Trigger warning: you’re getting ready to read a blog about trigger warnings.
If you’re not familiar with the term (which is doubtful in today’s world), a trigger warning is an expressed warning before watching a film, hearing a lecture, viewing an art exhibit or reading a work of literature when there may be something “triggering” in the content. Meaning, it may offend, it may bring to mind painful memories, it may be emotionally upsetting, or even just ideologically challenging.
Which means that trigger warnings can be a good thing. If someone has been a victim of sexual assault, a graphic presentation or description of a sexual assault can be emotionally traumatizing. A warning on the front end of a presentation along those lines would be appropriate.
But trigger warnings can also get… ridiculous.
The Young Vic recently staged a revival of the 2000 play “Further than the Furthest Thing.” It is about “the inhabitants of a remote island and the tragic consequences of their displacement.”
It carried a content warning:
This show contains strong language, themes of climate displacement and xenophobia, and depictions of pregnancy and infant homicide.
The show contains references to sexual violence, mental illness, death and implied suicide, and has moments of loud music. This show involves the handling of cooked egg.
Yes, you read that right.
A trigger warning about a cooked egg.
At first, I thought it was a joke—akin to the credits rolled as part of an old Monty Python movie (it would have worked). But no, this was serious.
Fortunately, more and more institutions are coming to their senses. Cornell University recently shut down – fast, and hard – a suggestion for trigger warnings on assigned readings. The president simply said,
“We cannot accept this resolution as the actions it recommends would infringe on our core commitment to academic freedom and freedom of inquiry, and are at odds with the goals of a Cornell education.”
But there are times where a trigger warning is decisive. Neither ridiculous nor overly cautious, but instead absolutely necessary.
The ones from Jesus.
It’s easy to forget how many times Jesus thinned out the crowds of popularity – the ones garnered through miracles, free food or the hope for a political leader – with the clear reminder of the cost of following Him.
So Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” (John 6:53-56, NLT)
“Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.
‘I have come to set a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
Your enemies will be right in your own household!’
“If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” (Matthew 10:34-39, NLT)
So here’s the reaction Jesus meant to trigger: coming to Him means coming to Him as not only Savior,
… but also Lord.
Consider yourself warned.
James Emery White
Craig Simpson, “Theatre Warns Audience That Play Contains ‘Handling of Cooked Egg,’” The Telegraph, February 27, 2023, read online.
Katherine Rosman, “Should College Come with Trigger Warnings? At Cornell, It’s a ‘Hard No.’” The New York Times, April 12, 2023, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president.
His latest book, After “I Believe,” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast.
Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.