No se habla de Bruno, no, no, no

Victor Chininin Buele

Well, Encanto finally hit Disney+ close enough to Christmas that I decided I should watch it before the kids got around to asking me about it. The baby woke up super early, so I watched it at about 4 AM or so.

I was left an emotional wreck after it.

There are dozens of things I could write about regarding this movie. It is that thick with things that merit a thorough theological discussion.

But, at the end of the day, since you and I don’t have a lot of time, I am going to focus on Bruno.

Honestly, I do not understand how can people possibly be enjoying this song. It is perplexing to me. But it wouldn’t be the first or the last time.


The song is masterfully catchy.

As a musician, I know what the talented Lin-Manuel Miranda has done here, and it is remarkable. Layering and beat, harmony and melody. Outstanding. Simply high quality. Add the wonders of the animation to it, and it is mesmerizing.

But, did you spend a moment thinking about what is coming in this packaging?

Redimi2, a Christian urban musician presented a musical project titled Trapstorno. He managed to use trap, a music style of incredibly dark and worldly roots, to present the message of Christ to many who are walking in darkness.

He says in that song,

Ningún género musical es malo, dime quién eres tú para condenarlo
La música es el papel de regalo, pero ese regalo hay que revisarlo
Si tiene música, voy a usarlo, el Evangelio voy a anunciarlo
Si este código no puedes descifrarlo, es por estar consumiendo Conejo Mal

Let’s attempt to explain that in English: “No musical genre is bad in itself; tell me, who are you to condemn it? Music is the gift wrapping paper, but the gift must be thoroughly examined. If it is music, I’m going to use it–the gospel I’m going to announce. If you don’t understand this, it may be because you’re taking in so much Bad Bunny.”

Quite a bit there to argue about theologically, but the idea of thoroughly examining the gift inside the wrapping is one that we must take seriously. Latin beats are wonderful. Like my dear friend, one of the pastors who married Ang and I, also an Ecuadorian like me, joked at our wedding, “Spanish is heaven’s language.” There is just something about Latin beats that just grab you and won’t let go. Our music is catchy and reaches in deeply. I remember that long summer where it didn’t matter where I went, Despacito would be in the air: London, Barcelona, Paris, even Buffalo, NY! Hardly anybody knew what it said! Don’t try to go there and seek to understand what Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee managed to squeeze into those almost 5 minutes. It is just not good for your soul.

So, Come Back to Us, What About Bruno?

Miranda himself describes this song as “the family gossip song.” Everybody is in it, behind Abuelita’s back, that is. This song is the outworking of collaborative cover up. Everybody knows not to talk about Bruno, but they just cannot be quiet. The song starts when the clouds take over the pretension of ever present sunshine, when the nightmare is acknowledged, when the pressure to put on a good face to the outside world fails.

I don’t know how else to say it, but Bruno was right all along. Everything he saw came to pass, but he did not make these things come to pass. Bruno saw what others in their fear couldn’t as they sought to protect what mattered most to them. And it also mattered the most to Bruno. Otherwise, Bruno would not have gone on a self-imposed exile deep inside the walls of Casita. He quietly covered up the cracks and spent his life doing so amongst the rats. The family erased Bruno from existence. But, they actually didn’t. The mere mention of his name was enough to jumpstart this song. There was no peace, no shalom, in Casita. There was no love in Casita, despite the pretty flowers, the mighty works of apparent charity to the townspeople, the songs, and the excitement. The magic was fading long before the cracks were obvious. So was the love.

But It Is Such a Cute and Catchy Song

Let me paint with a different brush. Let’s pretend that Bruno is a member of a church led by an abusive pastor. Well, that doesn’t really require much pretending. We are plagued with allegations and confirmations of spiritual abuse throughout churches, parachurches, schools, homes. It is a mess!

Bruno ends up being abused by this pastor. To acknowledge Bruno’s existence, pain, and story requires the church to act. After all, “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). Actions have consequences. Abusive actions have catastrophic consequences.

If the church, like Abuelita, is telling the world outside that the magic is still strong, that there is nothing to see here, that they should have a strong drink and dance to music played in a piano that couldn’t even be pushed anymore by a languishing Luisa, cracking under the pressure to keep up with the appearances, well, is it a surprise to us that our churches have been effectively singing We Don’t Talk About Bruno, no, no, no as part of their corporate liturgies, so to speak, for quite some time now?


If we speak about Bruno, we have to acknowledge that there is sin inside of the church. We have to acknowledge that some have not repented of that sin, and that a hardheartedness is growing in the church because, if what ultimately matters to us is the appearance of godliness, e.g., to (1) not close our church, (2) not fire our pastor, (3) give an appearance to the world that all is well within when it isn’t, well, we need to reconsider our obedience to Christ’s calling.

