Culture

One Church’s Response to White Supremacy in Charlottesville

Many of us are aware, while some possibly are not, that there were marches and protests by white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA, this weekend. Chants, flags, racist symbols, and violence shouted as loudly as the protestors themselves that white supremacy isn’t merely a figment of black America’s imagination. Today, I’d like to share some words regarding racial events that have increased in violence and visibility.

At times I haven’t known what to say. The truth is that I’m insecure about speaking into racial issues. My experience has taught me that people from all ends of the spectrum are upset—some because they think I talk about nothing but race and others because I don’t really know how to talk about it at all. And there’s some truth in that; I’ve made a muddle of it enough times to know I don’t really know. It’s easier to just be quiet. But I do know Jesus, I do believe the gospel, and it seems that the gospel is intersecting public life at this pressure point.

So I’d like to take a moment to speak for all of us here at Morning Star.

Scenes like the ones we saw this weekend grieve us. They should grieve all Christians. Men and women made in the image of God publicly and brazenly demeaning and attacking other men and women made in God’s image is a deeply disturbing, anti-Gospel image. Because we believe the gospel, we condemn racial sin of all sorts and the lie of white supremacy in particular. It is an abomination worthy of eternal punishment in hell. We hate it because God hates it. It doesn’t need to be soft-pedaled and shouldn’t be given any modicum of acceptance in Christian churches, and it’s not acceptable here.

God has blessed our congregation with a number of families and individuals of different ethnicities and skin colors. It’s one of the things I love about our church family. It’s like a little taste of heaven. But most of us don’t have the shared experience of being black in America. Because of this, it’s easy to be blind to much of the experience of people of color within America. So we should be humble in our response to these events. We must grieve with those who grieve and weep with those who weep. We must also condemn what God condemns. We must not allow our brothers and sisters of color to fight these battles on their own. There are some moments that aren’t clear. The events of this weekend were crystal clear.

God hates the fallacy of racial superiority. He hates racism enough that he poured out his anger on his own Son to punish the sin of racism and to redeem racist bigots who repent of their sin. Jesus shed his blood to unite all people—equally condemned before the justice of God and equally gloriously redeemed by the grace of God. Revelation 5:9-10: 9 And they sang a new song (to the Lamb), “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

So how do we respond to this weekend?

First, we declare that our unity is in Christ and that all people of all color are welcome and loved here. We eat of one body and drink of one cup. And to you who have been threatened by these events, know that it’s not you, it’s we—or more colloquially … us. We are one in Christ, we love you, and we stand with you.

Secondly, we deny that any human being is inherently superior to another, and we gladly affirm the dignity of all humans—whether we differentiate by race, mental ability, gender, age, or any other measure. Because all people are created in God’s image, all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. We gladly condemn racism in all its forms and white supremacy, in particular, including its most recent iteration in what’s become known as the “alt-right.”

Thirdly, we cry out to God for mercy. We pray for our nation, for our world, and for the return of Jesus. The only way that true, lasting righteousness will fully and finally reign in the world is for Jesus to come back and make it all right again, to make creation new.

So let’s take a moment now and pray for peace and pray for our gospel light to shine brightly in a world shrouded in darkness.

Will you pray with me?

“Father, our hearts were grieved this weekend as we saw what unfolded in Charlottesville, VA. We pray for your peace to reconcile divides that seem unbridgeable right now. And we ask for wisdom for the events of today. On the one hand we’re inadequate and small, yet on the other we want to love and serve those we know, those we can help. Root out the vestiges of superiority of all sorts that remain in our hearts, whether that relates to gender, race, religion, income level, or anything else. Have mercy on our nation, we pray. And give us courage to stand firm in the gospel even when the cost of discipleship seems near and dear. So we pray for wisdom and grace and courage and above all for peace. In the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, amen.”

Advertisements

Some Thoughts on MLK Day

1. Remember that racial reconciliation matters because the multifaceted (“manifold”) wisdom of God is the way God makes his glory known (Ephesians 3:7-10).

2. Remember that racial reconciliation is a fruit of the gospel and is therefore an important part of reflecting gospel culture to the world (Ephesians 2:11-22).

3. Pray for peace and unity as a fruit of the gospel (Ephesians 3:14-20).
Don’t just speak for and fight for justice. Pray for it!

4. Speak truth in the face of sinful prejudice, and act when you see it.
Prayer is the right starting point, but prayer should move us to speak and act. We must not be silent in the face of cultural evil, no matter what the evil is.

