Meek vs. weak

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Over the years, I have consistently received a certain type of criticism. Not that it is the only category of criticism that has come my way — but this particular one has been a regular occurrence throughout the years. The origin of it is most often from non-believers, nominal Christians, or believers who have a lack of knowledge about the Bible.

The criticism goes something like this” “I can’t believe that, as a man of the cloth, you …” or, “It shocks me that a minister would believe that …” or, “As a Christian minister you should keep silent on such things.”

In other words, if I voice an opinion that runs counter to the opinion of some of those in the categories above, it is often not the opinion that is attacked, it is my very person.

Christians, especially members of the clergy, are to be “nice,” “kind,” and most of all, “silent.” A number of people over the years have held that view and used that perspective to treat ministers as a doormat, believing them to be weak, rather than meek, and a bit cowardly at their core.

And, I have to admit, there have been times when I have bought into that way of thinking and allowed myself to be verbally, mentally, and spiritually abused — sometimes even by members of the churches I served.

But, referencing the Bible, while God called his people to be meek (“the meek shall inherit the earth”), he did not call them to be weak. In truth, the opposite call has been given.

Often, the divine directive extended to God’s people is to “be strong and courageous,” to “be not afraid,” to “be bold,” to “fight the good fight,” and so forth. The Church, and Christians — leaders in particular — are called to stand for biblical truth as they understand it.

For example, I believe that abortion is a moral and biblical issue, not merely a political and social one, although it is that to some people. Thus, I am an opponent of abortion and have stood my ground on that issue in the face of political opposition and the threat of arrest.

I believe that racism is a biblical and moral issue and, in 1983, declined to serve as the pastor of a church that manifested bigoted attitudes toward black people, even though they voted me in 100%.

I believe that same-sex relationships are biblical and moral issues, and so are all sexual relationships outside of marriage.

On the other hand, I have opinions about the 2nd Amendment, about vaccines, about capital punishment, religious conscientious objection, and a host of other issues that I believe are not clear biblical or moral issues (or that there are various interpretations of biblical examples), so I do not present sermons or church teachings about those.

I will respond if asked, but the opinion is mine and those who disagree are free to have their own thoughts without my getting emotionally entangled.

A number of books have been authored over the years on the subject of why men, much more than women, avoid the Church. One book, with an in-your-face- title is “Why Men Hate Going to Church.” Another is, “The Church Impotent.” Both are excellent reads and both make the case that much of the church has become feminized. That is, masculinity is ignored, devalued, and perhaps even suppressed.

I once visited a church out West for a conference in which the sanctuary walls were pink, the light fixtures were brass and glass chandeliers, the carpet was white and the trim was painted a cream color. A colleague asked me what I thought and I said, “It looks like a huge French bordello,” or what I imagine one would look like, anyway.

It doesn’t help when songs are sung that encourage people to “dance with Jesus.” That may be fine for some but most men do not see themselves doing the slow dance with a masculine God.

And that’s leads to another issue: Over time, Jesus has become portrayed as a weak, feminized, emaciated, pitiful, guru who is a sweet, precious, pushover who teaches good principles and never, ever offends anybody. And, of course, Christians are to follow this example. That view is a caricature that is the very opposite of the biblical Jesus.

The Old Testament is replete with passages that proclaim that “The Lord is a warrior,” or, “the Lord is with me like a dread champion,” and “the Lord your God in your midst is a victorious warrior.” And if people believe that Jesus is not a bold, masculine, confrontative entity (although one with sacrificial love and compassion), they need to read the Gospels and, especially, Revelation.

The church that values men, masculinity, and understands that, within every man, beats the heart of a potential warrior, will have more success in reaching and retaining men.

It is an interesting fact to me that all of my denomination’s clergy in Tennessee, and a strong minority of our clergy in Georgia have either military or law enforcement backgrounds. And those who do not are strong leaders and “real men,” if I can use that term without being blasted by the “woke” folks.

They are all loving, compassion, nice, and kind people — no no one walks all over any of them, inside the church or out.

Of course, it follows that the Church is to mimic this weak caricature of Jesus and always just be “nice, and kind” and, above all, silent in the face of wrong-doing. It is true that most of the correction given in the New Testament is directed toward fellow believers. For example:

“Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.” Titus 3:10-11 NIV

Pretty strong language and no subtlety. The Apostle Paul writing to the church at Corinth points out the sexual sin of a member and advocated strong action, which the church takes.

So, no, Christians do not have to lose their voice or their beliefs when face to face with wrong or evil, wherever it is found. Most martyrs throughout history were not murdered simply for their beliefs but because those beliefs they held were seen as a threat to the political or religious status quo.

Society, as it always has, tries to diminish and denigrate people and institutions of faith that they deem threatening to the social order. And, sadly, many churches and denominations have caved in to the pressure and have been conformed to the world.

Those who persist in traditional, historic practices, values and beliefs are told to “just be nice, just be kind, sit down, and shut up.”

Years ago, I was a vice-president in a certain political party in the county where I lived. I was a delegate to the state convention. Yet, politics, even within the local party, was hard-ball, mean, nasty, and aggressive.