We cannot, as Christ’s church just take a horrific situation, throw some good Latin beats to it, some nice chords, some good overlapping vocals, nice animation, timely comic relief. And there you go, we can keep pretending that Ichabod Bible Church is a healthy, growing, Great-Commission-advancing, missional, Reformed church, light of the world, salt of the earth, city on a hill.

Because it isn’t. The glory has departed. It is Ichabod.

And Where Is Bruno?

Some Brunos end up deconstructing. Some Brunos never open a Bible again. Some Brunos can’t trust anyone again. Some Brunos crack under the pressure. Some Brunos end up taking their own lives. Some Brunos fight. Some Brunos remember with nostalgia what seemed to be good times. Some Brunos do carve a little hiding place that allows them to be somewhat close and watch those loved ones who reject them. Some Brunos wait for the Lord, but not in that passive, let go and let God sort of fashion they were always taught by their abusers. Some Brunos do just that and regret it all the time. Some Brunos do just that and can’t yet regret it at this time. Some Brunos need sometime to get their bearings back. Some Brunos can’t get up and keep moving. Some Brunos live in sadness and darkness. Some Brunos end up chronicling the evils that affect the church. Some Brunos just have no idea what to do next. Some Brunos are suffering deeply and alone. Some Brunos are being told their suffering is a result of their exposing of the sin committed against them.

And meanwhile, the one thing they do very clearly hear from the church is: “We don’t talk about Bruno, no, no, no.” Bruno wants to destroy us. Bruno hurt us. Bruno is bitter as all he speaks about is this. Bruno has a flair for the dramatic. Bruno is a gossiper. Bruno is a slanderer. We just don’t talk about Bruno.

If we talk about Bruno, we have to deal with the fact that Bruno is made in the image of God and is a human being. Someone we are called to love.

Talking about Bruno (and not just gossip about Bruno saying he is a gossip) would require us to surrender before the Lord, acknowledge our corruption, and cry out for mercy. It would require us to look at Bruno in the eye, clearly acknowledge what we have done, what we have not done, what we have done half-heartedly. It would require us to listen to Bruno and not overpower him with the narrative we would prefer to hear. Doing so would require us to repent. And repentance of this kind is costly.

Does Bruno have things he must repent of? Absolutely. But we are experts at only blaming the abused and protecting the abuser. That’s the sad reality at Ichabod Bible Church.

Everybody pretends they are better off without Bruno.

Goodbye, Casita

But there is a whole town watching Casita collapse in the meantime, and they will be best served by being told the truth, by watching true repentance and reconciliation take place before their eyes. In times of canceling one another, we are hungry for redemption. And our present cultural norms don’t make room for redemption. After all, how in the world did Casita get rebuilt, folks? How can anyone truly come to be saved these days if they don’t see examples of redemption, real redemption, not false grace?

One of my favorite analogies from Scripture about the church comes from Peter. He describes the church as “living stones” that “are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). The ending we know is true is far better than Encanto‘s: the townspeople don’t just come to repair the house. As they come to the Lord in true repentance, they become the spiritual house. After all, the same Peter reminds us that “it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17a). Everything truly does work together for good, for those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

We cannot ignore the Great Commission impact of being truthful and humble about our sin.

Loving Bruno

I think if we haven’t acknowledged it yet, we are just being dense or hardhearted. Or perhaps just a little naive or distracted. After all, the music is pretty good. But every time we push Bruno aside, we ostracize him from the very community that Christ died to redeem. We leave Bruno hopeless, excluded from the only place where Justice is supposedly magnified. We leave the adopted Bruno thinking he is alone, that his Father has left him behind. We leave Bruno hiding, ashamed, believing lies about himself and his identity. We leave Bruno doubting the Word of God, the true word of prophecy. We leave him. And we move on. We replace the floors, we paint the walls, we platform our guy, we convince ourselves that we are right, we talk ourselves into thinking that Bruno is just nuts, a tool of the devil, snared by the devil, if not the devil himself.

Is that what God calls us to do? To complain that our dirty laundry gets aired while completely ignoring the putrid smell coming out of the hamper? This doesn’t require Febreze to cover up the smell. It requires to actually wash the laundry, to clean the source of the foul smell. And for that we have the blood of the Lamb who was slain for it all.

Is that the witness that we are to give to the town outside of the walls of the church? We get on these militant campaigns about love, but we don’t really love our Brunos.

The people outside our walls are watching. They always have been watching. They act like they don’t want what we have, but they do. We shouldn’t be surprised that they are not enticed by our invitations when they see what is lacking inside.

