I saw the images on the news. The same images you've probably seen this week. Those images were of men carrying torches down the streets of a small town that, until this weekend, most folks had never heard of. I hadn't. The audio bytes and video clips allowed us to hear them chanting things that remind us of a time in world history we had hoped and prayed was over at the end of the Second World War. I've seen the video of the car that plowed into the crowd, knowing that at that instant, a life had been taken and nearly two dozen others had been injured. My heart breaks.
I'll not label the men walking the streets this weekend. I'll not call them names. I'll not voice hatred or wish them harm. I understand, I think, their anger. Change was coming to that small town, and change as we all know, can sometimes be ugly. However, it can also sometimes be very necessary. Was the city government right in their decision to take down the statue, causing the events of this past weekend to take place? I don't have an easy answer for that. Were they, as some have claimed, trying to erase history and downplay heritage? I honestly can't answer that one, either, nor do I try to.
I'm not even writing about what happened this weekend, directly. Indirectly, it has caused to resurface something I've struggled with for years.
What caused me to sit down and start typing was an article I saw this afternoon written by Russell Moore, titled, "White supremacy angers Jesus, but does it anger his church?" Actually, it wasn't the whole article that caused me to sit down at the laptop, it was just a few lines: "In a time like this, Christians might ask whether we should, in fact, be angry. Should we not instead just conclude that this is what a fallen world looks like and pray for the final judgment to come?"
The short answers are: Yes and No.
Jesus followers should be angry at any injustice raised against another member of the human family. Whether it was the events of this weekend, human trafficking, drug pushers, the systems that keep our brothers and sisters trapped in poverty and/or homelessness, governments who don't have their peoples' best interests at heart, bullies...anything that causes one human to inflict harm on another should make us angry. And yes, I believe those things anger Christ as well.
We should not just conclude that this is what a fallen world looks like and pray for the final judgement. Why? Because that is exactly what the forces of evil in this world want us to do...nothing...just wait...pray and it will all work itself out...hold on just a little longer and "Poof!" we're all gone into the clouds and everything wrong will be made right. Now, having said that I feel that I need to set up this next part...
I grew up in a very rural community, in a very rural and conservative church. I cut my teeth on the King James Version and could recite the "thees" and "thous" with the best of them. It was all I had ever known, but as I've grown older I find myself stepping out of the conservatism in which I was raised. At first it scared me, I mean really scared me, but I've grown to embrace the transformation. That transformation, however, shook me to my core. Here's an example:
1 Thessalonians 4:17, "Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever." All of my life I had heard about how that was going to happen. We sang about it. I heard sermons on it. It was something I never questioned. That something was...the rapture. It is proclaimed as a time when God will say "enough is enough" and whisk the church away, removing us from any and all threat and harm. It's also, I believe, a myth. Before you start throwing things, let me explain.
It's one verse, in one relatively obscure letter (I mean really, how many of us can flip right over to 1 Thessalonians? I have to thumb through the NT to get to it.) It is the only reference we have to any kind of escape plan when things around us get too tough. Rapture theology was developed by a man named John Nelson Darby in the 1830s and has little scriptural basis. On the other hand, though, we have multiple examples of times when Jesus told his disciples to get ready because stuff was about to happen.
Matthew 5:44, "But I say to you, 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'"
John 15:18, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you."
Luke 6:22, "Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and
spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man."
John 15:19, "If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are
not of the world, I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you."
Mark 13:9, "But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten
in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear
witness before them."
Then in another place he tells them to take a sword with them. Then in another he tells them to be shrewd. Then he tells them that he is sending them out as lambs among wolves. Over and over again, Jesus tries to prepare the disciples for the battle in which they are about to engage. Only once, do we get even a slight reference to Jesus saying, "Nah, I'm not going to let them go through all that."
Church, we have a job to do.
When we say nothing in the face of the violence we saw this weekend, we say more than we think. When we stand by and let evil walk past we have done more than we may think. When our only battle cry is "Come Lord Jesus," we are shirking our responsibilities as kingdom builders.
So, I'm a little angry.
I'm angry that it's 2017 and we're still dealing with racism. I'm angry that Washington didn't seem to be angry. Honestly, after all of the things we've watched in the news I'm kind of angry that a group of white men can walk down a street carrying torches, chanting hate, and all of them were allowed to go back home to their families virtually unharmed, while a group of African American men doing the same thing might have seen a different outcome...and I'm a white guy. I'm angry that I felt the need to choose between political correctness and what needed to be said the day after an event like this. I'm even angry about folks in the church possibly getting angry over this blog post.
But I'm not going to just sit and wait to be whisked away when things get tough, and if you haven't noticed, things are tough now. We have a story to tell about how God so loved the world, all of the world, even those in the world we don't agree with, and actually even those in the world who cause harm to others. That story is a love story open to people of all ages, nations, and races...and we have been called to tell that story over and over until hate is no more. The gospel of Christ was good news for the poor, marginalized, outcast, sinners, tax collectors, and anyone else in that time who was being made to feel less than a child of God by someone else. It was not good news for those who were already on the inside and chose to do nothing.
A quote from the late Daniel Berrigan has haunted me from the first time I heard it; "If you're going to follow Jesus, you better look good on wood."
Church, it's time. It's time to call evil what it is, to denounce those who only want to bring hate, fear, and division. It's time to remember our baptismal vows and stand in the gap for those who are suffering at the hands of others. It's time to show love in the face of hate, teach peace in the face of division, and offer forgiveness even to those we think unworthy of it. Ideological? Possibly. Impossible? Maybe. However, the difficulty of the task ahead does not give us an excuse to wait for God to fix everything. It's time to do anything that might help another discover their sacred worth...because...doing nothing is no longer an option.