Why Centrism Is Off the Path!

Whether it’s politics, theology, or one’s official stance on Justin Bieber, it seems the growing sentiment is that being a centrist is always the right way to go. Given that option, or the other which is being labeled a radical or extremist, it seems like a pretty obvious answer, right?

Wrong!

Since when did being in the middle of the pack all of a sudden mean you were closest to being right.  A boring, vanilla, mainstream, dominant, popular, status quo perspective has never, and further more, will never mean you got it right on a particular subject. For example, when my ancestors were being brought from Africa as slaves, and the majority of Western Europe baptized it as morally fine, did that centrist view make it right?  In fact, it seems that during many of the most horrific events of history, the most centrist thing to do has been to apathetically turn a blind eye to the inhumane treatment and silently go about one’s personal business with minimal resistance against the wrongdoers.  No I am sorry, the centrist middle path hardly gets you anywhere.

You know what the Apostle Paul, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois, Deitrick Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr, and Cornel West have in common? None of them were centrists, in fact each one of them would be best understood as radicals or extremists for their times. I know what your thinking “now wait a minute, I wouldn’t use extremist or radical to describe them, I save that category for nutjubs, terrorists, and bigots”. Immoral and crazy people very well might be radicals or extremists, I am not arguing that. The question that matters is not if they are radical, but rather to what are they radical? Are you radical about love, justice, mercy, equality, and human dignity? Those things ought not have a limit which caps them by the norm expressions of the larger society. Radicalism and extremism are not only acceptable but are made perfect when they have found their appropriate home.

As a Christian I ultimately look to Jesus as the model for life.  He surely was no centrist. His way was so different from every contemporary tradition that existed (Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes) that the only honest way to describe him would be as an extremist or radical. Calling others to laydown and sacrifice their life for others is radical. Telling people to take up their cross to die as they follow him is radical. Expecting people to be willing to leave home and family for his sake is radical.  Shoot, loving your neighbor as yourself and turning the other cheek when someone hits you just seems plain crazy because Jesus was a radical.

Being centrist, mainstream, and working out your morality by popular consensus will always take you down the wide path of comfort, if that is what you are looking for. But I reject centrism in search of that narrow, unbeaten path where great radicals are shaped and formed

Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

 

 

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6 comments

  1. korean racing girls · January 28, 2011

    Reduce the complexity of life by eliminating the needless wants of life, and the labors of life reduce themselves.

  2. jlundewhitler · January 29, 2011

    I’m with you on our call as Christians to be willing to take the narrow road. In calling out “centrism,” however, I think there should be a distinction between attempting to think/do what is most popular, and committing oneself to examine nuance and to look at other’s opinions as objectively as possible. While the former is cowardice, the latter is a noble pursuit, imo, and is necessary in our world rife with extremist viewpoints. Further, committing to nuance means, in the end, more thoughtful and humble conviction as we attempt to traverse that “narrow path” of Jesus.

    • Drew Hart · January 31, 2011

      Jlundewhitler,
      Thanks for responding. I definitely agree that having the ability to demonstrate nuance, critical thinking, and as much as humanly possible for finite people, objectivity as well. I guess my critique is not necessarily meant to push people away from listening and trying to understand and empathize with people ideologically opposed to them. My concern is that many seem to think that best place to be is always in the middle of two opposing popular positions. My problems with that approach is that both positions could be problematic.

      For example, I think that both the republican and democratic party in my eyes are problematic. Neither seem to address the real needs and concerns of black urban residents (despite the democratic party’s popularity in the black communnity). The answer to this problem is not finding some type of happy medium the two parties, I think some radical measures are needed. This does not mean that I should stop trying to understand where conservative republicans or progressive democrats are coming from, but it does mean that I am willing to stand alone if necessary, because my concerns are not being addressed by the dominant cultures options.

      I could say the same thing about conservative and liberal theology… but I think you probably get where I am coming from now. I love nuance, and chasing after objectivity (even if it can’t ever fully be attained).

  3. jlundewhitler · January 31, 2011

    I figured we were on the same page here re: nuance. 🙂 If I may, I think we’d also both agree that oftentimes the best solution is not picking between two sides (oftentimes the lesser of two evils) but in transcending the dichotomous conversations by going an entirely different direction. In the context of your post, we could say that taking the “middle path” (i.e., “centrism”) is often inferior to taking a “third path” that transcends the dichotomy. It’s by following Jesus, further, that we so take a perceived dichotomy into a third dimension. Fair?

    I only made the distinction originally because of the tendency of some to assume that a willingness to hear and to listen to others signifies a “wishy-washiness” of conviction. The other part of my concern is how those attempting to follow Christ can manage to make connection and conversation with those fighting the battles of Western culture, and how we can both affirm and stand against aspects of viewpoints and actions (e.g., when government passes just or unjust laws, respectively), all while still refusing to play by the same-old rules…. (I have some ideas on how to do this, but I certainly haven’t discovered a “solution,” if there is one.)

    • Drew Hart · February 1, 2011

      Yeah, I think we are on the same page now. Thanks for the discussion!

  4. Rolanda Purtlebaugh · February 2, 2011

    This weblog appears to get a great deal of visitors. How do you get traffic to it? It gives a nice individual twist on things. I guess having something authentic or substantial to talk about is the most important thing.

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