The name of Socrates has often been accompanied by a peculiar epithet, that of “gadfly.” A gadfly is a fly with a deep bite, the kind a horse or cow tries to swish away with its tail, but that keeps coming back. “Gadfly” can also refer to a person who provokes others to action by criticizing their ways or beliefs. Socrates was a gadfly, because he condemned his society’s skewed views of justice and morality.
Another gadfly once eloquently explained the importance of gadflies:
“Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.
One of My Gadfly Moments
I’m struck by the importance of gadflies of racial justice and harmony. I need to feel the pain of unlove, segregation, and racism in the church and in my own heart. I need what MLK describes by “direct action”:
“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”
At college, I was a resident assistant on my dorm floor. Every day I walked down my hallway and passed the doors of two of my brothers, one black and one white. The white brother had a confederate flag on his door. I never gave it any thought, until one night when one of my supervisors called my phone: “Did you know that one of your residents has a confederate flag on his door? Why haven’t you done anything about it? You need to get off this phone and take care of it now.”
After I talked with my white brother and he removed the flag, I sat down with my black brother and asked some questions. I’ll never forget him saying, “Every day I’ve walk past that flag, and every day I feel the weight of oppression and hate.”
That night I was given a gadfly moment. Like the horsefly’s bite wakes up the sleepy animal, I was bitten sharply and stirred in my slumber.
Negotiating the Tension of the Election
One of the greatest opportunities given to the Church in the presidential election is the chance to experience a “creative tension” that forces us to face issues we have “consistently refused to negotiate.” In other words, we in the Body of Christ have been given the chance to empathetically enter into each other’s particular burdens. I’ll give two examples.
One of the burdens many Christians have taken up is the right of the unborn to live. Earlier this year, this cause was championed in the video exposé of Planned Parenthood. As a result, many Christians’ consciences were burdened to vote a particular way in the election. Before we cast stones at them (e.g., for being “single-issue” voters), wouldn’t it be just and harmonious to first seek to understand their motives, and perhaps to, along with them, value and champion the same cause they took up? Though individual members of the Body may disagree about the best ways and means to defend the rights of the unborn, we can and must affirm the interests and particular burdens of all who seek to defend them.
Another particular burden born by many Christians in this election season has been summarized in the statement that “Black Lives Matter.” Can’t all of us who share in Christ’s death and resurrection affirm this truth? Before we try to qualify (and thus neutralize) it by responding that “All Lives Matter,” wouldn’t it be just and harmonious to first seek to understand the motives for this statement, and to value and champion the truth it proclaims? (See Tyler Huckabee’s article “The Problem with Saying ‘All Lives Matter’: There’s a difference between ‘true’ and ‘helpful’”.)
Our intention is not to drive a wedge between believers in Christ, but to express our longing for unity, harmony, and justice for all. According to Philippians 2:1-4, we are commanded to love the Body of Christ by setting one another’s interests above our own. But this cannot happen if one part of the Body refuses to acknowledge the injustice and oppression suffered by another part of the Body or vice versa.
It’s uncomfortable to do this—to put another person’s interests first, especially when they seem foreign or even opposed to your own. But our Savior died to make this happen (Eph. 2:14-16) and to empower you to “put on love” for the sake of “perfect harmony” (Col. 3:11-14). The gadflies of our culture can help remind us, but it’s our responsibility to do the deeds of justice and harmony, whether others remind us or not.
Let’s talk with the Lord about these things. Pour out your heart. Confess your blindness to the interests of others. Come before Him acknowledging that He is the Great Gadfly, the One you need to sting and raise you “from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”
Shoulder to Shoulder,
The 3:14 Team