Is the word defined by the “winsomer” or the “winsomee”? And Christians, well-meaning Christians, who want to be viewed as winsome in the public square, and are reading through their notes carefully before they go up to the public podium, are finding that their problem is not in their delivery, it’s not in their word choice, it’s not even in their body language. No, it’s in their actual beliefs. The problem is that the Christian perspective on marriage is viewed as hateful. And our winsomeness is being viewed as a mask, a get-out-of-jail-free card for ideas that should be banged up in solitary confinement.
So here’s me choosing my Christian Word Of The Year.
Drum roll please, “The Christian word of the year is WINSOME!” Taa-dah!
That’s right, winsome! It’s everywhere you look at the moment. So please step forward “winsome” and take a bow. You’ve been over-used, over-realised, under-appreciated, over-stated, undered and overed, and whatever else can happen to a poor old lonesome winsome word in these topsy turvy times.
The big take away for 2022 is how Christians can engage in the public square in a way that is winsome. And if that is even possible. And of course the big question: Is winsome a strategy or a stance? We haven’t decided yet. We haven’t decided what winsome actually means. Does it mean speaking the truth in love? And when we’re told that certain truths that Christians hold can’t be loving in the first place, then we’re being told that we’re masking hate in love language. Where does winsome land in all of that?
As the culture wars roll on, (and on and on) and Christians find themselves in the firing line on ethical matters, is winsome is our ticket out of this? That’s a great question to ask, if only we could decide what winsome actually looks like.
So exhibit A was a great article I read in the New York Times last week by an orthodox Anglican priest in the US, Tish Harrison Warren, who called for respect from both sides of the marriage debate in the US. It was a thoughtful piece from a woman who is very clear about her view that marriage is between a man and a woman, God ordained, and unchangeable in bedrock definition irrespective of government intervention.
Yet at the same time she explored that because the law of the land has changed the definition of marriage legally, then both sides in this issue must find a way to get along with living side by side and respect each other’s differences. Without that ability then it’s going to be tricky to live in the same nation, let alone suburb, with those we deeply disagree with.
She told the story of her gay friend and his “husband” and her hope that he would support her religious school’s right to promote its view of marriage without fear of funding loss, just as she recognised but did not agree with him. He laughed and said, yes. I thought it was a useful article given the times we live in.
Tish Harrison Warren seems an impressive woman. As an egalitarian in the church she even recognises and affirms complementarians and refuses the trope (sadly even found increasingly among brothers and sisters in Christ) that it’s simply a mask for patriarchy. She states this:
Pluralism is not the same as relativism — we don’t have to pretend that there is no right or wrong or that beliefs don’t matter. It is instead a commitment to form a society where individuals and groups who hold profoundly different and mutually opposed beliefs are welcome at the table of public life. It is rooted in love of neighbour and asks us to extend the same freedoms to others that we ourselves want to enjoy. Without a commitment to pluralism, we are left with a society that either forces conformity or splinters and falls apart.
It was a totally winsome article from a woman who holds to a biblical orthodox view of marriage, but who is not looking for some sort of Christian nationalism that will enforce that view on everyone else. She’s nothing if not a realist. And nothing if not winsome.
And what was the response in the comments section of The New York Times? She was shredded. Absolutely shredded. Here I was thinking, “Wow, that’s the type of response we should be able to articulate, and that’s the way we should articulate it” and the general tenor of the comments was along the lines of “bigot, hypocrite, liar, abuser”, etc, etc, etc, including “equivalent of Jim Crow racist”.
Now granted it is The New York Times, which wouldn’t recognised a Hunter Biden laptop if it tripped over it. But winsome went right to the source, with a piece that was as Winsome McWinsomeface as you could get, and still the vast bulk of well over one thousand comments were in the “shred” category.
Which is all a way of saying, if we’re going to have a conversation around winsome (and something tells me it may well be word of the year for Christians in 2023, cos this debate is only getting started), then we’d better have a clear understanding of what we mean by winsome. And by that I mean determining who gets to define whether we are being winsome or not.
That’s the point isn’t it? Is the word defined by the “winsomer” or the “winsomee”? And Christians, well-meaning Christians, who want to be viewed as winsome in the public square, and are reading through their notes carefully before they go up to the public podium, are finding that their problem is not in their delivery, it’s not in their word choice, it’s not even in their body language. No, it’s in their actual beliefs.
The problem is that the Christian perspective on marriage is viewed as hateful. And our winsomeness is being viewed as a mask, a get-out-of-jail-free card for ideas that should be banged up in solitary confinement. That’s the problem right there. And the more words you say, words like “love”, “tolerance”, “acceptance”, “pluralism” are simply seen as special pleading. They are being used by the losers in the culture war to try and carve out a city of refuge to which they can flee for safety.