What Does "Woke" Mean for Christians?
In the last year I've received numerous messages from fellow Christians angry that our nation and churches are going "woke." They are almost always accompanied by a video or podcast railing against "wokeness".
Almost every time I receive one of these I ask the sender to define woke. Their answer almost always refers to an attempt in their opinion on the part of liberals to advance a liberal agenda. And unfortunately that's what the word has evolved into. However, word comes from the past participle of the verb Wake, defined by Webster's as "to rouse from sleeping." A century ago black writers advised that black people "best stay woke, keeping their eyes open," referring to racist violence and injustice. Civil rights activists in the 20th century used the word to promote social and political consciousness. It was a call to awareness and certainly not to violence.
So, why is that a bad thing for Christians being aware of and vigilant against injustice? All Christians should support that! It's gotten way more complicated because conservative media and politicians have slapped the word woke onto a much broader spectrum of ideas to include LGBTQ rights, environmental activism, pro-choice and almost any activism that Conservatives deem wrong, or dangerous. Are there some wrong, or dangerous ideas being advocated, or even forced on churches and our kids in school? Yes. Of course. But let's not make the mistake of throwing the baby out with the bath.
For this blog I'd like to focus our attention on the original meaning of the word and examine whether or not Christians should be wary of all attempts to dig into the history of racial injustice to better understand why minorities today are so wary of the police, courts and an economic system that feels "gamed" against them. Within the black community there are hard core, militant "woke," voices and there are other thoughtful, moderate voices asking us to listen and empathize. Here's the kind of woke I hope all Christians would want to embrace;
Desiring societal harmony across ethnic and racial backgrounds.
Admitting the massive failings in American history where injustice has occurred and educating our children to at least be aware of our past and current failings.
Doing everything you can to understand how subtle and overt racism is still felt by minorities today.
Wanting equal justice for all people.
I cannot imagine God having anything but admiration for believers who , "act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God." -Micah 6:8
Feeling empathy for those who have been hurt isn't rolling over to the "woke" agenda. It's being a true follower of Jesus. I'm incredulous that Christian Conservatives think admitting our sins of the past is some kind of "guilt trip" that we shouldn't have to take responsibility for. Christian ought to repent for the sins of our forefathers. The Israelites had to do many times. And in doing so they pleased God.
We acknowledge our wickedness, Lord,
and the guilt of our ancestors;
we have indeed sinned against you. -Jeremiah 14:20
You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
My point so far has been that regardless of the "liberal" agenda, Christians are commanded to "Weep with those who weep." To have empathy does not mean we have to agree with all the "liberals" conclusions, or proposed solutions. But there was a lot about the black experience in American we never knew about or seriously pondered, especially if you grew up in the North. So how should thoughtful Christians view this movement to make whites more aware of black history?
I've actually read and reviewed two Critical Race Theory courses for high schools. I didn't like either one not because of how they treated history. But they both went beyond teaching facts about history to advocating affirmative action, reparations and other policies to correct the sins of the past. That's sociology, or political science, not history. But also be wary of some Conservatives who are looking for wokeness behind every bush they don't like.
So, how should Christians respond to loud, anti-woke ideas?
When someone sends you a podcast, videos, or blog and says it's "woke," try to watch, read, or listen to it. Are they thoughtfully, respectfully, or biblically addressing their objections, or are they simply railing against some effort they've already determined is "woke"? Ask the person who sent it to you if they've "facts-checked," the story.
Ask the person sending you this information to specifically identify what is being said that they find objectionable as a follower of Jesus? Are they adverse to something unbiblical, or is it just objectionable to them personally or politically? In other words, ask for Holy Spirit wisdom to sort out ethical and moral issues from pure political ones.
Understand that some people are simply so biased, there's no communication that will ever persuade them otherwise. "Fools find no pleasure in understanding, but delight in airing their own opinions". -Proverbs 18:2
Commit yourself to understanding other ethnic, or racial groups point of view better and not simply rejecting the most radical ideas of some members of that group. For instance I sometimes grind my teeth when I hear Al Sharpton speak, but that does not allow me to dismiss everything black leaders say about injustice. "Pursue truth, wisdom, instruction and insight. ." -Proverbs 23:23 NLT