Let’s be frank, own our junk, confess our sin thoroughly and sincerely. Let’s display humility that images Christ to the watching world. Let’s obliterate “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from our churches’ practical liturgies.

Every time we act as if nothing happened, we make the problem worse.

And there is no amount of singing and dancing, mesmerizing distractions, and major chords that can pierce through the darkness and point to the ascended, resurrected, crucified Messiah. For that, we need the Word of God, not edited, not adulterated, not slanted.

When we don’t talk about Bruno, let’s not beat around the bush anymore, we exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator who is blessed forever. Amen (Romans 1:25). And from there, we are on the fast lane, singing and dancing along to denying the Name by which all must be saved: “So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). Today, we don’t even need to be threatened into silence. We just remain quiet on our own.

My thanks to Disney and Lin-Manuel Miranda for this wonderful opportunity to reflect about our need for Christ. And yet, I also leave certainly aware that I might just be Bruno here, effectively making your fish die, turning your excitement about this movie into a discussion about spiritual abuse. Well, Bruno actually didn’t make the bad things happen. He was given sight to see them. But we can almost get ourselves into portraying him as the bad guy, as the one that brings the misfortune upon the family. This is a dangerous narrative, all too common–we focus on Bruno and blame him for the rightful consequences of the sin of those who abused Bruno. So, yes, I might have turned a happy hour and half of your life into a difficult discussion. But, if we really piece the magical green puzzle plates together, this is what it shows. We would rather pretend our house has no cracks and the magic is still strong. We truly are Abuelita. And that’s not very Christlike.

Yet also, I don’t want to be harsh to my dear brothers and sisters that are singing this song and quite happily. I am thankful for you. I am thankful that you have not had to face darkness like Bruno’s. Perhaps you have, and you have been healed by our Maker in a truly marvelous and complete way, and for that I am also thankful. Yet, one thing I see time and time again is that in our graciousness and kindness, we end up setting ourselves up for wolves to enter our flock and really harm us. So, if nothing else, just be aware. There are ways in which we can predispose ourselves to be complicit in systems that obliterate Brunos.

Reading Dr. Barr Soberly and Prayerfully

Victor Chininin Buele

I argued previously that two things Dr. Kevin DeYoung did in his review of Dr. Beth Allison Barr’s book The Making of Biblical Womanhood were highly concerning and could be taken by readers to ignore Dr. Barr’s entire argument primarily because of her emotional portrayal of her stories and the trauma she has experienced. Also, there were implications of doubt planted regarding her telling of both her experiences and history as a whole.

Today I do not want to write about the more superficial kinds of controversy that have come with the book’s publication. Instead, I commend Dr. Barr’s work to you to be read soberly (thoughtfully, critically) and prayerfully. Her voice and arguments must be engaged fairly and thoroughly. She is associate professor of history and associate dean of the Graduate School at Baylor University, a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a professing sister in Christ. She is no history aficionado as I am.

She writes,

I have found it useful in my work as a historian—what if I am wrong about my conclusions? Am I willing to reconsider the evidence? I have found it useful as a teacher, especially when a student presents me with a different idea. The question “What if I’m wrong?” helps me listen to others better. It keeps me humble. It makes me a better scholar.

Barr, The Making of Biblical Womanhood, 41

I have always found that reading in that spirit is very important. Without endorsing him, I want to point out something Doug Wilson said in Heaven Misplaced, as he asks the reader to consider postmillennialism,

Someone can really enjoy The Lord of the Rings and agree to temporarily set aside his knowledge that orcs and elves are not exactly real. But once the reader is in story grip, the story comes alive and is made real to him because of that willing suspension of disbelief. Even if the reader does not really “believe in it” after he has closed the book, he still knows the story far better than he would have if he had been saying, “yeah, right” every other page. He knows the story “from within,” even if he cannot accept it at the last.

Wilson, Heaven Misplaced, 10

Willing suspension of disbelief. I argue for that today. I want you to read Dr. Barr’s work as a charitable Christian ought to read it. And to ask yourself and Dr. Barr the questions that need to be asked.

