(Canon J John) Words of caution about the ‘woke’ revolution

A second word of caution concerns attitudes of wokeness. I find a troubling naivety within the movement with its apparent view that sexism only occurs with men, and racism only with white people. The sad reality is that all human beings have a tendency to be unjust to others. As the Bible says well, ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23 NIV). This means that all human beings treat other human beings unfairly. All of us love others inadequately in our personal lives and in our political and communal structures. Studies show that all human beings hold some form of conscious or unconscious bias. It is part of the fallen and broken world which goes against God’s original design of perfect love for all. We need to acknowledge that division and bias runs through every human heart. As I have often said, ‘At the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.’

My third area of caution is the motives of wokeness. At the heart of the woke movement seems to be a bitter mindset that delights in finding breaches of its moral code. The fuel for wokeness often seems to be anger: something seen not just in violent demonstrations but in the hunting out and pursuit of offenders. Journalists, executives, celebrities and even preachers increasingly find themselves carefully checking what they write or say, lest those committed to a woke ideology slander them on social media and then at their door. People are tagged as either ‘woke’ or ‘unwoke’ and are not seen as whole, complex human beings with moral and immoral biases. This kind of generalisation about a person is the very posture ‘wokeness’ decries.

I offer a word of caution on the actions of wokeness. With some justification, wokeness has been criticised for mainly being words and not actions. Certainly, while there’s much to be said for evaluating the sins of the past with justice there’s much more to be said for seeking to remedy the sins of the present with grace. Although in theory I applaud the demands for reparations over past historic injustices, I find them problematic in practice. Let me give an example. I am a Greek Cypriot, and over history Cyprus has been looted, colonised and oppressed by Romans, Arabs, Turks and the British. So who do we Cypriots take to court? What is needed is for us to come together to work for a more just society today. We need to repent of the past and then work for a more just society. Followers of Jesus should be on the front line of speaking out against racism, disparity and oppression.

The message of wokeness calls on all people and the whole of society to treat every human being with love, dignity and justice (which, paradoxically, is something they are not doing). This reconciling message lies at the very heart of God, exemplified in the person of Jesus. In this sense we all should be awakened and we also need to acknowledge that there are significant aspects missing in the woke movement. Jesus’ final prayer was that his followers would all be one … one human race, one human family, one church. This requires speaking the truth in love and an abundance of patience and grace.

Ultimately, then, I feel that wokeness needs to be greeted by wariness. Although it has much that is good in it I cannot help but sense that at its heart lies an aching void. The concept of ‘being woke’ is an attempt to create moral boundaries but without God.

Read it all.


Posted in Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), Ethics / Moral Theology, Ministry of the Ordained, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology