From the Daily Office Lectionary for Monday in the week of RCL Proper 10B (Pentecost 7, 2015)
Acts 11:26 – “…. and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians’.”
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the power of naming or, more accurately, name-calling. ~ That is the origin of the term “Christian,” after all. The followers of Jesus did not use this term of themselves; they simply called themselves “followers of the Way.” It was their neighbors and detractors who first called them “Christian,” and there is some evidence that the word used was actually “Chrestian,” note the “e” rather than an “i” in the first syllable. This is not simply an orthographic error; this variant spelling has its own meaning, something like “Goody Two-Shoes”…. The early followers of Jesus held themselves to a high ethical code and so their neighbors believed they may have thought themselves better than others; they made fun of them as excessively virtuous do-gooders. The Christians, however, embraced the epithet, changed its spelling, and made it their own. ~ Name-calling has been on my mind because of the experience of a teenage girl in my parish who’s been the brunt of some particularly vicious bullying and obscene name-calling at school. When she made a complaint to a teacher, the response from the school authorities was to suggest to her and to her parents that she should dress “less provocatively” (she doesn’t dress any differently than others of her age and class, by the way). ~ Years ago it was pretty common to hurl the word “queer” at contemporaries who were suspected of being homosexual, but like the Christians of Antioch the LGBT community has embraced the epithet and made it their own. My young parishioner cannot do that; the name-calling being hurled in her direction is simply irredeemable. ~ This is not a case where the victim can take positive action of that sort. But it is a case where the church can take action; if nothing else, as her parish priest I can write a letter of protest to her school authorities, and stand by her and her parents as they wend their way through the bureaucratic nightmare of victim-blaming that is so often the response to bullying in our public schools. That’s one small step in combatting a very big problem. The church as an institution needs to do more. We need to live up to the Antiochene epithet; we need to be excessively virtuous do-gooders in opposition to irredeemable name-calling!