The Ellipses of Cheap Grace - Word&Way

The Ellipses of Cheap Grace

Before janitors could even remove the litter and excrement from the Capitol after last week’s attack by a pro-Trump mob, some politicians and preachers started issuing calls for unity and reconciliation. But skipping past truth-telling and accountability would be an injustice.

Mike Pence, who spent years polishing an image as a principled conservative Christian before tying his reputation to a profane thrice-married racist demagogue, wrote a letter Tuesday (Jan. 12) explaining why he won’t invoke the 25th Amendment provision to take the powers of the presidency from Donald Trump. Pence tried to justify his inaction with the Bible, but did so with dangerous manipulation:

“The Bible says that ‘for everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven … a time to heal, … and a time to build up.’ That time is now.”

Those ellipses are doing some heavy lifting!

Brian Kaylor

Brian Kaylor

The famous first eight verses in Ecclesiastes 3 include more than 150 words but Pence pulls out only two dozen. And his meaningless exegesis manages to turn, turn, turn the text to say the opposite of what it teaches. The whole point of the passage is literally that there is a time for everything, not just nice things like healing and building up.

The text says there’s a time to heal, but there’s also a time to slay. The text says there’s a time to build up, but there’s also a time to tear down. The teacher’s words don’t tell us which time it is right now. We must find the wisdom.

But in determining what this time calls for why would we turn to someone who spent the last four years supporting an unjust and unwise ruler? This man brought about a condemnation found in that very chapter of Ecclesiastes: “in the place of justice there is wickedness and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness.”

We cannot have healing without truth-telling. We cannot have healing without accountability. We cannot have healing without justice.

To move immediately to talk of unity and reconciliation is to enable abusers to strike again. We must not call evil ‘good’ and good ‘evil.’ We must not call silencing victims ‘unity.’ We must not call repeating falsehoods ‘healing.’ We must not call corruption ‘reconciliation.’

Supporters of President Donald Trump gather outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021. (Shafkat Anowar/Associated Press)

We cannot move toward healing until those who attacked the U.S. Capitol are arrested and charged (a process that already started). We cannot move toward healing until the president who instigated the mob is held accountable. We cannot move toward healing until politicians who joined the president in lying about the election apologize and tell the truth, or are removed from office.

We cannot move toward healing until Christian leaders who amplified the presidents lies apologize and tell the truth. We cannot move toward healing until Christian leaders who told us Christians should support an immoral man apologize and step back from leadership. We cannot move toward healing until Christian leaders stop letting party trump principles.

Unless we reckon with these past sins, we’ll see them repeated. And if we listen to these guilty voices quickly demanding forced unity and faked healing, we’ll instead enact what anti-fascist preacher Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.”

“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church,” Bonhoeffer wrote. “Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices.”

“In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered,” he added. “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

We must ignore the calls for cheap grace today, especially from those who refuse to apologize for their partisan hypocrisy and lies. And no amount of ellipses can hide the biblical call for truth-telling, accountability, and justice before reconciliation can begin.