Recently I posed the question, "Is Jesus Yoke Woke?" on my social media page thread to an audience predominantly Christian.
My opening statement was, "Jesus asks us to carry his yoke not give into the woke."
This sparked a myriad of responses, some affirming, some opposing, and some down-right degrading.
I realize the initial post carries with it a lot of emotional weight, but I also know as believers in God's Word, making a cultural word equal to God's Word is dangerous.
Through the process, I did learn a lot and for that I am most grateful. I discovered very clearly that the original use of the word "woke" and its current usage are very different.
The origin and definition for woke is an adjective derived from African American Vernacular English meaning "alert to racial prejudice and discrimination".
Since 2010 this word has expanded and been somewhat hijacked by both liberal and conservative politics. Conservatives have started using the word to refer to anything that is pejorative (which is unfair) and liberals have used it to include any injustice in our society they perceive to be wrong even if the Bible speaks against such behaviour or lifestyle (which is inaccurate).
We as Christians stand in the middle of all of this and must make decisions that reflect the consistency of God's Word and the glory of Jesus Christ's compassion and holiness for the sake of the Gospel.
At Vanguard, the Southern Baptist Church I have pastored for the past 26 years, we are attempting to walk in alignment to Scripture and learn to love each other in our differences. I have always said, it is important to add a name and face to an issue, because this makes it easier to show love and respect to those who see it differently.
Four years ago, our predominantly white church hired a black worship pastor named Aaron McClain. He and I have been journeying in ministry as colleagues for the past four years which began just prior to Covid. Wow, we have walked through some deep tumultuous waters as a society and as a nation since then. At each turn we have looked for common ground and have attempted to see things through the eyes of the other, so we can grow in our love for others that see it differently than we do. And yet at the same time seek to agree and find common ground on what God's Word says.
We serve an unchanging God. And one of Pastor Aaron songs recently released by Tapestry worship addresses this.
Both liberal and conservative Christians, Pastor Aaron and I believe, have both hijacked the original meaning of the word "woke" and the word sadly no longer means what it meant.
Based on the original meaning of the word, Jesus' yoke is woke. Based on the expanded and progressive use of the word by both sides of the aisle, Jesus' yoke would no longer be woke.
All throughout the Gospels we see Jesus breaking down race and gender barriers.
Later even the Apostle Paul says to the Ephesian church, "For he (Jesus) himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility." (Ephesians 2:14)
That dividing wall of hostility was a racial wall between Jews and Gentiles. In essence Paul is saying, "Racial prejudice and discrimination has been torn down by Jesus forever."
In the story with the woman at the well, Jesus also models that the barrier between race and gender has been torn down. Listen to the interchange in John 4:
"Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Please give me a drink." He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.
"The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, "You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?"
Jesus shows in this one passage that the Gospel is for everyone. His yoke is to take upon ourselves the calling of Jesus to tear down the barriers of culture. So, why isn't Jesus' yoke woke?
Let me say again: what "woke" meant is Jesus' yoke. What "woke" means now for both liberal and conservative, is not the same as Jesus' yoke.
In my dialogue I asked pro-woke Christians to tell me if "woke" now includes accepting homosexuality, transgender, and gender modification as godly lifestyles. Outside of Pastor Aaron, I couldn't get anyone to answer me. No one wanted to draw a moral line. This is my Biblical concern about the progression of "woke" culture.
We live in a culture that wants us to bow down and worship words like "woke, nice, tolerance, and acceptance" while ignoring words like "holiness, repentance, moral standards, sin, guilt, shame, and separation from God." We also live in a society that wants to take something that was good like the original meaning of "woke" and ignore it and not address the systemic issues that are present in our society today. Racism and sexism are real and impact people's lives still today.
On matters of racism and sexism I find "woke" helpful and Biblical. On matters of sexuality, I find "woke" not helpful and unbiblical.
Being any race or female has never been a sin. Being homosexual, bi-sexual, pansexual, transgender, or gender modification has always been a sin to Jesus.
As believers in Jesus, the Gospel is that important. Like Jesus, let's tear down barriers instead of tearing down each other. Find someone who doesn't see it like you do but is anchored by God's Word, and listen - truly listen - you might be amazed at what you can learn. I know I have. Thanks, Pastor Aaron, for teaching me about woke! Love you, my friend.
Kelly Williams is co-founder and senior pastor of Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His books include: The Good Pastor, The Mystery of 23, Friend of Sinners and Real Marriage. He also maintains a blog.