5. Strive to make your home and your church a place that welcomes all people of all cultures.

6. Fight sinful prejudice in your own heart.
Our tendency is to believe that generations in the past struggled with this but that we’ve mastered it. We’re sinners like they are; sometimes our sinful prejudice manifests itself in different ways.

7. Repent of sinful prejudice when you find it in your heart.
Especially, repent of prejudice spoken and acted upon.

8. Proclaim the gospel.
True peace and unity can only be experienced in Christ. Since the gospel is our only true hope for true racial unity, we must speak and live it everywhere we go. We must speak up about racial injustice, but we must do so speaking the reconciling gospel of Jesus Christ.

It Was Every Bit as Good as I Hoped (Responding to David Mathis at Desiring God)

You may or may not have heard, so I thought I’d make sure everyone knew: Clemson won the College Football Playoff on Monday night.

On Tuesday, lifelong Clemson fan David Mathis, executive editor at desiringgod.org wrote a post entitled, “The Greatest Day in a Fan’s Life,” in which he said, “Now that I’m on the inside of it, I can tell you it’s not as good as I hoped.” A number of good friends have read and shared the post.

I thought I’d take a moment and respond to Mathis here. I too am a lifelong Clemson fan. I don’t know David, but I read just about every post at Desiring God and a quick Evernote search turns up eighteen David Mathis articles saved for future reference. So I’ve been helped quite a bit by his work.

That being said … I just can’t quite agree with the weight of his post. It seems to me that he makes a right point in an unhelpful way. As a pastor who values and preaches the supremacy of Christ in all things, I heartily assent to his emphasis on the final victory of Christ as our greatest joy. I also share his concern with the tendency of sports fans to idolize their teams and sporting events.

But for me, Monday night was every bit as good as I had hoped. My wife and two daughters stayed up for the entire game (waaaay past bedtime), and we all rejoiced together when Clemson pulled out the W at the last second (ok, ok—I rejoiced a little more than everyone else…!). I didn’t find ultimate fulfillment in that moment, but I hadn’t anticipated that I would. But that moment brought GREATER joy than I had anticipated. Clemson last won the championship the year I was born (1981), so this was a long time coming. I was disappointed (but not crushed) by last year’s loss in the championship game and elated (but not ultimately so) at this year’s victory.

So I found myself feeling like Mathis’s post rained on the Clemson parade in Rockford, IL (it was a small parade). If you’ll allow me to digress for a moment… Our girls are at an age where they enthusiastically anticipate Christmas Day, in large part because of the presents they’ll receive. We take time each Christmas to read the Christmas story and invest the day with the worthiness of Christ. But the last thing I’d want to do is caution my kids, as they’re opening their presents, not to enjoy that moment too much—because Jesus is better.

Yes, Jesus IS better than presents or a measly national championship. But reminding someone in the midst of joy that there’s an emptiness behind earthly joy—while technically right—seems to miss the intent of the moment. When Jesus tells us we should become like little children to enter the kingdom of God, it seems that he is—at least in part—pointing us to the innocent, freely enthusiastic joy that a child shows when she’s happy.

So, rather than leaving me feeling hollow or empty (or reminding others that they should feel that way), Monday’s game for me serves to heighten my anticipation precisely because of the joy I experienced: “If this is this much fun, imagine how much fun rejoicing in Jesus without any sin will be!” And the weekly gathering of our church is a source of joy on a regular basis for me in a similar manner. It’s not always euphoric, but sometimes it is—like when someone repents and is baptized or when someone shares how the Word of Christ has affected their life in a fresh way or when the voices of our congregation sing together and melt the coldness of my heart.

And in the big scheme of things, Mathis’s post seems to convey a view of culture that is less than helpful. If we enjoy culture as the ultimate good, that’s … not good. But if we enjoy culture as a window to the glory of God, it’s like the appetizer to the more amazing meal to come (rather than a dessert that we’re warned not to enjoy too much).

In the words of John Piper (in the foreword to this book): “The weakness of (Christian hedonism’s ascetic tendency) is that little space is devoted to magnifying Christ in the right enjoyment of creation and culture. Little emphasis is given to Paul’s words: ‘God created [foods] to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving’ (1 Tim. 4:3-4). Or his words that God ‘richly provides us with everything to enjoy’ (1 Tim. 6:17).”

For me, Monday night wasn’t a moment of hollow ache. It was a moment of sheer gladness, and that—more than any emptiness—makes me excited about the ultimate victory of Christ.

