Pastoring and Posturing image

Pastoring and Posturing

How do you tell the difference between pastoring and posturing? Where do you draw the line between speaking out against injustice as a shepherd of concerned and distressed people, on the one hand, and performative, hollow, pandering, low-cost virtue signalling on the other? The former is very valuable and, at a time like this, arguably essential; the latter is a perennial danger for human beings (as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6), and particularly in the age of social media. In conversations with various people over the last two weeks, I’ve been struck by how many people find it challenging to distinguish between the two.

Here are four questions that I think might help us.

1. Am I prepared to do what costs me something, like giving up money or power or time, as well as doing what costs me nothing, like tweeting or making a brief statement? (Take a pointed example from the last few days: the difference between Arsenal’s response to the racist killing of George Floyd in America, which costs them very little, and their response to the racist killings of the Uighurs in China, which would cost them a lot more.) If not, then either I am not really prepared to do what I believe, or I am not really saying what I believe. Either is bad.

2. Would I still say this if the people who applaud me for it and the people who despise me for it swapped places? All of us, I suspect, care more about the praise of some people than others. If I value the affirmation of X more than Y, I am far more likely to say something that makes X rejoice and Y complain than vice versa. (Someone on Twitter compared me to Satan last week, for instance. But because the context was criticising President Trump, I felt affirmed—and if I’m honest, even a bit smug—rather than offended.) Would Ben and Jerry’s have made their statement if it had caused offence to the people who praised it, and praise from the people who were offended by it? Would you, Quintus? Would I?

3. Do I speak up about justice issues that are less socially encouraged, acceptable or even fashionable in my circles? Or am I reserving my prophetic denunciations of injustice for topics that will go down well? (If you’re not sure, read Amos and then come back to it.) So, for instance, some of us are more likely to speak up about racial justice than abortion, and some of us are more likely to speak up about abortion than racial justice, not necessarily because of the priority or urgency of the issues—we may care deeply about both—but because of the likely reactions of those whose favour we seek. Clearly we will be shaped by both world events and proximity in choosing what to say when, and rightly so; I’m talking about our balance over the course of (say) a year.

4. Am I saying this it in faith, or in an attempt to be justified by works? Honestly, I have done both. I have said things in faith that God will use my words to bless, strengthen, equip and challenge people; I have also said things because I want to be seen as righteous (or woke, or courageous, or empathetic, or wise, or whatever it may be) in the eyes of others. Deep down, only I know which is which. But it is only the former that bears fruit. For we hold that a person is justified by faith and not by wokes.

I hope that’s helpful. If you’re looking for people who do this especially well on a whole range of subjects, so you can learn from them, check out Hannah Anderson, Thabiti Anyabwile, Tope Koleoso, Duke Kwon, Beth Moore, Jackie Hill Perry, P-J Smyth, Karen Swallow Prior and Kevin DeYoung.

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