Paul's Writings and Respectability Politics
Hi friends! Over the course of this year, I gave myself the task of reading the entire New Testament. And while I was reading through all of those books I noticed a pattern emerging within Paul's writings to the first churches. Much of what Paul is telling the first church to do has to do with respectability politics. And if you don't understand what respectability politics means, here is Dictionary.com's definition and example: "a set of beliefs holding that conformity to prescribed mainstream standards of appearance and behavior will protect a person who is part of a marginalized group, especially a Black person, from prejudices and systemic injustices: Black respectability politics embraces the illusion of a level economic playing field. Respectability politics place blame on groups already hindered by discrimination." As I began to go through Paul's rules of how Christians should behave, you can see this way of thinking being sprinkled into every line that he gave. For example, I'll show Titus chapter 2.
But you must teach what agrees with sound doctrine. 2 Instruct the older men to be sober, sensible, and self-controlled; to be sound in their faith, love, and endurance. 3 In the same way instruct the older women to behave as women should who live a holy life. They must not be slanderers or slaves to wine. They must teach what is good, 4 in order to train the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, and to be good housewives who submit themselves to their husbands, so that no one will speak evil of the message that comes from God.6 In the same way urge the young men to be self-controlled. 7 In all things you yourself must be an example of good behavior. Be sincere and serious in your teaching. 8 Use sound words that cannot be criticized, so that your enemies may be put to shame by not having anything bad to say about us.9 Slaves are to submit themselves to their masters and please them in all things. They must not talk back to them 10 or steal from them. Instead, they must show that they are always good and faithful, so as to bring credit to the teaching about God our Savior in all they do.11 For God has revealed his grace for the salvation of all people. 12 That grace instructs us to give up ungodly living and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this world, 13 as we wait for the blessed Day we hope for, when the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ[a] will appear. 14 He gave himself for us, to rescue us from all wickedness and to make us a pure people who belong to him alone and are eager to do good.15 Teach these things and use your full authority as you encourage and rebuke your hearers. Let none of them look down on you.
Titus 2:1-15 GNT
Now upon reading this chapter, the traits within themselves are not necesarily negative or incorrect to follow. However, the reasoning for this behavior is what worries me. I understand that this passage was written during the forming of the early church so Christians during this time were marginalized and sometimes murdered for their beliefs. Paul was probably thinking mostly of their safety when writing this. But to me, this has similar echoes to how Black people are treated in society today. During the civil rights movement, many Black people clung to this idea of respectability as sort of a saving grace from being discriminated against. And there are some Black people who still believe in this today. However, many Black people are fully aware that respectability politics don't get you anywhere. And all it gives you is a robbing of your personality for not even an inch of equality to white people. Wanting to be a better person in order to honor Jesus is a wonderful thing, but if you start to place your identity into the validation of others, then babey you are going to have to EXPECT turmoil. The only person that anyone should seek approval from is the Lord, because these human beings will NEVER satisfy you.
So if anyone ever has Paul's writings thrown back on them because they are deemed to be too loud or too much or too whatever; remember that God created you to be exactly as you are! And your personality serves a purpose! Don't let nobody try to use these scriptures to dim your light! These scripture were written at a time and place where being a Christian could get you killed. We are past that time now (at least in the United States); but even if we weren't, be yourself and share your truth as loudly as you want to be!
“I am not looking for human praise."
John 5:41 GNT
42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue;43 for they loved human praise more than praise from God.
John 12:42-43 NIV