By Danny Glover
When I was young, my grandfather told me a corny joke about the mugwump. I now know that mugwumps were the politically independent folks who bolted the Republican Party in 1884, but back then Grandpa actually had me convinced that a mugwump was a bird — the kind that sat on a fence with its “mug” on one side and its “wump” on the other. I liked the joke so much that Grandpa calls me Mugwump to this day.
We both chuckle every time he uses that nickname, and I proudly wear it in this life as a childhood term of endearment from a fun-loving grandparent. The moniker is not one I want following me to the hereafter, though, because the last thing I want is for my Father in heaven to judge me a man who sat on the fence between good and evil, looking toward the light but never quite willing to fly away from the darkness of the world.
The Bible narrative is replete with stories of spiritual mugwumps, and those stories serve as a warning of harsh judgment to come for all who travel that noncommittal course.
Lot’s wife was perhaps preeminent among the fence sitters. “God remembered Abraham,” Lot’s uncle, by sending two angels to save Lot and his family from the fire and brimstone about to rain on Sodom and Gomorrah. The angels’ warning was unequivocal — “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you” — but Lot’s wife just could not take flight from the sin cities without one last glance. She paid the ultimate price, instantly becoming a pillar of salt (Gen. 19:12-29).
Judas, too, perched himself atop the treacherous mugwump divide. Jesus chose him as an apostle because he was qualified for that office (Luke 6:12-13), but Judas is remembered as “the son of perdition” (John 17:12) and the “devil” who betrayed Christ (John 6:70). Judas felt remorse when his actions condemned Christ. Yet even then he ultimately chose the wrong flight path, selfishly killing himself rather than being moved to repentance by a “godly sorrow” (Matt. 27:3-9).
And then there was Demas. The apostle Paul once ranked him as a “fellow-worker” with the likes of Luke, Mark and Aristarchus (Col. 4:14; Philemon 1:24) but later complained that Demas had deserted him, “having loved this present world” (II Tim. 4:10). Demas clearly did not understand that “if any one loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15-17).
Like other birds, mugwumps tend to flock to the fence. The Israelites, God’s chosen people, never could quite decide whether they wanted to serve God or mammon. The eye of that nation was so bad that its whole body filled with a great darkness, and God eventually turned to the Gentiles (Matt. 6:22-24). The church at Laodicea faced a similar fate for its apathy toward all things religious, earning this rebuke from Jesus: “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:16).
The grandchild within me will always smile at the image of the silly mugwump sitting on a fence. But I pray that the soul within me will always strive to be more like those “birds of the air” described by Matthew — those that neither sow nor reap nor gather in barns (Matt. 6:25-26), but rather trust in their Father and feast on His “true bread out of heaven” (John 6:32).