created in the image of God and possess inherent value and dignity. I implore people every day to forgive each other, to refuse to retaliate, and to treat each person as you would have them treat you. I teach them to glorify Jesus, who is the Prince of Peace, by demonstrating—not just talking about, but actually demonstrating in the way I live my life—quiet and faithful love for my neighbor, submission to and prayer for the civil magistrate, and honor for all persons, regardless of color or ethnicity or political affiliation.

In short, not all talk is cheap, but much of it certainly is, and virtue signaling on social media is a poor substitute for practicing actual virtue. A Facebook post is inherently cheap, for it costs me nothing, but the actual work of being a good neighbor is hard, and it is unspectacular. It takes place not in moments of public protest, but in the small, unseen moments of kindness and dignity and respect that remain unknown and uncelebrated, but which form the fabric of a life well-lived and of friendships that transcend categories of racial division.

Some people who post their moral outrage on social media work to combine that public expression of grief with genuine acts of virtue. And if that describes you, then I applaud you. Others, however, use their social media platforms in order to signal a virtue that their lives in fact lack, for they’re more interested in being perceived as virtuous than in cultivating virtuous conduct itself.

Some people may think that my silence is consent, but I think that my actions speak louder than their words.