On his way to be crucified, Jesus makes an eloquent statement to women who weep for Him. He tells the women not to weep for Jesus’s crucifixion, but rather for themselves and their own children. He says a day will come when everyone will regret ever having lived at all, because the judgment from God will be so bad. And he adds a line that can be interpreted in various ways: “for if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when the wood is dry?” (Luke 23:31)
I had reflected on that passage many times before I really knew what it meant. The deeper significance finally hit me shortly after I was fired last year from Southwestern Baptist. When you get fired the way I was fired, the ethical stakes are clear and unmistakable. The seminary claimed to be doing the work of Jesus Christ but the leaders had spent the better part of a year threatening me that I would lose my job if I continued to share my Christian witness. Acts 5 makes it pretty clear that this silencing of the Christian witness is in line with the bad guys of the New Testament. When it was clear my position had been eliminated because I was struck from the spring 2020 schedule, I spoke publicly about what they were doing, how they were suppressing the gospel while expecting Christians to believe they did godly work.
Nobody can accuse me of violating scripture by going public. I had followed Matthew 18 to a tee. I had spoken privately with my leaders, then brought two pastors as witnesses to a meeting on September 19, 2019. I had notified Adam Greenway by copying him on a key letter explaining the problems with how the provost was running meetings; Greenway never responded. When the seminary finally fired me, they claimed it was only due to changes in the undergraduate program. The recordings I had of meetings showed that the dean was speaking to me about future subject matter I would teach and both the dean and provost were talking to me, not about complaints from students or changes in programs, but rather about their insistence that I not write publicly about surviving homosexual abuse. It’s clear that the seminary was betraying its Christian mission, abusing its professors, engaging in terrible hypocrisy, and then using intimidation and defamation to cover up what they were doing.
The number of people who would not stick up for me is staggering. People in the Christian and conservative movements avoided me in large numbers.
There was no ambiguity in this case. People may disagree with how I handled my job in California, but in the case of this job in Texas, I was doing what God called me to do.
But people went along with the bad guys. Why? This brings us back to what Jesus Christ said. What is the difference between the time when the wood is green, and the time when the wood is dry? That might refer to the age of people, contrasting youth against the age at which people are ready to die. It might refer, rather, to the difference in people’s situations. Green wood refers to the time when you have abundance and prosperity, at least enough to provide you with some cushion in case you face a difficult challenge. Dry wood refers to the time when you have been depleted. At any moment you might catch fire, because you have no cushion; your time of abundance, if it ever existed, has passed.
When Jesus tells the weeping women to weep for themselves, he prompts them to reflect on a chronic weakness in human nature. We see evil around us and we accommodate it. We even go as far as joining in it, if it will benefit us. We don’t want to experience pain or discomfort, so we shrink from confrontation. That tendency will always give the upper hand to evil, because evil flourishes when humans are cowardly.
The women weep for Jesus, but Jesus is basically telling them that His suffering is nothing compared to what these women’s children will suffer. These women’s children are counted among the masses who did not stand up for Jesus and even went along with his oppressors. Either their malice or their cowardice made Jesus’s crucifixion possible. It is good that Jesus was crucified insofar as Jesus got to rise again and save us all from sin on the third day. But, as Jesus warns the women, the story does not end on the third day. A final judgment is coming.
As we see in the parable of the ten maidens in Matthew 25, people often defer their confrontation with evil. They assume that at some point later, they will be able to stand up to it. I remember when the new administration at Southwestern fired 25 of our colleagues in April 2019. I stood up to the firing in my own way by mentioning non-disclosure agreements in the resolution I submitted to the Southern Baptist Convention a few weeks later. My colleagues by and large said and did nothing to object to what was happening. Some told me that they would stand up when the time was right.
They did not stand up when the time was right. All these people in the SBC who retreated quietly when the battles came before them–the firing of Patterson, the pushing of critical race theory, the promotion of “same-sex-attracted” compromises, and yes. my firing–had to make a choice about whether to stand up to wrongdoing, when the wood was green. Some were young enough–single, childless, and unencumbered–to be able to make a stand without having to worry about dependents suffering. Others had dependents but were established enough in their careers that they had alternative plans open to them. Others had only the loss of certain friendships to worry about.
If they could not resist evil in the face of consequences as light as these, how do they think they will pass the final test when Jesus comes? How do they imagine they will resist the devil when their very lives will be on the line? When they must face jail, bankruptcy, absolute ridicule, the viciousness of a mob, mass defamation, how will they find the courage to resist?
One day, the wood will be dry. Jesus told us so.
In years past I would refrain from making these kinds of criticisms. But I realized over the last few months that I should share all the gospel including this line from the gospel of Luke. I have young children and a wife to support, yet I faced the backlash. I had so much to lose, including my financial footing, my career, the many years of work as a professor, friendships and family relationships. I still did what I did. I hold a small hope that when the stakes will be higher and the wood is dry, I can pass the test Jesus gives me.
But the state of the Kingdom is not good in America, especially in the Southern Baptist Convention. To avoid confronting evil, to become complacent or even complicit with it, merely to avoid unpleasantness at one’s job, the tough times of unemployment, lost friends, or lost chances to get ahead in a large denomination–this is not what Jesus Christ demands of us. I am a weak and deeply flawed human being. But I stood up to these dangers. And my wood is not as green as others.