Character Association

Character Association

My first car was a red Volkswagen Beetle. My cousin and I co-owned it. The carburetor did not function correctly, and one of us had to sit in the back with the seat removed and work the choke. The engine was in the trunk. We drove the “under repair” vehicle in our backyard, round and round and round, until we were old enough to get a driver’s license. By the time we hit the road, the grass in our backyard had an Indy track dug into it. We had also repaired the carburetor, making a backseat accelerator unnecessary. The little VW was a tough, durable car. I still see them on the road today. And every time my wife sees one, I get punched.

The game was called Punch Buggy. Spotting a VW gave you permission to slug the arm of the person you were with. I much preferred the other VW spotting game—Perdiddle. In this game, if you saw a VW with only one working headlight, you had permission to kiss your date. A VW today can get you kissed or punched. You’re never quite sure which one to expect.

The “gotcha” games of our childhood and youth have made their way into the church. When an enemy is named and you are associated with this enemy in any way, you automatically get punched. It is a reflexive response that is unthinking. Similar to Pavlov’s dog, the stimulus of the association causes a reaction.

Character Association and Assassination

Side with a bill sponsored by a liberal Democrat, and you must be “one of them.” Side with a bill sponsored by an ultraconservative Republican, and you are “one of those.” Read a quote from Thomas Merton or Brian McLaren, and you now believe everything Catholic or you are a full-blown supporter of everything emergent. Print a book of testimonials from postmodernists, and be prepared to be named an enemy of all that is traditional. Assign a controversial book as reading material in a college class, and be prepared to defend everything ever written by the author as if it is your own thought. Invite someone to speak on your campus who holds a different perspective, and get ready for the negative mail.

This is nothing new. In the McCarthy era, the enemy was Communism. Anyone who did not meet the expectations of those in power was dismissed by being called a Communist. And if the so-called Communist had ever checked a book on socialism out of the local library, that was all the proof needed.

I know this sounds silly. And it is. About as silly as believing you have the right to punch someone because a VW drove by.

Educated Christians are well-read people. And it is not uncommon for believers to read books from differing perspectives. This is how we become critical thinkers and learn to make our case in the world. A college student would be considered uneducated if he or she had never read Hitler or studied the philosophical assumptions of atheism. A missionary to a Muslim country would be foolish to enter a culture without understanding the history and culture of Islam. A social worker would be unprepared to work with a family of violence without reading case studies of brutality and abuse. Are these things Christian? No. Is it wrong to read these authors and study these topics? No.

I’ve read books I don’t agree with to understand the logic of a dangerous movement or philosophy. I’ve gone to hear speakers I disagree with to determine how they work their black magic on crowds. I’ve even listened to popular music I don’t like so I can converse with a younger generation about the values being promoted in their top ten songs.

Banning authors, speakers, books, music, and topics is not the way of God’s people in the world. And assassinating the character of those who dare to know about these is even worse. It suggests that we are afraid to stand toe-to-toe with people who think differently. It sends us running into the walled church where we only speak with those who already agree with us. When we take a closed, defensive posture toward “those people out there,” it piques the curiosity of our youth to explore them on their own. As with sex and alcohol, they are drawn to the mystery of things we won’t talk about.

While it is important to guide the education of our children and to watch over their reading material and education, it is also important to prepare our youth to stand on their own two feet in the world. Our Christian colleges are one of the best places in the world for a frank discussion of authors, value systems, philosophies, and differing worldviews. The only place better is the home where parents begin to talk with their teens about authors, political movements, ethical matters, and controversial issues.

The day a church, a college, or a Christian shies away from reading a controversial author out of fear of being associated with the character of the author will be a sad day indeed. If enemy authors are named and if you are caught reading them, quoting from them, assigning them as a class reading requirement, or inviting them to speak, the opposition will have permission to punch you.

I’d rather kiss the folks who dare to understand the world we live in.

Today’s post is an excerpt from A Charitable Discourse: Talking About the Things That Divide Us.



  1. Jim Chapman says

    I proved your point just now. I don’t agree with you on A LOT. But I just read your blog and I have become enlightened.

  2. Wayne Bentley says

    Eye opening words for sure. Your leadership of our young at Trevecca is such a God thing. We are blessed to have you there. Emily Bentley can’t wait to get to Trevecca in 2016. She has been so inspired by you and your leadership during all her visits with TNT over the past 5 years. Thank you and may God continue to bless your ministry.

    • Wayne, serving these college students…and seeing the bright light in their eyes is one of God’s best gifts to me. I love this work! Tell Emily I’ll see her soon!

  3. Carol Dikes says

    yep. Well said. Absolutely brilliant. I gotta share.

  4. Pam McGraner says

    Again, all I can say, Dr. Boone, is thank you for your broad-mindedness, for challenging our young people to learn, discuss, think and defend. I love Trevecca and what goes on there. I love that my daughter is finishing up her junior year there. I pray that she will always be open-minded, willing to learn and to listen to opposing viewpoints, and able to stand her ground on things she believes in.

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