To recap, in Unclean I argue that a suite of psychological factors related to disgust and purity psychology hijack our notions of holiness prompting social exclusion and withdrawal. Thus, I argue in Unclean that, if we are to become missional people of welcome, we must desire "mercy and not sacrifice" by intentionally overcoming these psychological dynamics.
And yet, is there not a place for holiness and moral purity in all this? And if so, how are we to pursue holiness while avoiding everything I warn about in Unclean?
The basic argument I want to make by way of an answer is that holiness is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Holiness is a bit of missional equipment, a missional tool. What sort of tool?
I take my cue here from Jesus, how he frames the relationship between holiness and mission in his High Priestly Prayer in John:
John 17.15-19The language of holiness--"sanctify"--and mission--"sent"--intermingle in the text. Jesus prays for his disciples to be sanctified--to be set apart, to be holy. But why? As an end in itself? No, as a means to an end, a missional end, being sent out into the world.
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
More specifically, holiness is revealed to be a form of protection that equips us to be missional people. In this, holiness doesn't take us out of the world but is the means by which be become radically available to the world.
Let me give a concrete example of what I'm talking about.
Let's talk about sex.
Why should we pursue sexual purity? Why should we be holy when it comes to sex?
The answer that we have tended to hear is that sexual purity is "what God wants." Consequently, the pursuit of sexual purity becomes an end in itself. But what I'm suggesting is that sexual purity should, rather, be seen as a means to a missional end. Specifically, sexual purity is a form of protection that allows you to be radically available to others.
Let me describe what this looks like from my social location as a married man. How can I be radically available to others--women in particular--if I'm not sexually pure, if I'm not holy? Pushing further, let's say God is sending me into very dark places in the world, sexually speaking. Let's say I find myself ministering to sex workers, women in the adult entertainment industry or with women caught up in sex trafficking. How can I be in the midst of these very dark sexual places if I'm not holy?
And the examples don't have to be dramatic. I'm around lots of women at work. I find myself in mentoring relationships with female undergraduate and graduate students. In friendships with female co-workers. How can I be radically available to these people in my life, an agent of grace, if I'm not sexually holy? Think of examples from your own social location.
I hope all this illustrates why I called holiness a form of protection. Holiness is a form of moral protection that equips us to be missional people, a people radically available to the brokenness of the world. Holiness is apostolic in nature, the equipment needed for those sent into the world as God's emissaries of love and grace.
Tick through other examples beyond sexuality. Think of other "sins" and how each compromises your ability to be radically available to others in particular situations.
In short, holiness isn't a separation from the world. Holiness is what allows us to be radically in and available to the world.
Just as Jesus was radically in and available to the world.