I have been bumping into this strange word, “woke,” a lot lately. I wondered what it meant. Digging around, I found “woke” means to be alert to racial and social discrimination and injustice.
Why is this considered such a bad thing?
The term means all lives matter. Woke also means LGBTQ lives matter. As do the lives of everybody from transgender persons to the victims of other systemic injustices in American society.
“Woke” means open discussion about race and injustice and other systemic oppression, gender and sexual orientation. Unpacking the word means school teachers are to teach history, not cosmetize the past. Our Christian faith requires us to teach the good and bad side of who we are as a people.
“Unpacking the word means school teachers are to teach history, not cosmetize the past.”
The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang says “woke” means to be socially aware and empathetic. The opponents of woke blame everything on it — from deadly mass shootings to bank failures to most all the problems in society. Opponents of wokeness have politicized the word and twisted its meaning so it scares a lot of people.
What does the Bible have to say to woke? Old and New Testaments deal with this very human circle that includes all of us. Not only the dark at the foot of the stairs but also faith and hope and love.
Read the words for yourself:
Equality. God so loved the world, which is all-inclusive. Jesus had no pecking order except for those who put up roadblocks and practiced cruelty to others. No one was to be turned away. The word “community” meant just that — we all have something in common.
“He has abolished the law with all its commandments and ordinances that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace and might reconcile both groups to God in one body.” (Ephesians 2:15-16a)
“So we proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who are near. … So you are no longer aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:17, 19)
Justice. Jesus was a friend of publicans and sinners. Those hands refused to turn anyone away. Whether they were lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans or rich young rulers. This included those on the fringes of society and all of us in the human family. He stood with the prophets who said: “What does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly and to love mercy.” (Micah 6.8)
Hospitality. Jeremiah 22.3 says: “I will save the lame and gather the outcasts and I will change their shame into praise.”
“So his fame spread to all of Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them.” (Luke 4:24b)
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
“I was a stranger, and you took me in.” (Matthew 25:35)
Servant. Jesus turned the word “power” upside down when he washed his disciples’ feet. He said, “Whoever would be chief among you, let him be your servant.”
His followers later understood those words of Jesus when James wrote: “If a brother or sister be naked, and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith without works is dead.” (James 2:15-16)
Love. In this Lenten season, we remember Jesus died on the Cross because he challenged the out-of-control power and the lopsided values of his day. He was a threat to those who stood by and cheered and those leaders who gave the orders to nail him to his cross.
“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43)
Jesus made a hero of the Samaritan. Answering the neighbor’s question, he elevated the Samaritans who had been Israel’s enemies for hundreds of years. “But a Samaritan … came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds. …Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn and took care of him. … Which was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? Jesus said, ‘The man who showed him mercy.’” (Luke 10:29-37)
“The greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
The word “woke” really is a threatening word, challenging our ease and contentment. The church has watered down Jesus’ actual good news. Jesus was a friend of sinners, which includes all of us. Today’s church, like so many that came before us, has misunderstood Jesus’ whole incarnation. This gospel includes us all.
Any message that pares his message down to only our circle misses the many hard sayings of Jesus. “Woke” is not an ugly word but a challenge to us all.
Jesus said to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. I reckon this means we are not to politicize the things that are God’s or drag Caesar’s dirty feet into the sanctuary. Ever.
Roger Lovette lives in Clemson, S.C., and is a minister-writer who cares about the world and all God’s children. He served as pastor of six churches and as interim pastor for seven churches. He is the author of five books and a multitude of articles.
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