There Are Really Two Kinds of “No”

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

Bishop Robert Barron is the Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles and probably the most active Catholic leader on social media. His YouTube videos on a host of topics have enriched and strengthened Christians everywhere. I am indebted to Father Barron for pointing out that there are two kinds of “no” in the world. It is such an important insight, I thought it would be helpful to explore it on my blog and get reactions.

The problem we face as Christians is that culture has portrayed itself as progressive and forward looking while the church is often viewed as backward, finger wagging, and, generally speaking, grumpy about everything. We are the ones who always seem to be saying “No” to everything. I have argued for years that in a post-Christian culture it is increasingly important for the church to make it clear not simply what we are against, but what we are for. We must always cast the vision of the positive, grand, life-giving realities in Christ. This takes time and patience, which are on short supply in our day. Therefore, even with this charge, we still find ourselves in a “sound bite” world which wants to know in one word whether we are for same sex marriage, or supportive of transgenderism, or, more recently, how we feel about the growing movement in transableism.

Transableism, sometimes referred to as BIID (Bodily Integrity Identity Disorder) refers to those people who purposely disable themselves because they want to have only one arm, or they want to be blind, and so forth. Thoughtful Christians have pointed out for years that the real battle before the church today is not fundamentally about sex, but about the human body. We must find avenues to explore more deeply our affirmation of our bodily creation and turn from the destructive self-gaze which has entrapped this culture in a multitude of alarming ways. However, we find ourselves in a seemingly never-ending chorus of “no” to whatever is coming down the cultural pipeline. The church is not serving this culture well by simply affirming whatever anyone wants to do.

Father Barron points out, helpfully, that there are two kinds of “no” and it is important to distinguish between the two. The first kind of no is the destructive kind. If, for example, we are a racist and we don’t want to associate with someone of that race or religion, we might find ways to say “no” to that person and exclude them in a wide variety of ways. This is the “no” of fear, such as closing our hearts and doors to refugees, or arming ourselves. This is the destructive kind of “no” for which we must seek redemption.

But, there is another kind of no. This is a no to another no, i.e. it is a no to some kind of destructive behavior. As parents we all understand how important it is to say “no” to a plethora of behaviors which are destructive to our flourishing or a departure from God’s wonderful design. Saying “no” to a “no” is really in service to a higher “yes.” We say “No” because we embrace human flourishing under God’s rule and reign. A “no” to a “no” becomes a kind of double negative and therefore is really a resounding “yes.” When we say “no” to any kind of distortion of God’s plan or design, it is really a powerful “yes.”

So, the next time you find yourself having to, once again, say “no” to our culture’s mad dash towards self-destruction, remember that you are really aligning yourself with God’s great “Yes” in Jesus Christ!

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