One lady, a member of the party, said, “I don’t see how you, a man of the cloth, can be part of something like this.” In this case, it was not an attempt to get me to shut up. It was a sincere observation.

She was correct. In my role as a spiritual father and shepherd, I concluded it was not for me. I withdrew from leadership and have never engaged in that type of political action since. That’s not to say that I don’t vote and support candidates, because I do. But their principles and policies are far important to me than the party they represent.

So, yes, I am a man of the cloth, a minister of Christ, and most people who know me, I think, would say that I am a loving, caring, compassionate person. Not everyone would agree, especially those I have had to confront.

It is said of Moses, who was described as a “meek man,” that, “Before God, he bowed like a reed in the wind but, before the people, he stood as strong as an oak tree.”

I strive to be meek. But no man, no Christian, certainly no church, should embrace being weak. After all, there is a difference and the one we follow, and the one we serve, is a warrior.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). The church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]

18 COMMENTS

  1. After reading Rev. Epp’s essay and the replies, it appears that everyone’s Jesus is whatever he/she wants him to be. It seems that one’s interpretation of this holy figure is more a Rorschach of the interpreter than some discernment of a defined historical personality. Perhaps that is just religion’s role: to justify rather than to instruct.

    • Hi Stranger Than Fiction–
      I think there is probably some truth in your observations.
      That is, I’m sure we envision a Divinity that we are comfortable
      approaching.
      Personally , I trust She is generous enough not to mind; just so as long as we DO approach!

    • I agree with Suz: the Divine Mystery, as best I can tell, encourages us to choose the God who best serves our needs at the moment. The Bible seems to be a picture of a segment of humanity working out its relationship with the deity, presenting many beautiful and some ugly views of God. The point seems to be to engage, to find the God who lifts you up — and then I would hope, encourage you to lift up others.

  2. Father Epps–
    With all due respect, it seems to me that the One you portray as
    “the one we follow, and the one we serve” is not Jesus, but yourself.

    Jesus as a “warrior”? Not in my opinion. There is a big difference between being strong and being violent. Questioning rather than conquering. Largesse rather than rigidity.

    Mark Twain is credited with saying, “God created man in his own image and man, being a gentleman, returned the favor.”
    I wonder if you envision the One who described Himself “meek
    and lowly” as the star of his high school football team, decorated
    Marine, law enforcement chaplain, and self-proclaimed gun owner?
    There is nothing at all wrong with any of these things. And perhaps they qualify you as being a “warrior”.
    But Jesus was better than that. As were so many other men of
    peace who truly followed His example.

    • Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) is not credited with that phrase by anyone who is serious. Those are the words of Voltaire from his Notebooks (1735-1750). “Si Dieu nous a faits à son image, nous le lui avons bien rendu,” or literally “if God has made us in his image, we have given it back to him.” The great irony in that Voltaire (who aside from Friedrich Nietzsche, may be the greatest critic of Christianity history has known) was talking about heretics who reject the complex construction of the Biblical Jesus and substitute their own low-resolution static caricature of Him. I believe you call it the “historical Jesus” or some similar nonsense?

      Jesus was a warrior in multiple definitions of the word. And for the small portion of the concept of a warrior which encapsulates actual violence, there are plenty of examples of Jesus doing so in the Bible. Jesus, being the most perfect one to have walked the Earth, leveraged the full range of human emotions in His ministry, and he did so perfectly. If that makes you uncomfortable, then pick some other religion to riff on. I hear the Pastafarians are recruiting again.

      • PTCitizen–
        I disagree with the concept that Jesus was in any way war-like (a warrior). I think He
        is taught in that light to rationalize our own less than charitable behavior. We weaponize the word of God and disregard the Word of God.

        I apologize if I seem to “riff ” on any religion. As a follower of the Universal
        Christ I endeavor to see and honor Him in
        all belief systems that encapsulate One
        Love.
        Perhaps “Pastafarians” who love are just as acceptable to God as warrior Christians.
        (Yes. I know you think the supremacy of
        Universal Love/Christ is heresy).

        I maintain the championing of warriors as following Jesus’ teachings or example
        is simply wrong.

      • I hear Fr Epps and PTCitizen saying over and over that “Jesus was a warrior,” but the only concrete example I see them providing is that he drove the moneychangers from the temple. From what I can read, it seems his main goal in this act was to disrupt commerce. He put the kibosh on capitalism, in the name of God. Is this what warriors usually do? No. Warriors usually fight other warriors. So whatever that example of Jesus’ righteous indignation was, it wasn’t the act of a warrior.

        Fr Epps defends his position with a lot of verses from the Old Testament, but we do not see Jesus portraying any of these warrior-jealous-refining fire characteristics, so there’s no reason to say, “Jesus was a warrior.” If he were a warrior, we would not have seen his naked body bleeding out on the cross. Right? Was Jesus capable of being a warrior? Sure, if we believe Jesus of Nazareth was the embodiment of the Divine Mystery, I guess he could have been a cumquat or a seahorse or a warrior or anything he liked. But was he, in fact, war-like? No.