I should make a quick note about my presuppositions and convictions in the interest of fairness. I confess complementarianism as an appropriate framework to synthesize the Bible’s teaching about men and women in Christ, in God’s image, on mission in the world for the Kingdom as co-heirs of the promise of a new heavens and a new earth after the return of Jesus Christ, our Lord. I confess it with a couple of important caveats: 1) I strongly believe there is a hyper-complementarianism that is as devastating as in Spurgeon’s times hyper-Calvinism was to Calvinism, leaving caricatures and devastation behind that can turn anyone away easily–who wants to cause pain and abuse?, and 2) abuse does happen in any and every context in a fallen creation, but the abuse of complementarianism does help breed cultures, churches, families, and institutions where the subjugation of women, the silencing of women, and the dehumanization of women are very real. This is not me having itchy ears or going with the spirit of the age. This is just reality. Also, in the interest of fairness, I should state that Dr. Barr has not persuaded me of an egalitarian reading of Scripture or of history in her work. Willing suspension of disbelief and all.

As I’ve read the book, I have noted the following areas and questions that I believe any thoughtful reader of this book and the Church at large must be willing to ask and seek to answer and research thoroughly. We will all be better off from it:

  1. The first words of the book will turn off many and will help facilitate confirmation bias for Dr. DeYoung’s tone on his review: “I never meant to be an activist,” she writes. Dr. Barr’s story certainly is full of emotion–how could you not leave a church so dear to you under such difficult circumstances and not show any emotion about it? How could you go through what she reveals at the end of the book and not be affected by it at your core? So, the key question here for the Christian reader is this, what can we do better as the Church and as individual Christians to help those who have experienced abuse and to grow mutually through doctrinal disagreement rather than rush to institutional protection mode? Not just Dr. Barr’s testimony but the testimony of so many is that at minimum the perception of institutional protection and, at worst, actual institutional protection come to the forefront over and above the well-being of the person, of the image bearer of God, who incidentally is going through what very likely is the worst time of her life. Let us not rush to discount truth and to call out falsehood because a person has been through the emotional wringer. Our God is truth.
  2. Dr. Barr reports multiple times, “I stayed silent.” In what ways are we, as individual Christians and as the Church, directly and indirectly silencing women? Are we communicating clearly and unequivocally, even if indirectly, that women have no place in theological discourse, mutual discipleship, the sharpening of the saints, or to raise up concerns or suggestions to the leadership of the church? Where can women go when things do go wrong because they will? What have we built so that suspicion is not our natural reflex or the charge of usurping of authority is not our initial reaction to valid concerns or legitimate charges? Have we built just structures and procedures? Is our discipleship and participation in corporate worship one that testifies to the whole truth of Scripture? Our God is justice.
  3. Dr. Barr assumes that complementarian theology necessarily will result in this concept of biblical womanhood as we observe it in complementarian churches and institutions today, as taught and advanced by the CBMW, the Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, etc. She says, “I knew that it was based on a handful of verses read apart from their historical context and used as a lens to interpret the rest of the Bible. The tail wags the dog […] cultural assumptions and practices regarding womanhood are read into the biblical text, rather than the biblical text being read within its own historical and cultural context” (6). She argues, then, that proponents of complementarianism are misreading Scripture. This is a serious charge that needs to be considered thoroughly. So, is she right? Is complementarianism the reading into Scripture of American mid-twentieth-century preferences or the reading into Scripture of a Victorian worldview? Is complementarianism based on a handful of verses? A good start to this question can be found in Matthew Barrett’s Simply Trinity. I point out to you his discussion of the role of hermeneutics in questions like these starting on page 238 of chapter 8 Is the Son Eternally Subordinate to the Father? Eternal subordination does play an important part of this argument, and Barrett asks, by whose rules are you reading Scripture? His discussion is not about complementarianism and egalitarianism, but I think that frame of thinking and way to address a related subject can be helpful for further discussion about Dr. Barr’s statement. Our God is our Triune Creator.
  4. Dr. Barr joins complementarianism with patriarchy very tightly, and in her defense, she has citations from Dr. Russell Moore to do it. I believe that mixing these concepts can cause unnecessary distraction. I believe we need to discuss fairly what patriarchy is and is not, what abuses of patriarchy are and are not, and that we don’t go past the boundaries that Scripture has for headship. It is not fair to conflate categories on both sides. After some discussion on The Epic of Gilgamesh, Dr. Barr presents what is in my opinion, the most significant claim of her book: “Patriarchy wasn’t what God wanted; patriarchy was a result of human sin” (29ff). Dr. Barr argues, then, that complementarianism is a theology of Genesis 3 and not of Genesis 1-2. I happen to disagree with that. If complementarianism were a theology of Genesis 3, that is, a result of the Fall, I would be fully standing by Dr. Barr’s side on this. But it isn’t. In his article Gendered Exegesis of Creation in Philo (De Opificio Mundi) and Paul (1 Corinthians) in Paul and the Greco-Roman Philosophical Tradition, Dr. Jonathan Worthington presents exegetical work that is substantial that Dr. Barr ought to consider in her analysis not only in her chapter about the Beginning of Patriarchy but also on her proposed reading of 1 Corinthians. Complementarian theologians, how can we show exegetically and practically that complementarianism is not a result of the Fall, that it is rooted in creation? I think Dr. Worthington has given us all a good example to go deeper.
