Trained Controversialists

The following quote is reflecting a situation from many, many years ago—and in another part of the world. But it struck me as resembling, just a bit too closely, our current culture:

“As a child, Dr. Garland Bare [born in 1930 to missionary parents in Tibet] lived in Tibet until Communists forced his family’s departure. He [also] spent 23 years as a missionary and doctor in Thailand. He observed stages in the loss of religious freedom. First, a political correctness defined and controlled acceptable speech. Second, officials favored and protected certain classes, never including Christians. Third, anything stated against the protected classes was hate speech. Fourth, speech considered hate speech received penalties, fines, and execution. Fifth, outright persecution of Christians followed” (reported by H. Lynn Gardner in “Preserving America’s Religious Freedom,” The Lookout magazine, 6/29/2014).

See the progression there?

Couldn’t help thinking how certain news reports, social media voices, and activists today manage to wrongly group Christians as haters, misrepresent Christianity, misquote/misapply the Bible, etc. They deliberately aim to control speech (and thoughts) and slot people into categories. Don’t we see these:

  • political correctness; acceptable (though ever-changing) speech
  • certain people/behaviors/beliefs favored; others not
  • anything negative about the “favored” classes is “hate speech”
  • penalties for such hate speech, including public vilifying, blocking those voices
  • sometimes even outright persecution of the won’t-go-alongs, especially Christians

But we can go even further back in history than what Dr. Bare saw. R C. Foster’s commentary on the life of Christ quotes the Roman historian Tacitus, who tells how Nero was accused of burning Rome himself and then trying to shift blame to the Christians of that day. Whether or not Tacitus himself thought the Christians guilty, he described them in terms of their “shameful deeds” and of having “hatred of the human race” (Foster’s Vol. 1, Introduction and Early Ministry, 1938 with 1966 revisions, p. 20).

R. C. Foster further described tactics used when Jewish leaders were trying to undermine Jesus’ ministry: “These plots against [Jesus’] life… [came] from the national leaders at the capital—the Pharisees and Sadducees. The miracles, the growing power of His movement, His assertions of deity all led to renewed plots against His life. The national leaders were also moved to send out a delegation of trained controversialists to attempt to undermine the success of Jesus.… These shock troops…” (Foster’s Vol. 2, The Middle Period, 1968, p. 184).

Trained controversialists.

That same term shows up in another old commentary, one by L. M. Grant. His notes on Genesis 14 say: “Warfare was not the object of Abram’s life: his object was the knowledge of God. So we too ought to be well trained in the ways of the Lord, not with the object of fighting. Yet if we find it necessary to fight we shall be better equipped for this than those who are well trained controversialists, for then it will be God’s battle we are waging, and not a battle for a certain ‘cause’ or ‘principle.’”

Webster’s gives a synonym of controversial as hot-button. Think of news reports that just seem to keep things stirred up, especially as relates to Christianity, issues of right and wrong, etc. Maybe our new term for the voice behind such could be: trained hot-button-ist?

For sure it’s super important for Christians not to live in a way that would warrant legit accusations (1 Peter 3:16). But we must also expect false accusations. There will always be “trained controversialists” and “shock troops.” Agents for dark agendas would, by definition, be against good. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12, 13). Whenever the culture seems especially hostile to Christianity, we can expect trouble from “evil men and impostors” (some hiding within the church itself), who don’t want their own agendas interfered with.

Maybe we can plan ahead for that next scenario that triggers thoughts of, Oh no! What’s happening?! And maybe our next thought can be a strangely comforting, Ah, of course. No surprise. What would the Lord have me do?


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