        It’s fine to be a warrior, or a policeman, or a Marine, and you can do so and follow Jesus, I imagine. But don’t say that’s what he was, because patently he wasn’t. The only testament we have of Jesus of Nazareth as he walked this earth are the 4 gospels, and none of them casts him as a warrior. They cast him as a sacrifice, a man who surrendered who gave in to death on the cross without a fight.

        This whole idea of warrior Jesus is anti-biblical and, dare I say, anti-Christian? It actually comes from the wrong turn the church took when it became the religion of the empire and began converting enemies at the point of a sword. Those were warrior Christians, and they were dead set against First Century Christianity. Choose you this day whom you will serve …

        • Your entire premise is organized around a complete and utter misapprehension of the word “warrior”. Yet impressively, without having ever consulted a dictionary, you proceeded to bloviate across four entire paragraphs.

          Rarely have I seen anyone so dedicated to being wrong. I’m actually impressed.

          • PTCitizen–
            Oh for heaven’s sake.
            Apparently you use the dictionary in the same way in which you treat Holy Scripture (not to mention
            reference materials on variations and origins of popular quotes). That is,
            you keep looking until you discover what supports your views.

            I agree with Vjax–
            “The whole idea of warrior* Jesus is anti-
            Biblical and, dare I say, anti-Christian?”.

            * Warrior–soldier, fighter.
            from Old French guerreior
            “make war”.

            That is according to my Dictionary; I’m sure you will have another that you
            prefer.

            We are engaged in an exchange of opinions; not
            one-upmanship.

          • “That is, you keep looking until you discover what supports your views.”

            [Cherry picks a definition which least fits the context in which the word was applied rather than admit that they were without basis to criticize the original poster.]

          • “without ever having consulted a dictionary,” says PTCitizen, and they are right, I never consulted a dictionary to look up the definition of the word “warrior.” I thought I knew what it was.

            At PTC’s behest, I consult the “Oxford Languages,” and discover warrior to be “(especially in former times) a brave or experienced soldier or fighter.” OK, Jesus can be that, He is certainly brave. So brave that he spoke not a word when he was falsely accused, allowed himself to be beaten, mocked, spit on, and then crucified. He absorbed all the evil of the world, if we read our faith that way, and rather than striking back, he let it go and returned to us only love. That does, indeed, take a brave fighter, a warrior of love, if you will.

            Now that we have consulted the dictionary (and thank you, PTC for the tip), let’s compare this definition of Jesus, Warrior of Love, with the “warrior” Fr Epps declares Jesus is …

            He says, “All of my denomination’s clergy in Tennessee, and a strong minority of our clergy in Georgia have either military or law enforcement backgrounds … They are all loving, compassion, nice, and kind people — no one walks all over any of them, inside the church or out.” Huh. I get the impression Jesus, in addition to being compassionate and kind, did in fact let people walk all over him. Weird right?

            It’s almost like Jesus had no military or police background, did let people walk all over him, and … “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

            OK yes, I will allow it: Jesus was indeed a Warrior of Love, whose weapons were meekness and surrender, whose methods were as far from police and military as you can get.

            So glad PTC recommended that dictionary. Next I may look up “Bloviate” just to be sure when it’s appropriate to use that $10-word in conversation!

            And a tip of the hat to Suz for …”We are engaged in an exchange of opinions; not one-upmanship.” But keep in mind, Suz, when you’re a warrior Christian EVERYTHING is one-upsmanship!

  3. I love religion! As I’m reading your interpretations of the definition of the work “meek”. I do live the “Middle English” version. Just curious, when do you stop trying to guess at what somebody wrote down 2000 year ago. Are you suggesting that they knew better, when the average lifespan was 35 years old and you died from an ingrown toe nail. That is the problem with all religions, no real word, and no through understanding, only interpretive babbling over the use of one particular word, or phrase. Oh and then a side insult like, you should read the bible more, but not the King James version, or the modern version, or Old Aunt Millie’s version. Give me a break! What would Jesus do! Let me guess probably the same thing Old Aunt Millie did, nothing!

  4. The Bible is clear we are part of this world, that is why I am an Independent, choosing the best available. ◄ Romans 13:1 ►Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

  5. Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting. In the OT, the meek are those wholly relying on God rather than their own strength to defend them against injustice. Thus, meekness toward evil people means knowing God is permitting the injuries they inflict, that He is using them to purify His elect, and that He will deliver His elect in His time. (Is. 41:17, Lu. 18:1-

  6. This is one of those cases where people have not truly studied their bible. (Modern translations aren’t helping.) The Middle English word “meek” means gentle and mild. But the Greek word it’s paired with, “praus” (πραεῖς), really means “strength under control”, and denotes that a person exercising praus would otherwise pose a danger. In the beatitudes in particular, Jesus is communicating that those who will inherit the Earth are those who are capable of violence, but choose peace. This is consistent elsewhere in both Old and New Testament passages where God favors those who follow His law and His Commandments instead of acting out of their own passions.

    It’s also worth pointing out that when people ask “What Would Jesus Do”, tossing furniture and beating the heck out of people is an option. As the merchants and money changers in the temple…