We live in interesting times. Unlike anything I have ever seen. But they are not unprecedented. Our country has been through difficult times before. But that was then. This is now.
There is a saying that goes like this: Those that don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it. My desire is to learn from history, especially U.S. history.
One of the things I have learned from our history is how churches and ministers were complicit in our nation’s dealings with Native Americans. Consider the following, “With a few notable exceptions…those engaged in eighteenth-century mission work disdained Native American culture and barred it from the churches” (Richard Twiss, One Church Many Tribes, 2000, p. 26). What we did to the Native Americans was genocide, and we did it while claiming to be a “Christian nation.” During this period, churches and denominations build schools to convert them to Jesus and “beat the savage out of them.”
Another thing I have learned from our history is how many the churches in the United States (especially in the South) and how many ministers in the United States (especially in the South) did not speak out against slavery. Many ministers (like Jonathan Edwards and Cotton Mather, both Northerners) actually owned slaves. At times, the Bible was even used to support slavery. Consider this quote from a book written in 1857 by Albert Barnes titled, The Church and Slavery:
“Not a few church-members are slave-holders…In the aggregate the number of members of the church, in all the religious denominations, who hold their fellow men in bondage, is not small…some who are ministers of the gospel, there are those who are slave-holders in the most rigid and offensive sense”
One last thing I have learned from our history is how most white evangelical churches, and most white evangelical pastors, did not support Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Many white ministers and churches and denominations actually opposed him. Here is what Dr. King wrote in his letter from a Birmingham jail:
“I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership…When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we should be supported by the white church. I felt that the ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders: all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows…In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: ‘Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.'”
Unfortunately, the reality is that more often then not, the conservative wing of Christianity in the United States has been on the wrong side of key, biblical, social issues. I have often wondered what I would have done if I were alive and ministering during those other difficult times in history. Would I have been an active Abolitionist? Would I have stood, and died, with my Native Americans? Would I have gone to jail with Dr. King? Would I have been a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War?
Well, I did not live during those times. I only live during the present, and I want to learn from history so as not to repeat it. I want to swim against the stream and not give into the pressure to go with the flow in order to get along. My faith in Jesus demands that I stand with people who are being mistreated, and that I speak out against the injustices I see around me. I want to be on the right side of history. But more importantly, I want to be on the right side with Jesus.
It is for this reason that I cannot go along with building a wall and tearing families apart through deportations,
It is for this reason that I cannot go along with nationalism and isolationism.
It is for this reason that my citizenship in the kingdom of God trumps my being a citizen of the United States.
It is for this reason that I will stand with immigrants and refugees.
It is for this reason that I will speak out, and write editorials, demanding justice reform, and ending mass incarceration and capital punishment.
It is for this reason that I believe adequate and affordable healthcare is a basic human right.
It is for this reason that I will fight for affordable housing and take care of the homeless.
It is for this reason that I will continue to be pro-life.
It is for this reason that I will stand against unjust wars.
Will I ever take the wrong side of a social issue? Yes. Will I always get it right? No. But if I am to err, I want to err on the side of being compassionate, forgiving, and loving.
At least I hope that is what I would do.