Trauma Porn & Evangelism

*Sigh*

“Finally. I can return to social media.”

That’s probably what many POC were saying after being bombarded with violent imagery in every story, every repost and every video they were sent for months. But I personally don’t believe that POC will ever recover from the emotional beating of seeing black and brown bodies brutalised for months on end because people were trying to drive home a point about racism in our society. Trauma porn has since remained a serious problem, whereby people are equating the dispersion of violent images to actual activism.

Of course, violence and suffering can be an effective tool in stirring up emotions. It gets people feeling scared, angry, sick, guilty. But is it loving to rally up support by emotionally manipulating your followers when those suffering are the community that you’re trying to protect? Those you’re trying to convince may support the cause on an emotional high, but then, as seen with the Black Lives Matter protests last year, the emotional high runs out. We are left questioning where the support went, whilst people affirm to themselves that they are good people because they cried about racial injustices one time and attended a protest. The bottom line is that you don’t need to share violent images to raise awareness of an issue. Would you go into a ward of terminally ill patients and video their deaths to raise awareness of various terminal illnesses?

Now that we’ve addressed contemporary trauma porn, let’s look within the four walls of the church.

Bringing Jesus into this (because this is a blog about Him), I’ve noticed that the church has a problem with engraining trauma porn into its evangelism. We love to depict His blood stained garments, His pierced hands and feet, the 39 lashes on His flesh, the crown of thorns – we have been accustomed to moving people to tears in reminder of this traumatic imagery of our battered and bloodied Saviour. Worse yet, you have pamphlet evangelism where the gospel isn’t explained but posters of people suffering in hell are handed out (useless if you ask me). But I think that weaponising Jesus’ suffering (whilst not as problematic as contemporary trauma porn) can propose a huge problem to the church:

We end up building the church on the foundation of feelings.

Don’t get me wrong here. I am not opposed to reminding ourselves of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. I cry every time I think about it and have a deeper appreciation for His sacrifice when I study the depth of His physical suffering before and during His crucifixion. The Passion of the Christ moved me to tears after I gave my life to Christ at 17. But I recall The Passion of the Christ also moving me to tears when I was 8 years old and not a believer at the time. It didn’t compel me to turn to Christ, or to move away from my sin; all I did was cry. But I imagine that I would’ve also cried if Gary from down the road was being tortured and crucified too because a) I was 8 at the time and b) crucifixion is a brutal way to die and c) witnessing anyone die would be traumatic at any age. So, violent images of Christ can stir us to a deeper appreciation of Him, but they need to be backed with an understanding of the gospel so that we don’t just traumatise people.

The emotional side of the Christian experience holds valid weight and people can be moved towards sanctification by their feelings about Jesus’ sacrifice, but it cannot be relied on as the basis of faith when we progress because our feelings can change. What happens when those feelings run out? People recover from their emotional high. They get sober. And they leave the church. They leave God’s gift of grace that they never truly experienced because they received the counterfeit. It’s important that we stand on the solid foundation that is the gospel.

What does it look like to strike a balance between facts and feeling in navigating the gospel?

I personally thought of it as how the gospel is internalised. If we return to Christ’s death, there are two ways to approach it. We can acknowledge that it happened. We can study the accounts of His death and make sense of the event from a purely physical account. Or, we can have an emotional approach where we build up an attitude of guilt and hurt about His death. But neither of the approaches work alone: physical accounts remove the personal aspect of His death and emotional accounts centre His death around us and not around Him, when the gospel and the wider bible is all about Him.

Let’s marry the two by adopting a Spirit-led approach, where we understand His death and its spiritual implications and are led not to futile remorse but to a genuine change of heart in response. Because the gospel ought to have personal meaning to us as Christians, but that meaning shouldn’t get you worked up and stop there. The gospel should give Jesus significance in our personal lives. He ought to be elevated and praised. The truth of the matter is that the battered and bloodied images of Jesus is only half of the story, and he no longer hangs on a cross with a brutalised body, but sits at the right hand of the Father.

Let’s tell the whole story.

-Pepper

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