Compliant or Complicit?
by Christopher C. Thompson | 11 October 2018 |
My mouth has gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years. This is not something that I am particularly proud of; it’s just a fact. I have too many stories to illustrate this. Here’s one. When I was in the 10th grade, my first-period class was geometry with Ms. May, a single, white, female who was certainly not the most experienced teacher. Let me preface this by saying that Ms. May was not my favorite teacher, and I was certainly not her favorite student. It was spirit week, and each day students were challenged to dress up in accordance with the given theme for the day. I felt like I couldn’t really relate to the whole “Hippie Day” concept so I dressed like a member of the Black Panther Party. A few students had devised the plan, but I was the only one who went through with it.
Whether you consider that story funny or not, it illustrates one of the many times where I said something that I shouldn’t have said. Bad timing. Wrong teacher. Some might consider it altogether inappropriate in that it trivializes the work and legacy of the real Black Panther Party; a band of fearless, committed, community-oriented, freedom fighters who spoke truth to power. Some might consider it altogether inappropriate given their opinion that the Black Panthers were a racist hate group (they should consider watching The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution). Nevertheless, whether you find it intriguing or deplorable, I’m simply explaining one of the many times that I said something that got me into trouble.
When I look back, I realize that I’ve never been soft-spoken. I’ve always had a tendency to speak up and speak out. Sometimes foolishly, sometimes harshly, sometimes prematurely, yet oftentimes because of something that I believed deeply about. I suppose it’s one of the things that led me to life as a writer and a minister. I suppose I’ve reflected on this quite a bit because I am genuinely bewildered by those folks who are inclined to blend in and simply “go along to get along.” Yet, I believe there is a deep truth here.
Compliance in Revelation
Traditionally we have interpreted Revelation 13 in a way that suggests that those who receive the Mark of the Beast in the hand are the ones who go along to get along. They comply with the status quo and the dictates of the state for the sake of the practical implications/benefits that are dependent upon their compliance. In the same way, we relate those who receive the mark in their foreheads with those who are complicit with the state in that they have been philosophically or theoretically convinced that this course of action is a politically or morally superior course of action. If Revelation is resistance (hat-tip to Jamie Kowlessar) then it is essential for us to hear the consistent calls to refuse the mark, resist the empire, come out of Babylon, and avoid complicity and compliance where it clashes with matters of conscience and commitment to God’s word.
Yet, today, we are pressed with demands that test our resolve. We watched the complicity of the Dallas Police Department as they refused to charge Amber Guyger with murder for the shooting of an innocent, unarmed man (Botham Jean) who was sitting in his own home. We watched the complicity of the US Senate in their confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court despite the looming allegations of impropriety and sexual assault.
Earlier today, a mentor and professor of mine commented that he’s “insulted by the misogyny and sexism that we tolerate—even celebrate—in many music superstars like Lil Wayne.” Nevertheless, I’m afraid that we’re complicit with sexism and misogyny in the church, so why should we feel inclined to expect the unsaved, unchurched masses to demonstrate a commitment to such a high, moral standing that we have not even upheld? Yet, if all of this isn’t enough, there is more. In just a few days the leaders of our denomination will be pressed to conform and comply with an administration that is determined to enforce its own brand of restrictive orthopraxy under the guise of unity. I am grateful that there are some entities sounding off, refusing to comply.
Do your part!
What a time to be alive! With so many demands for blind conformity, silent compliance and conniving complicity, we as followers of a revolutionary Christ have the tremendous opportunity to reject the status quo and establish our commitment to being doers of the word and “thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men’s thought” (see James 1:22-25). This is our moment to demand substantive engagement, a just and equitable society and compassionate community for everyone involved. Here are some examples of strategies to ensure that we will not counted among the quiet and compliant ones.
Speak up and speak out against the issues, policies, practices that are hurtful, dehumanizing and divisive. I always marveled at the church members who would come to me after the board meeting or after the business meeting to tell me that I did the right thing or that I should be encouraged and not be discouraged by the foolishness that just took place. I was always appreciative, yet simultaneously frustrated. Where were you when the terrorists were hijacking the meeting?! We have a moral and biblical responsibility to confront systems and people who are detracting, disruptive and destructive to the community and those within the community.
Cast your vote for conscience and community. If you have a vote you should show up and cast it. Voting is a serious responsibility in that those who vote do so according to what they believe is best, but even more importantly, on behalf of those who are unable to speak for themselves. The children who will come after us and the people who are unable are depending on us to act in the best interest of the wider community for future generations. And no, we don’t believe that this world is our final home, yet for as long as we’re here we want to conduct our work in a way that best fits us and our community for the future.
Stand in the gap for those who are being underrepresented and mistreated. It’s not enough to simply vote. And please save your “thoughts and prayers” for someone who cares! When we see people being taken advantage of, it is the moral and social obligation of the strong to protect those who cannot protect themselves. We protect, give, advocate, protest, organize and more towards direct benefits for those who are the most vulnerable. I’m reminded of the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller, when he spoke concerning the Holocaust saying:
First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out –
because I was not a Jew
Then they came for the communists
and I did not speak out –
because I was not a communist
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak for me 
At the Resurrection
I’m mindful that no well-integrated person wants to make himself or herself the center of attention. No emotionally healthy person wants to cause trouble. No intelligent person wants to cause a stir and a noise. Yet when a stir has already been made, then those who are strong are to always bear the burdens of the weak.
The last chapter of Matthew contains a curious set of details surrounding the resurrection of Jesus. Just before the Great Commission was pronounced, Matthew recounts the directives that were given to a group of guards. When Jesus rose from the dead, the Roman soldiers who were assigned to secure his tomb were “paid a large sum of money” and told to tell the people that Jesus’ body was stolen. Verse fifteen contains the very solemn detail. “So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day” (see Matt. 28:11-15). What’s profound to me here is that at the time of Matthew’s writing (anywhere from twenty to fifty years after the resurrection) this conflicting rumor still persists. It’s obvious that our unwillingness to stand for principle can have a multigenerational impact.
On the other hand, the apostles were vigilant. When threatened and harassed concerning the preaching of the gospel their reply was simple and resolute. “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19b-20). The resolve of the apostles here always inspires me.
Today we are left with these two examples. Will we simply conform to complicity and compliance, or will we boldly stand upon principle for the sake of God’s kingdom and the beloved community? Might the apostles, the pioneers, our parents and our progeny be made proud by our resolve?
- Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press, 1903), 17.
- Martin Niemöller, quoted in Marcuse, Harold, “The Origin and Reception of Martin Niemoller’s Quotation, “First they came for the communists …” in Remembering for the Future: Auschwitz, Armenia and Beyond, eds., Berebaum, M., Libowitz, R., Sachs-Littel, M., (Saint Paul, Minnesota, 2015), 187. http://www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/marcuse/publications/articles/Marcuse2016OriginReceptionNiemoellersQuotationOcr.pdf Accessed 10/10/18.
Christopher C. Thompson works in the Orlando, FL, area as Communication Director of the Southeastern Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He and his wife Tracy have one son, Christopher II.