I’ve been reflecting on why passive-aggressive relational postures seem to be pervasive among American evangelicals. There are likely dozens of reasons why this is the case. I’ll only mention two, however, in trying to capture what makes our culture tick and why the notion of cruciformity (living in the shape of the cross) gets confused.
I’m reflecting on middle-class evangelical culture because it’s the culture I inhabit. I naturally share my culture’s destructive and manipulative tendencies and subtle grasping after power and leverage in relationships. Exposing these tendencies through critical self-reflection can help us discern how to cultivate fruitful and life-giving relational dynamics.
Yesterday I mentioned the tendency of American middle-class white people to use indirect speech.
A second factor has to do more specifically with evangelical church culture. It seems to me that many Christians uncritically assume that pure passivity is virtuous.
That is, we assume that when someone insults or injures us, the virtuous thing to do is . . . to do nothing. If a social interaction goes badly, or if someone offends us, we tend not to say anything in the moment. We bury our feelings, perhaps even denying them.
We feel we need “to just let it go.” Or, we need to “just get over it.” Perhaps we should “turn the other cheek.”
Again, there’s likely a variety of factors that shape us as passive people, but in my opinion our culture of passivity in general fosters the illusion that cruciformity has much in common with passive-aggressive postures.
Such pure passivity, however, can often be selfish, destructive, and have nothing to do with cruciformity.
When we respond to an insult simply by not responding, we typically grow angry and resentful, developing a victim mentality. This fuels bitterness and malicious feelings, which then bear bad fruit in gossip, slander, the destruction of relationships, and the breakdown of community.
Further, because we assume that direct speech is either rude or sinful, we imagine that directly addressing the issue would be unkind or unchristian.
But pure passivity isn’t necessarily virtuous. It may be that such a posture is driven by fear, self-protection, lack of trust, or moral laziness.
And while cruciformity may at times look passive, it more often demands that we take the initiative to approach someone purposefully, strategically, and creatively in seeking a redemptive solution to a relational challenge.
At any rate, before getting into cruciform alternatives to passive-aggressive relational strategies, I wanted to explore a few reasons why such postures flourish in the soil of middle-class evangelical churches.
What other cultural features and factors do you think foster passive-aggressive relational strategies?