The Power of Powerlessness & Competing Days

The Day of Silence and Day of Dialogue are coming up and I’ve been pondering some of the inherent ironies in these two initiatives.

The Day of Silence is an initiative of GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network). GLSEN “strives to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.” They launched the Day of Silence to encourage students to take a vow of silence for a day to draw attention to and stand in solidarity with those who experience anti-gay bullying and harassment. Part of the messaging to promote this day communicates that they are being silent to end the silence. In other words, the day is meant to draw attention to the reality that so often this kind of name-calling and bullying is ignored or dealt with so minimally that little to no change comes. By being silent, students seek to make a statement as peaceably as possible.

There is also a counter day, however, to this particular initiative. It is called the Day of Dialogue. This initiative has an evolutionary history. Originally called the Day of Truth, it was launched by the Alliance Defense Fund in an effort to counter-act the “homosexual agenda”. The initiative then got handed off to Exodus International who has recently handed it off to Focus on the Family. FOTF says that the Day of Dialogue provides an opportunity for Christian students to invite other students into discussion about “what the Bible really says about God’s redemptive design for marriage and sexuality.” This year it is planned for April 18th, the Monday after Friday, April 15’s Day of Silence.

While the message of the Day of Silence has been quite consistent since its launch in 1996, despite a variety of interpretations applied to it, the message of the Day of Dialogue / Day of Truth has been a little more challenging to ascertain. Day of Silence wants to end anti-gay bullying through passive resistance. Day of Dialogue wants to ….. counter-act the homosexual agenda, prevent promotion of homosexuality to students, wants to let confused, questioning or experimenting youth know they are loved and there is freedom through Jesus, wants to teach Biblical standards for marriage and sexuality, wants to empower Christian students to stand up for their faith ……

One has to ask from what posture each of these initiatives arises.It seems to me that the non-violent resistance of the Day of Silence, in the spirit of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr., is much more consistent with an incarnational posture than the more overt proselytizing nature of the Day of Dialogue.

Philippians 2 is perhaps one of the most poignant and powerful descriptions of the substance of Jesus’ incarnation.

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

In this text we see that choosing the path of incarnation meant choosing the posture of powerlessness. Jesus made himself nothing. In other versions the text translates:

The Message – He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what

New Living Translation – He gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave

KJV – But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant

We have a Greek word that captures this idea of entering powerlessness called “kenosis”. This literally means self-emptying. And we see that for Jesus, this self-emptying meant that stripped himself of his status and the advantages that went with it, he gave up his privileges – his perks, and he willingly laid down his reputation. He did all of these things in order to fully identify with the creatures he had made – to live in solidarity with us. In particular, he demonstrated a solidarity with those on the margins, those who were excluded and alienated: lepers, Samaritans, women, those perceived and labeled immoral. Embracing this degree of identification allowed Jesus to feel our pain. To suffer our temptations. To be betrayed, misunderstood, rejected and lied about. To know the wound of extending love and having it not returned. He suffered these things in such radical subversion to the systems of religion around him that it got him killed.

He could have taken on the empire. He could have come into our world as a leader and initiated high level summit talks. He could have come into our world as a revolutionary and mobilized the common people around him for an uprising. He could have persuaded, influenced and impacted in a manner that compelled people to do things his way.

But what we actually see in Jesus is someone who chose the way of powerlessness. He did not attempt to use his voice in levels of government. He didn’t seek to be a leader of leaders. He didn’t take on the system through persuasion and absolute guidelines. He spoke in riddles and puzzles and parables that many didn’t understand. He went to the riff-raff and had dinner. He remained silent in front of high councils. He wept over cities he surely could have influenced. He loved rich young men who walked away from him. He washed the feet of the one who was about to betray him. He cooked breakfast for the one who had denied him.

Jesus loved people from a posture of humility, generosity and graciousness.

My question is, “Which day of activism smells more like Jesus ….. the Day of Silence or the Day of Dialogue?”

What seems more incarnational: silence in solidarity for safety? Or proactive promotion of principles?

I think of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. She asks him some pointed principal questions about appropriate worship. After all, there had been generations of feuding between Jews and Samaritans about temples and worship and rituals. Jesus, in his response, cuts through all the crap and essentially tells the woman that Jews and Samaritans have both missed the boat. Answering at a completely different level, Jesus says, “A time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

In the midst of their polarized fights about the rightness and wrongness of worship tradition, Jesus illumines a whole new reality, a deeper and more profound connection with God than they could have previously imagined.

Both sides felt they had the right on their side. And it could be said that there was some right in both positions – but that both were incomplete in their understanding.

For those who may consider participating in the Day of Dialogue, I would ask the following questions:

  1. If you are counter-acting a day that seeks to raise awareness and bring an end to anti-gay bullying, what are you really communicating? And does it smell like Jesus?

  2. Is a Day of Dialogue really utilizing the wisdom of God who showed us that the way to change systems is to embody the posture of powerlessness?

  3. With whom are you identifying by participating in the Day of Dialogue? With whom do you stand in solidarity? Are they the powerful or the marginalized? Are they in the majority or minority status? Do they have perks and reputation or don’t they?

  4. Does the Day of Dialogue stand up for people or positions?

In this polarized climate, I call on Christians to embody the posture of the incarnation. I implore you stand in solidarity with those on the margins. And I challenge you to be willing to relinquish positions of power for the sake of loving your neighbours.