Christmas & Christian Empathy

If there’s any time of year that should move Christians to empathy with their fellow man, it’s Christmas. Yet when you hear Christians talk about Christmas, you hear words like celebration, worship, family, together, etc. (which are all great!). The incarnation of Jesus, though, is the greatest model for empathy the world has ever seen.

Empathy in the Incarnation
When God became man, he left the eternal glory and joy of being God and of enjoying all that God deserves. Jesus, in entering the created world, humbled himself and entered into our discomfort and pain. He knows what it is to be hungry, to have no place to lay his head, to feel left out and mocked. God tells us Jesus did this because of his great love for us. The shame he experienced was far greater than anything any other human being has ever experienced. And one result of Jesus’ experience of humility and shame is that he can empathize like no other person the world has ever known: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

A Problem
In spite of the fact that the Christmas season models the compassion of God so clearly, Christians often view human suffering as a problem to be solved—or worse—avoided and ignored. Simply read what many majority Christians and Christian leaders say about those on the margins of society in our own country or about refugees from war and abuse huddled in camps in other countries.

We view the refugee and the outcast as a political problem to be solved or an inconvenience to be avoided. This ought not to be! There’s truth in the concept of personal responsibility, but the idea that anyone can overcome life’s obstacles through hard work and determination doesn’t work equitably across the board. Jesus’ birth teaches us this. Yes, our world (and the United States, in particular) is filled with unparalleled opportunity, but Mary and Joseph finding refuge in a stable, then fleeing to Egypt, is a model for Christian compassion and empathy, not for the doctrine of self-help.

What I’m Not Trying to Do
I’m not attempting to address the responsibilities of people to own their problems and work to overcome them (that’s the other side of the coin). Rather, I pray that God will give Christians eyes to see that our responsibility is to listen with compassion and empathy. Christian leaders should take the lead in calls for compassion and help for those in need—even if those needs are complicated and difficult to address.

Call to Action: Humility
First, as Christians, we should see the humility and shame of Christ and recognize that a little humility goes a long way for us in these conversations. As first-world, majority-culture Christians, the truth is that we just don’t “get” a lot of problems that those living on the margins deal with. This should move us to humility, as we have a lot to learn. I don’t know what it’s like to be a black or hispanic person in America, and I certainly don’t know what it’s like to be a refugee whose home has been destroyed by war.

Call to Action: Empathy
True humility moves us to compassionate empathy. While we may not literally feel the pain of a Syrian refugee, we should try to empathize with the hurting. Jesus actually did feel our pain and carry it in his body, so that we wouldn’t have to endure the worst consequences of our sin. So take off your “political hat” for a few minutes, and hurt with those who hurt. Weep with those who weep.

Call to Action: Love One Person
One difficulty of calls to listen and empathize is that the problems are so great there is no way any human being or human institution, including the US government, can address all of the issues. But we can love one person who’s not like us. We can love one person who’s hurting, and we can listen with humble empathy to the broader problems, asking God to give us wisdom on when and how to engage.

Thinking about Cultural Engagement

The darker it is, the brighter the light shines. Christians have an opportunity to shine the light of the gospel most brightly, when it’s darkest around us. That being said, the church tends to have two different responses to culture.

Response 1: To withdraw completely
This frame of mind says that the church is a fort to protect us from outsiders. We live in the world in such a way that if we’re shining any light at all, it’s a spotlight from a long way away saying, “There are problems out there in the big, bad dirty world.” We spread the gospel by launching verbal grenades from our bunker.

Response 2: To live in the world as the world
In this view, the gospel is minimized as unhelpful, even offensive. Ministry is focused almost exclusively on felt needs, and the culture is embraced and never challenged.

Gospel Response: Engage & Confront
Both of these responses are insufficient. Clearly, we must be in the culture for our light to shine. If we’re totally withdrawn from social and cultural engagement, we aren’t exposing the secrets hidden in the darkness (Ephesians 5:7-14). At the same time, we’re to be in the world in a way that sheds the light of the gospel’s offense on the sins of humanity against a holy God (John 17:1-18).

The gospel builds bridges by saying that we’re ALL sinners, and it offends by saying that we’re all SINNERS. The only way to God is through repentance and faith. It’s an offensive message that says the sin we love isn’t ok, that we’re not all going to be ok, that the only way to be ok is to repent of our sin and trust Christ. The offense of repentance in the gospel disappears in light of God’s love in the gospel.

The Christian light must be a light that shines both the light of God’s holiness on our sin and the light of God’s love for us in spite of our sin. We shine God’s judgment on sin as a warning and motivation, and we shine the grace of the gospel as a winsome catalyst to run to Christ.