Hugo Schwyzer, Cheap Grace, and Narratives of "Redemption"

Redemption (Angel novel)

Redemption (Angel novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oftentimes, I feel unbearably guilty about posting on issues dealing with the Culture Wars or what’s referred to as “Identity Politics.” Should someone as myself invested in the discipline of Church History take an interest in “worldly” things? I struggle to reconcile these interests from time to time, but I try to take theological approach to inter-sectionality, or how we as a society govern ourselves and others according to race, sex, and class. This is something that I learned from my mentors, from Womanist theology and ethics, as well as post-colonial theory.

I am guilty of remaining silent, about how predators roam free and victims’ and their experience with abuse goes unheard. There is something deeply twisted about the way our culture understands redemption. At its core, it is a theological claim that is heretical as it is privatized. Dietrich Bonhoeffer articulated perfectly what USians understand as “redemption:” He referred to is as cheap grace in his The Cost Of Discipleship:

““Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” “

Redemption, in other words, requires that a person is, #1, willing to freely turn away from evil, and #2, willing to sub-ordinate themselves to a liberated community. Cheap grace means meaningless apologies, the “I’m sorries” said over and over to victims as perpetrators roam free without accountability. Cheap grace is when a celebrity makes a racial slur and they are sent to “racial-sensitivity counseling” all the while having the stigma of being a bigot for the rest of their career. But again, there’s no taking responsibility, it’s more like, oooooops, I’m sorry I got caught. Redemption in USian media culture, which is thoroughly idolatrous in its glorification of capitalism, means that I get to save myself on my own terms, without regard for the victims of my behavior or for welfare of my neighbor.

This is why I am so sick of hearing “I’m sorry.” “I’m sorry” are two words born out of privilege; you briefly acknowledge your victims have suffered, and then go back to your abusive behavior. Today, I was at a local restaurant. I was the only other person in line, but the person in front of me was paying with all coins. Looked at me with my bored look, and softly whispered, “I’m sorry.” How about instead of “I’m sorry,” how about a “thank you for being patient!” See the difference. The difference is my agency is acknowledged, and it’s not about you (the apologizer and your experience). That’s the problem with derailers who want to make this about Hugo and about mental disability. It’s not, it simply isn’t. This is about human agency and privilege. I would love for the students I work with who have mental disabilities to be able to earn a PhD and to “earn” a voice as influential as a Hugo Schwyzer. Again, this all boils down to particularity.

Whether it is Sovereign Grace Ministries protecting child abuse, KKKristianity Yesterday (Christianity Today) & John Piper & The Gossip KKKoalition defending confederate bigot Douglas Wilson, or Relevant Magazine, Christian conferences, and white feminist media all who gave Hugh Schwyzer a platform, USian Christianity as well as its Civil Religion has Cheap Grace as one of its favor doctrines right along side White Supremacy.

Right now, the Women of Color, that risked themselves to confront and engage Hugo Schwyzer’s abusive ways, SEEM to be the enemies of him, opposed to his “redemption.” And that they should; “redemption” purchased with the Almighty Dollar is the very definition of cheap grace. This is more than about Professor Feminist (who, btw, has a PhD in Medieval Church History). This is more than about Paleoconfederate Racists. This is more than about Pastors Gone Wild. This is about how apathetic our culture is to the vulnerable. I mean, for crying out loud, the current government shutdown is probably one of the blatant examples of this ill-compassion.

English: CJ Mahaney, founder of Sovereign Grac...

English: CJ Mahaney, founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a way, “redemption” as it is conceived in the 21st century USian neoliberal context, always functions as a code for “sympathy for the devil.” This soteriology is harmful to both the victim and the abuser. The victim is isolated and ridiculed, and her story is ignored. The abuser is also not given the community he needs to learn that he is in need of repentance, and therefore becomes neglectful of the responsibility which he needs to own up to. Salvation in this light is short lived, paid for with the tears of the oppressed. The best friends that persons like Hugo Schwyzer have right now are “his enemies.” My commitment to Christianity, and to the teachings of Jesus, allow me to see these labels of “allies” and “enemies/opponents” as fluid, because Christ taught that we should love both. In particular as our example (but he is not alone), Hugo’s quest to regain his influence after losing it (because he deserves it right? he already apologized, what more does he need to do?) by joining probably more religious blogging circles— he already has/not gonna link is an unhealthy quest given the state that he admits he is in as mentally ill. The last thing he needs to do is to make a “comeback” all on his own. So things can go back to the way things were. No, my friend, repentance means that things will never be the same. Apologies in our cultural religion of cheap grace allows for such, but not the freedom that is given by our Liberator Christ Jesus.

Relevant Magazine

Relevant Magazine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those who are entralled with power, they *will continue to disregard* the plea of the victim, as churches as white feminist media have time and again chosen to do. We must come to learn to lend our ear to those on the bottom, to let those on the margins, the abused, the rape victims, the culturally despised “savages,” to uplift the powerless, and to reject cheap grace, and “I’m sorry.”


*Sentence has been editted to address problematic ableist language.*

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10 thoughts on “Hugo Schwyzer, Cheap Grace, and Narratives of "Redemption"

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  2. Emma Rosenthal

    please reconsider your use of the metaphor “turned a blind eye”, this is an extremely harmful and marginalizing metaphor that is dehumanizing to people who are blind. there is nothing in blindness that explains lack of empathy and accountability of those with power. it is ableist and totally uncool.

    otherwise, this is a great article. thanks for writing it.

    1. h00die_R Post author

      Emma Rosenthal,

      I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for calling me out on ableist language. I have no business being concerned for the spec ed students and them being ignored if I continue to use the easy way out of ableist slurs. I would never want anyone to continue to use “black as sin,” so thank you.

      The correction has been noted.

  3. J. K. Gayle

    I recall reading Rachel Held Evans’s interview of Basyle ‘Boz’ Tchividjian, a founding member and Executive Director of G.R.A.C.E (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment). He rather astutely observes:

    The greatest failure of the church/Christian organizations when it comes to responding to abuse is institutional self-protection. Too often Christian institutions have been willing to sacrifice the individual human soul in exchange for the protection of their own reputation. What makes such responses even more heinous is that they are often justified in the name of “protecting the name of Christ”. Such a justification is nothing but a pious attempt at self-protection. It may come as a surprise to some but Jesus does not need us to protect His name!

    And so, as you point out, there’s much institutional here, at stake, for whites, for white feminists, for “the mainstream mental health system,” for Kyriarchy – institutions that gain much by “forgiving” a self-proclaimed abuser such as Hugo S and that stand to lose much, even reputationally, with him, from him, if he is not “forgiven” cheaply.

    Trudy for Gradient Lair says more:

    “And I wonder how white Christians would have reacted if Schwyzer was a man of color” – SarahNMoon (and thanks for linking to her article and for writing yours, h00die_R).

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