My Problem with “Woke”
This post will hopefully offend you, whichever side of this you fall on. I want it to. I want you to feel uncomfortable and not just pen another sign that says, “Hurray for our side.” I want you to shift in your seat and feel unsettled. I want you to purse your lips and maybe give me a little sneer from the other side of our screens. I want you to to sigh.
Because I want you to question your own bias in this. Either way you go. If you’re politically liberal and believe yourself to be “woke” or politically conservative and believe yourself to be “right,” I want you to be unable to find a cozy spot to park yourself beside me.
I run in an odd circle of folks. I, myself, am a theologically conservative Christian. I live in a politically liberal city in a politically conservative state. I go to a church that is a mixture of both ends of that spectrum, as it ought to be. I work for a very socially conservative company. Most of my online interactions are either with Christians like myself or people I just happen to like who are deeply, socially/politically/theologically liberal. So I see the term “woke” pretty often. I see it retweeted. I see it sometimes attached to some very iffy “news” sources. I see it sometimes on a ten message thread where one person is spouting conspiracy theories. I see it tagged on a number things and it has bothered me since I first saw it.
The term woke is extraordinarily polar. The implication that is built within it is caustic to a fault. Why so? Is there an alternative to woke? Well, yes: asleep. If you’re not woke, you’re asleep. You’re passively experiencing this life. You are blind to what’s happening. And what’s troubling about that, to me, is that it says there is a superior class of people. That superior class is defined by adherence to a dogma. Having been raised in the ultra-fundamentalist, ultra-Pentecostal church, I knew what woke was before any of you. (Pentecostal hipster I guess?) Except we didn’t call it woke.
See, this concept has been around for millenia. At its core, it’s the same as any anthropological system of gathering people by social adherence. It manifests where there are people, period. And it is flatly opposed to the truth of the gospel. How? In the Pentecostal church you were “woke” if you had the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and could speak in tongues. That was it. Glossolalia. And if you could perform on that level, you were in, you were accepted. If you couldn’t? Or, God help you, if you disagreed? Well then you were “out.” You were an Outsider.
I have seen “woke” refer to Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter. (Black lives definitely matter and the idea that we should diminish one idea in order to protect another is silly.) I have seen it refer to LGBTQ issues. I have seen it refer to immigration. I have seen it refer to almost every hot-button political issue. And the point isn’t, ‘Was it right to say woke there?’ The point is that at any time when you create a dividing line between people, you are literally attacking the gospel.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal. 3:28
So did Paul just “All Lives Matter” us? No. The exact opposite, in fact. He said, in essence, “Quit looking for classes.” The unification of people from any multiple into one is, according to Paul, a great mystery. It’s God creating a single people from all the fractured, broken, divided sons of men. And when we accept that Jesus is the single unifier, the Head of our Body, we accept and submit ourselves to being one, in Him.
Does this mean we can’t call injustice injustice? God forbid. In fact, I would say the responsibility we have to chase down and fight injustice is so much bigger than just a single cause or even a group of them. It means I have to adopt stances I don’t like.
It means I have to die for my enemies. It means I have to lay down my conveniences, my pleasures, my security, to love my brothers and sisters. It tears down divisions I, personally, would much rather have.
If I see a brother being racist? I am responsible to the Lord to tell him to repent and seek forgiveness. If I see a sister saying she is considering aborting her child? I am responsible for offering to adopt her child.
Let that sink in for a minute. I am no longer able to just decide the course of my life based on my likes and dislikes. I am no longer able to just keep to myself and mind my own business. I cannot simply draw a line around myself and say that there is one class on the outside and myself within. I am called to account for how I treat those I completely disagree with.
I completely disagree with Westboro Baptist Church. I think they are offensive to Jesus. I think they mock His torture, His murder, and the beautiful grace He gives to those who feel attracted to the same gender. They mock Him. They mock my murdered best friend and the only one who has ever loved me perfectly. They. Mock. Him.
And how does He call me to treat them? How does He call me respond to them? Not with my knuckles making contact with their mocking mouths no matter how much I love that idea. His call is deeper than that. His burden is so much broader than that.
So if I say, “These people are bigots, filled with hate, who are just gathering kindling for the fire of hell,” those are all true things. But I cannot, in any way, judge myself as higher, or better.
I said they mocked Him.
So did I. So do I. I mock Him by treating my sin as if it were a game. So I am not better or more “woke” than they are. I’m just captured and caught up in a net of grace that won’t let me stay a mocker. It won’t let me express my anger in violence. It won’t let me do what I so desperately want to do. And what is it I want to do here? Sin. I want to make them suffer for their hatred. Which is me, deciding to be a god, without grace. It is me, deciding to hurt in order to enforce my own likes and dislikes.
I completely disagree with our president on about 99% of his policies. I disagreed with about %50 of President Obama’s. I think our current president has little to no character where I genuinely believed President Obama had loads of it. But am I better than Donald Trump? Nope. Not in any way. Because I know how dark my heart is without Jesus.
The gospel takes away concepts like “woke” because it says that all of us have fallen short of God’s glory. It lumps us into a category that none of us can rightly judge or determine. I can’t look at you and say, “You’re not as good as a believer as me.” Why? Because I know how much I actually suck at it. The gospel takes away my ability to pretend I’m better than anyone.
So what would I have us do about it? Repent. I need to. I need to repent for using the idea of “woke” even if I hate using the actual phrasing. Because I do it. I make these judgments in place of God, to be a god, and to make others worship and believe in me. I must turn to Jesus and point others to Him.
I’m not woke and neither are you. We’re all fast asleep.