Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive. 1 Corinthians 10.23
As a matter of review from last week’s blog (inspired by some needlessly heated and tangential debates on one of my friend’s Facebook updates), the Christian response to tattoos, piercings and other fashion controversies are as follows. First, someone would say, “I don’t like it. Therefore it’s wrong.” This is what I call “preference legalism” which has the mentality of “I prefer this lifestyle and if you don’t follow my preference, you’re certainly not spiritual enough.” It is also a kind of idolatry towards one’s own preference. The second objection to tattoos, piercings and other silly things is, “Maybe he’s doing it for the gospel. Why else would someone be getting inked.”
This week, I’ll deal with the second objection, “Maybe he’s doing it for the gospel.” My future blog posts will deal with the other ones. This second objection makes zero logical sense, not even in our everyday living. Tattoos and piercings are fashion statements. Do we ever get up everyday to go to work and ask, “Which tie should I wear so that I can dress for the gospel?” We don’t. Neither do we put shoes or suits on while asking the same questions. Neither do we do most things asking the same question.
I recall people first hearing about my shaved head and earring. The ill-intentioned homophobes would question my sexual orientation (no, I’m not gay. I love my pretty and elegant wife) or whether I had switched ministry direction by working with homosexuals (nope, haven’t felt the same call as some of my other friends). Well-meaning people began to ask (behind my back of course), whether I’m having a mid-life crisis or some other unpleasant experience. I assure everyone I’m not. I love my life. I’ve pretty much accomplished everything I had set out to do professionally. I enjoy my family, and I feel that I married well. When I told them that I just like to change my fashion around, many seem puzzled (of course I have other reasons for sporting this look, but this is not the place to explain that). Do I really need to give reason for changing what color, what brand or what material of suits I wear? Nope!
This leads to the more basic question, “Why do Christians have to justify certain things that are neutral?” Isn’t just living our lives (and not acting like holy roller weirdo’s) enough for expressing the gospel? Why do we have to justify neutral things? It is because by justifying, we feel holier than everyone else who doesn’t justify himself. This is Christian self-rightesouness at its best. WE’RE OBSESSED ABOUT SUCH SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS because we want to appear better than everyone else, but we aren’t. Someone might object, “Everything we do is for the gospel and for the glory of God.” Oh, okay, would that include trivializing the gospel in such a way? Would that include saying that the gospel is more about what God did than what we did while contradicting ourselves with a focus on what we do or don’t do? I would settle for Christians glorifying God by not being anal retentive on such trivial matters because such misplaced focus takes away rather than enhance God’s glory and the gospel.
Many who observe this phenomenon compare such people to the caricature Pharisee in Jesus’ parable who states in Luke 18.11-12, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (NIV). I propose that the people we see are much worse than this caricature. The Pharisee had reason to brag because he was talking about real righteousness and real sins here. He just didn’t have the right to brag before God. What we’re talking about with people who harp on silliness isn’t really about real righteousness or sin. It’s bragging about trivial personal preference, and THIS is precisely what’s wrong with evangelical Christianity. Trivia!
The trouble with such controversies is that it’s all about how the objector feels. It’s all about the good or bad feeling my fashion sense makes someone feels. It’s as if all the objectors’ feelings are the very content of the gospel. It’s as if the objector’s feeling is so fragile that a mere change of fashion would totally offend or crumble that fragile feeling. The faith community then becomes a therapeutic place for those who really NEED to feel good because they have unshakeable egos and wobbly feelings. I’m not talking about real mental patients here. I’m talking about those whose feelings get bunched up in a wad just because someone does something they don’t like. The faith community isn’t the place for such dysfunctional therapy for those who feel that they’re healthier than everyone else while they themselves personify narcissism. Somehow such people also feel that they’ve got the god-given right to intrude on how everyone else lives. They’ve become the fashion police of the church. One of my preacher friends compare them to the Judaizers (or whatever name you wish to name them) in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. I think that’s an insult to the Judaizers. At least they had real debates about scriptural things with Paul. In the present scenario, they’re basing their own moral foundation out of their overactive and legalistic imagination that isn’t even from the Bible. By living according to their preference, somehow they make other people’s preference unholy, thus making themselves holier than everyone else.
Someone asks me whether I pierce my ear for a reason, implying it must be for the gospel. I can answer in a few ways. What if I choose NOT to answer? What if I have no reason other than to look cool? What if I have the same reason as I give for putting on a pair of True Religion jeans (notice I cleverly slip in the word “religion” in there?)? Does that make me less Christian or less spiritual? The need to justify ourselves indicates that we have this huge need for self-righteousness. The answer to such question indicates more about how far we’ve drifted from the gospel than why I wear an earring (By the way, my wife loves the hoop earring on me as pictured more than the shiny stud. What do you think?). I always see my earring as the mirror to bring out all the dysfunctional Christians instantaneously, because this sort of triviality makes Christians look petty and stupid, but I’m guessing a lot of Christians who seriously debate the issue don’t notice. Those who won’t invite me to speak because of a piece of rock in my ear probably won’t be ready to listen to my message anyway. From the discussions with many people and watching the debate among some, I propose that many hardly understand what it means to be spiritual or even to be Christian any more in our faith community.