“Code Language” – Powers Behaving Badly

Conservative. Liberal. Something of a surprise revelation and an accompanying observation was made Sunday as a group of leaders gathered to discuss Tim Keller‘s, Generous Justice, at Snow Hill. Yes, I know. Yesterday I mentioned my friends reading Jacob Taubes and today I note a group where I pastor is reading Keller. So much for polarities, dualities, and binaries.

Keller, in chapter 4, remarks about the way conservatives and liberals have played their respective emphases as well as their dimunitions. He argues for a more complete, or whole, vision when it comes to the way we understand human matters he categorizes under the rubric of justice. A move I like except for the pejorative way “social” is often added to justice by conservatives as if in the Scriptures the call of YHWH for deference to the poor, stranger, and widow can somehow be construed as non-social. Reading Keller’s thoughts stirred some to re-think the way we flippantly toss about conservative and liberal as a means to pigeon-hole people. Words often constitute code language. Each group has their attendant vocabulary to distinguish “us” from “them.” A move which makes conversation’s first move one of winning and losing rather than understanding.

My friend Jason pointed up an NPR piece on the recent conclave at a Texas location where Evangelical leaders planned to choose a Republican candidate to throw their collective weight behind. Oh, the ways I wanted to turn the next phrase, or two. Jason could not believe the Southern Baptist ethical representative used courting imagery to talk about trying the bevy of candidates to see who to marry. Surely, he thought, Dr. Land would have been more careful with his comparisons. Code language borders on the euphemistic.

Wade Burleson points out the way a particular view of gender roles has been conflated with the Gospel. This is not a new way to make Gospel into a code word. Everyone’s pet issue becomes part and parcel of the Gospel so that the Gospel means everything and nothing. The move cheapens what is meant by Good News when the vocabulary of choice keeps one segment of the human population in check. Many use Eden in a way that does not make much sense.

“We want to get back to the way things were.” Another pastor and I recently helped mediate group conflict. The suggestion was made that everyone wanted things to get back to the way they used to be. I objected. In my experience with married couples this generally refers to a time when both spouses are believed to have been exceptionally satisfied with life together. However, getting back to the way things were fails to take into account that the seeds of dissatisfaction were also present back then. Getting back means an eventual return to the place now inhabited.

Those who read the Genesis account and work into it a notion of what we should expect in human relationships seems to apply the same logic. We are trying to get back to the way things were in the Garden. Nope. We want better. We are promised better. All of the impediments to human flourishing present in the Garden will be radically removed. We do not want to go back. We want what is promised. That is Good News. It surely must mean something when that state is described as “no eye has seen, no mind can conceive.” Remember, someone did inhabit the Garden.

Natalie raises another way code language maintains the status quote – which is not Good News either. In fact, when a particular vocabulary is used to leverage one group of people over another it denies the vision cast in Luke 4 as Jesus read from the Isaiah scroll. I look forward to Natalie sharing her paper on the way code language functions as an insular boundary against accusations of racism. You can be sure this would be applied to gender issues as well.

Powers behave badly when they engage in code language to do nothing more than keep things as way they are. Christians, Jesus people, are promised and promise much more. We should participate in the human experience in ways to bring the Good News of these new realities to bear in the world where these forms, the Apostle Paul notes, are passing.

How do you recognize code language?

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.