Light + Life Communications Director
by Brett Heintzman
“Trigger words” are words that cause hearers to have heightened emotions — either positive or negative. It’s quite tragic that justice has become a negative trigger word in the church. How can this be? How does a biblical word — a prophetic word — become the object of negative anxiety? To add to the complexity, we’ve all become “specialists” in substantiating our positions regarding what justice means. No doubt it’s confusing and frustrating to many — triggering for nearly everyone in varying ways — and, to our shame, divisive.
I want to offer a way forward from where we are — an open door to recapture unity and mutual respect for one another again — as well as respond to social ills as Christians should without ignoring or dismissing them. Compassion is that open door, and it is a doorway we all need to walk through regardless of how justice triggers our thinking and emotions. It is more than a door — it’s the way of the cross.
Compassion is not content to remain in the company of anxiety and anger — it must destroy them.
Close your eyes and envision Jesus on the cross. Imagine how He went there willingly, silently, compassionately, under the judgment of unjust people who spoke unjust accusations at Him and used unjust and unreasonable brutality to kill Him. When you know who you are and what you’re doing, you do not need to take a stand. Ponder for a moment what it would be like if you and I all decided to stop taking stands and, in their place, took up our cross.
Negative triggers emerging from hearing the word justice occur at every microscopic point along the scale between sociopolitical left and right schools of thought. I’ve been saddened to see God’s people reduced to sarcasm, insults, underhanded jabs, entitlement, name-calling, grandstanding, mudslinging, dehumanizing, demanding, arrogance, and a vast array of other unhelpful and divisive motives.
Compassion is the cure. It is the God-given spiritual fruit of a tender heart. It begins with the motives of Christ and leads to changes in how we approach our world and our responses to it.
Let’s test our own triggers with a passage of Scripture. The prophet Micah spoke the words of God that we need to hear today.
With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:6–8)
To act justly is to work on behalf of the oppressed with compassion.
To love mercy is to act with compassion, so others know the mercy of God.
To walk humbly is to know and experience compassion and frame all our actions with it.
To go through the motions of worship with a contaminated heart is not what God desires of us. The ability to go through the motions of worship and not be cut to the heart by them indicates we have become calloused to the move of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual numbness is a disease we cannot allow to run rampant in our FMC family.
Is it possible that all of us can exchange our trigger responses at the mere mention of biblical justice for compassion? Wouldn’t our lives be more peaceful, more loving, richer, and fuller as we did? What if we refused to shut down emotionally and spiritually every time we heard our trigger words? How would the world be different because of compassionate responses in the face of injustice?
Well, all we have to do is look to Jesus. He caused the most remarkable shift in the story of humanity because of one act of compassion. Imagine how our world would change if the language, tone, responses, and relational engagement of Free Methodists were saturated in compassion?
It’s a beautiful vision, indeed!
Light + Life Communications Director