Some Thoughts on “Javertism” in the Church (1)
Here are some of my initial reflections upon viewing the stunningly magnificent film “Les Miserables.” The two main characters are Inspector Javert, symbolizing a legal-moral approach to faith, and Jean Valjean, symbolizing a grace-based approach to faith.
It is easy to see Inspector Javert as a type present in many church’s across all traditions. It is also easy to point to it as pathological and a chief source of the malaise of the church in our culture. It is less easy, however, to clearly discern its roots and forms. That’s what I want to begin to do in this post.
I suggest three forms of Javertism for consideration. The first is moralistic Javertism, the second a legalistic Javertism, and the third a psychological Javertism. This post focuses on the first form, moralistic Javertsim.
Javertism is all about moralism, keeping the rules, and doing things right. You can name examples of this in the church as easily as I can. The Bible is read as a rulebook or guidebook that must be followed. Pride and exclusivism are the twin siblings of moralism because whatever we think we do or achieve inevitably breeds some form of pride.
Exclusivism is the other sibling of moralism. If we depend on our way of doing faith for our standing with God, we cannot long abide divergent practices or claims. Exclusivism dogs every moralistic effort.
Grace, or Valjeanism, is anything but moralistic. In fact, grace sees moralism as its antithesis. In grace we depend totally on God for his acceptance, new life and obedience. Moralism is all about our efforts to achieve and improve our performance, and hence our standing with God. Though it takes different forms in different theological traditions, moralism can be liberal, conservative, or in-between.
Grace, because it depends on God’s goodness and indiscriminate love, can hardly be exclusivistic. We welcome others because God welcomes them. We have nothing at stake in others who live out their faith differently. They are not threats to us but rather gifts in the diversity they bring to our gatherings. Jean Valjean has been so immersed in grace that he can welcome those he encounters; he can even spare the life of his arch-persecutor Javert. And his grace drives Javert right over the edge, even as grace frequently causes moralistic faith to flee its company into “purer” groups and gatherings.