The events of last weekend in Charlottesville have weighed heavy on me this week. Especially as I read the accounts of that day and the varied responses from leaders of all stripes, both religious and political. My concern comes in wondering how the will church respond? And more specifically, how will our church respond?
I know how the church of Jesus Christ should respond. And it would be unequivocally in step with the witness of Jesus, who proclaimed his mission in Luke 4 to “proclaim the good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
But part of why I am so uneasy these days is due to my worry over whether the church is able to follow Jesus’ witness into the fray of race, privilege and power and have an honest conversation. Can the church name and confess the times and ways, both past and present, in which it has used its privilege and power for gain at the expense of other people created in God’s image? Are we ready or even willing to stand in solidarity with the minority and the immigrant when they are intimidated and threatened? Are we able to name it clearly as evil?
Likewise, are we able to also acknowledge there have been large numbers of white Americans who have felt forgotten and hurt – especially as they see their livelihoods closed and sent overseas; as their towns that used to have life and vigor are now empty and impoverished? Are we ready to hold in tension the reality that race does play a role in who we are, yet should not define our worthiness in the eyes of our neighbor as it certainly does not in the eyes of our creator?
There is real hurt, even anger across our land. Political activism isn’t the only solution here. Certainly, violence and intimidation, on any side is the opposite of a lasting solution that has in mind the common good. What is our solution? This is where you, the Life Community Leader, becomes important. Are you prepared to help your group wrestle with these questions?
What is the point of Sunday school, or what we now like to call Bible study or LIFE community groups? Yes, fellowship, care and support are a needed part of Christian community. But our main reason for being is to create a learning environment in which disciples learn to:
- Become critical thinkers who, guided by the Holy Spirit, interpret the Word for themselves, in community
- Take what they have learned from Bible study and worship and apply it to decision making and action in their everyday life.
Pastors have often said they prepare their weekly sermons with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Which is to say:
Provided what I know about the Bible, how do I, as a Christian, respond to what is happening around me?
How do I lead other Christians to do the same? This is a responsibility we all must carry – not just pastors or Bible study leaders. We all have a responsibility to interpret the world’s behavior and our own behavior in light of the entire Biblical witness.
So my prayer for you as we face what could become a prolonged period of social unrest and even violence is that we muster the ability to faithfully guide our groups in interpreting the events around us through the lens of our faith in Jesus Christ.
This is of particular import in light of society’s lack of regard for truth. Never has the water been murkier. Today, truth is only what aids someone in furthering their cause. People, through the power of social media and 24 hour news cycles, have become masters at distraction and confusion. For Christians, we should be about the transparency of furthering the cause of Christ.
In the case of last weekend, the truth is that anyone who seeks to intimidate, threaten, frighten, or harm another of God’s creation based on creed, nationality, or color is wrong. Without exception. It is the truth of Christ and we must protect it from being confused.
I am not asking you to take a political side, to make a judgement call on statues or tell your class how to think. I am simply commending you to place as the highest value for your class the desire to create disciples who seek the truth together, with the help of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. But I also stand with you and pray for you that our starting point be one that reflects God’s love for everyone. It must be. My earnest prayer for myself and all our Christian leaders is that, in love, we humbly guide our church to love everyone – even the perpetrators of hate. But we must always stand unequivocally against ideology and practice of hate.
Remember Jesus’ words from Matthew 5:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me… You are the salt of the earth … the light of the world.”
I’ve read and processed a lot over the last few days. Here are a few perspectives that I think really move the conversation forward:
From Richmond Christian Leadership Initiative – a checklist of Christian leadership practices when deciding “what should I do?” http://rcliweb.org/checklist/
This may be the best example of practicing Christ-like love for everyone in the face of persecution: http://www.thekingcenter.org/king-philosophy
A perspective from a young CBF pastor, who also happens to be black, about Charlottesville and the church: https://baptistnews.com/article/charlottesville-past-time-conversation/#.WZStqlGQzIV
A first-hand account of the events in Charlottesville from an evangelical leader and steps forward. http://brianmclaren.net/what-i-saw-in-charlottesville/
And from Layne Smith, who has been serving at Chautauqua Institute in upstate NY, a quote from Michael Gerson:
Michael Gerson, conservative columnist for Washington Post said at the Chautauqua Institute this week:
“There is life and death, the Scriptures say, in the power of the tongue. Words can provide permission for prejudice.”
“If great words can heal and inspire, base words can corrupt.”
Our word choice is “…a test of our anthropology.”
“We need a politics that calls us to the common good, not the triumph of our tribe.”
“We need religious leaders who will emphasize the ‘imago dei,’ not the controversy of the day.”
“If people have the traits of compassion and generosity, the ‘thick walls of contempt’ will be broken down.”
“This is the strange alchemy of empathy. We serve our principles best by loving people even more than our principles.”