3. Subtle Exclusion Disguised by Self-Deceptive Rhetoric: ‘Climbers’
Third, worse than stigmatising by naming would be discriminating structures of judgement and exclusion cloaked or disguised by a politically correct rhetoric about inclusion or about ‘attempts’ to be inclusive.
This is where somebody is sinned against, but the rhetoric denies it. In other words, ‘politeness’ replaces relationship and love. The ugly thing about this is that, even though no sinful language is used, there is still favouritism, rejection, structures of exclusion, and hence implicit stigmatisation by naming going on at the level of practice. Thus, potentially, a leader could say to himself, ‘I have not actually said to so and so that they are such and such – I have been very careful in my speech’. But both John and James point out the hypocrisy of being polite in our speech but failing to love with our actions.
What is happening here is that the leader’s ‘politeness’ is functioning as a self-deceptive device that hides from himself his lack of love for, or stigmatisation of, somebody. The leader is effectively ‘climbing into’ his own rhetorical world of self-affirmation and believing the rhetoric to be true of himself in place of confessional honesty. But, as Gerhard Ebeling writes,
“According to Luther, the Word of God always comes as adversarius noster, our adversary. It does not simply confirm and strengthen us in what we think we are, and in what we wish to be taken for… This is the way, the only way, in which the Word draws us into concord and peace with God”.
Peace with God, then, never comes through believing our own rhetoric about ourselves. Yet are we ‘climbers’? Are we those who climb into our rhetorical worlds of glowing language about ourselves at the expense of cold light-of-day honesty and sober judgement? If so, then the negative rhetorical corollary of self-affirmation is the secret denigration of the other in our hearts.
Thus, it is all too possible that a person is effectively being stigmatised by labelling even though this labelling is only implicit in the ways they are being treated, and not in the actual words used in the discourse of ‘politeness’ that is used to enforce a rhetoric of self-affirmation.
We are reminded of the self-righteous Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax-collector’. Because we are familiar with this parable, it is possible that we do not use such obviously proud language, but still deceive ourselves by disguising our discriminatory practices with our polite ‘inclusive’ rhetoric. What we’re really saying is, ‘we’re more mature’ (cf. parent) and you’re a ‘worse sinner who hasn’t worked through issues yet’ (cf. child). This is the ‘scapegoating of the other’ that evades self-criticism, except that the finger pointing is not verbal but through subtleties of practice. I cannot imagine anybody for whom the issue of homosexuality was a struggle accepting offers of ‘pastoral help’ from those whom they somehow felt – through the subtleties of discriminatory relating – saw them as a ‘lesser being’.
You see the problem is this: God is very accepting of those who face, confess, and renounce their sin. But God’s wrath burns against the self-righteous who, since they think they do not need to repent, remain in their guilt and wrong-doing. ‘You have a plank in your eye’, says Jesus, ‘but since you claim you can see, your guilt remains’. This is very dangerous since, as Heidegger said, we may think we understand these verses, and give a little ‘chuckle’ or ‘knowing nod’. But really the fact that we have not understood them is implicit in our ‘labelling’, in our ‘stigmatisation by naming’ and, worst of all, in our implicit stigmatisation by naming that is wrapped up in our structures of excluding others from relationship masked by ‘politeness’.
These are all ‘false testimony’. They are a form of persecution. You see, people can tell when they’re not loved, no matter how eloquent the rhetoric. They can tell it when politeness replaces relationship. And when the silences and absences accompanying exclusion persist. People know persecution by the silences. So I counsel persons agonising over the issue of, say, homosexuality, to be careful who they talk to about it, because it could lead those with a traditionalist approach into serious sin.
Again, for traditionalism the danger is this: generally the person who falls into obvious sin knows it, but the ‘labeller’ doesn’t. So it is all too easy for the former to become clean through confession and repentance, whereas for the latter it is much harder. For example, a man could legitimately say, ‘Hey, I repented of my sexual immorality (fornication, say) – why won’t you repent of your false testimony about me? Isn’t repentance for all?’ Again, a man could say, ‘Hey, my confession was real, but yours is just for show, because you really do not know what you do since you’ve covered over your persecution of me with rhetoric. But isn’t genuine confession for all?’ A man could say, ‘your confession is not confession, and your righteousness is not righteousness, for you do this to me but don’t admit it’.
I am very afraid that it might be the case that the traditional church uses the label ‘homosexual’ in a very sinful way, as though it were a case of somebody thinking they were a ‘parent’ who was ‘more mature’ correcting the ‘child-like stupidity of the infidel’. Again, we are reminded of Luke 18:9-14: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax-collector’. But Jesus’ response is, ‘everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted’.
What we need is critical awareness through education, a focus on the most important things, rigorous self-criticism to unmask our own self-deceptions and sinful interests, refusal to scapegoat the other as a ‘worse’ category of ‘sinner’, and an attitude of welcoming wise confrontations from others. Then, and only then, can wise comment be made.
So then, for our first point, we have looked at an implicit ‘parent-child’ model of authority and wrong ways of relating towards self-designated homosexuals that would provide clues as to the presence of such a model.
Part 3 of 3
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