  5. The second heaviest argument presented by Dr. Barr in her book is her chapter 2, What if Biblical Womanhood Doesn’t Come from Paul? In this chapter, she argues for a reading of 1 Corinthians and the rest of the Pauline epistles that is different than the complementarian reading. The thoughtful reader will want to know why this is and how to scrutinize both readings to reach a Scriptural conclusion in the Spirit. Not because we can read Paul differently (42), it means that we must read Paul differently. Is there warrant to do so? Dr. Barr does present her case, but please do not ignore that she is intellectually honest here. Yes, she inflects certain words in 1 Corinthians 14 (What! Did the Word of God originate with you?), but she also says, “While I cannot guarantee this is what Paul was doing, it makes a lot of (historical) sense” (62). What we need to ask is, is she correct? Do we have exegetical and historical warrant to say that Paul was quoting a bad practice common to the cultural context of the day that he is rejecting? Is Dr. Barr right in saying that all the household code sections of Paul mean the complete opposite of what the complementarian reading says they do? Can we take the medieval sermons cited as evidence that the reading is wrong or not? If so, why? If not, why not? What does it mean for the complementarian to affirm that there is both mutual submission and individual wifely submission in Ephesians 5? Can we also make clear that Paul nowhere calls a woman to submit herself to all men? Can we also make clear that none of these readings should make a way for the subjugation of women? Can we also be honest that sometimes the egalitarian writings on Romans 16 seem to be stronger than the complementarian arguments and deal with those cases fairly? Our God does not support favoritism. There is no room for insults or fearmongering in our interaction with these arguments. Sometimes it feels that we are more afraid of being called an egalitarian than we are about missing the truth of God.
  6. How can the historical charges that Dr. Barr make be properly assessed? Are our history books that slanted? I do have to admit that it is rare to find references to women in them. DeYoung’s review is the most extensive in this area. He charges Dr. Barr with ambiguous language and selective information. I want to point out that history is an area that the Christian has to be willing to engage with all the way–our historical heroes are rarely as clean as they’ve been cleaned up by time and distance and by our own idolatry of them, at times. My encouragement to the reader is to engage the historical positions presented by Professor Barr, a professional historian, again, willing to hear them and consider them thoroughly. Then, feel free to ask if anything is missing, and if it is, point it out. We all need to ask, once all the historical evidence is on the table what the role of history/tradition and Scripture are. R. C. Sproul was fond of saying that salvation was not by statistics. I can’t just poll the sermons in America today and argue that because 80% of them say something about a given subject that such a thing is gospel truth or that it is biblically solid. The Church is always in need of reformation. Just because a whole bunch of preachers are preaching the same thing, it doesn’t make it true. But it should alert us to look at it comprehensively. That is a long way of saying, let’s make sure we do understand the medieval Church, what it thought and taught and the reasons why. Then, we can engage in processing that information in the light of Scripture and moving forward without ignoring the saints of the past.
  7. On the subject of Bible translation, can we all be intellectually honest and accept that our favorite translation has made translation and meaning choices that even if well-intentioned can slant our reading of the text? The ESV’s changes to Genesis 3:16 are not neutral! They communicate something. We should be willing to enter chapter 5 of that book with that reality in mind. Bible translators have to make choices for defining meaning and for communicating meaning. Those choices cannot always be isolated from one’s most dearest convictions.
  8. All the these seven areas will impact how we apply these concepts to our lives. Our interaction with chapters 6 through 8 will be marked by whether we listen or not. We all ought to desire complete freedom in Christ for every creature breathing today. There is no distinction. The gospel is the most liberal in its call to every creature to proclaim and confess Jesus Christ as Lord. The gospel is the most progressive in truly advancing humankind by renewing the person who believes in Christ to the core, renewing her mind through the gospel truth, and in humility from the Spirit helping her to find a greater degree of Christlikeness every day through every circumstance.

My sincere thanks to Dr. Barr for taking the time and the massive effort to put all of this into published words. The weight of the footnotes pains me to not be able to go and read every single one of those sources for myself. Yet, that’s why we don’t read in isolation. That’s why we are the Body of Christ, or at least, we are supposed to be. Can we give it a good read? Can we really immerse ourselves in the Word of God so that it sweetness would permeate through Word-based arguments? Can we truly love charitably? We have a lot to learn from Dr. Barr and from one another.

Godspeed, fellow reader. God be with you.