Kanye’s Argument

You may have heard about Kanye’s on-stage outburst in Melbourne, Australia. You know, the one where he stopped his entire show and refused to continue performing until every single person in the arena stood on their feet—including one with a prosthetic limb and one in a wheelchair. Yes, that one. The one where after seeing the individual in a wheelchair, he reportedly still refused to continue his show without first sending his security guard into the crowd to confirm the person was genuinely disabled.

Several days later, Kanye said the incident was misinterpreted (which may be the case) and presented himself as a “married Christian man with a family” and merely a media victim. In doing so he added, “We got Americans getting killed on TV; we have kids getting killed every week in Chicago; we have unarmed people being killed by police officers…” Though West did not state it directly, he appeared to be appealing to an argument many of us make , but none of us should.

Our Argument

The argument generally goes something like this: “How can you be so concerned about issue ‘A’ when we have issue ‘B’, ‘C’, and ‘D’ in the world, which are obviously much more serious!” For example, “How can you be so upset about my behavior in a concert when the world is filled with real and violent injustices?” Or, as I have heard several times in the past six weeks, “Why are people so concerned about what’s happening with Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill when our Christian brothers and sisters are being beheaded in the Middle East?”

The problem with this argument is not that it claims other issues are important. The problem is that it claims, in light of these other important issues, that the issue at hand should be ignored. This is a fallacy because God is not only concerned with certain evils or certain injustices. God is concerned with all evils and all injustices.  As his image-bearers, our concerns should reflect his.

Jesus’ Argument

Jesus teaches as much in his confrontation with religious leaders in Matthew 23:23. The Pharisees thought they were pleasing God because they tithed with perfection—even down to giving a tenth of their spices (imagine counting out 10% of your spice cabinet each week!). Yet Jesus rebukes them because they “neglected the more important matters of the law—­justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23). If we stop reading the text here it appears that Jesus is making the very argument I just claimed we should not make, “Tithing isn’t as important as justice, so stop worrying about tithing and go pursue justice.” But as we keep reading we see he’s actually doing the opposite. He says, “You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

Jesus acknowledges that the issues of justice, mercy, and faithfulness are more important than tithing your spice rack.  Yet that is not reason for the leaders to stop being concerned about tithing. Jesus expects them to be concerned about both justice and tithing. He expects them to do one without neglecting the other. In the same way, Christians should be very concerned about kids being killed in Chicago, while still expressing concern when influential celebrities act foolishly. Christians should be greatly troubled by their fellow-Christians being persecuted, while also being greatly troubled when nine pastors express concern about their church’s leadership culture.

We are not doing a disservice to God when we choose to care about things he cares about.  We do a disservice to God when we treat things he cares about as unimportant because we deem them less important.

Question for Reflection: What are some other ways you have heard this type of argument? How can you specifically express concern for one while not neglecting the other?