This Thursday, October 19th, I’ve been invited to American Baptist College to speak, and be on a panel, titled, “Community or Chaos.” It’s an interesting topic for today’s environment. If you are in the Nashville area, I would love to see you there at 1pm. Lunch will be served.
It has been almost 50 years since Dr. King was assassinated, and right now, race relations in the United States are at historic lows. By all sociological standards, African-Americans are worse off today then before the Civil Rights movement. Just last month, The Washington Post, reported that African-Americans are the only racial group in the United States making less in 2016 then they did in 2000. The unemployment rate of Black Americans is double that of White Americans. Add to this, the number of African-American males incarcerated, the number of African-American males killed by police, the number of African-American males killed by other African-American males, and the increase in white supremacy and white nationalism, one can only conclude that it is difficult, and dangerous, being a black male in our society.
The type of racism that incarcerates and that keeps a person unemployed, is not just individual racism; it is systemic racism!
But it’s just not racism.
Our world, more specifically, our country, is in utter chaos!
We are more divided now then anytime in my lifetime.
We are addicted to violence.
We are one of a handful of countries that still executes people.
We have perfected hate.
There is very little respect for life.
All of this in spite of the fact there is a church in every corner and in every community.
The question is, Why are we in chaos?
As a minister of the gospel, and as a local church pastor for almost 30 years, my only conclusion is that we, as a country, are in chaos because the church has not been the church. We have strived for importance, when we should have strived for influence. We have toiled for success, when we should have prayed for significance. In his Letters from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King expressed his disappointment in the church, especially the white church. He wrote:
“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.’” (May I had a personal note here? Over the last year or so, I too, have heard that same criticism from some of my white pastor friends.)
For the past fifty-plus years, the church (in the United States) has been more interested in budgets and buildings and programs, then in being salt and light in the community. We have been more interested in individual fame than in Civil Rights. We have been more interested in being in the circle of power than in speaking truth to power. We have subjugated our responsibility to care for the poor and the sick and the marginalized to the government. We have stressed individual salvation over corporate repentance. We have been content with counting the people in the pews on Sundays instead of condemning systemic social problems Monday through Saturday. Ultimately, we have built our own little kingdoms, instead of proclaiming, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). Like the people God used Haggai to prophesy to, we have built our own houses while the house of the Lord lies in ruins. In the words of the prophet Hosea, we have sowed “the wind and [are reaping] the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7). We are as chaotic as Sodom and Gomorra, and, according to the prophet Ezekiel, it is for the same reason. Through Ezekiel, God said, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter [Gomorrah] were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen” (Ezekiel 16:50).
We are in chaos, and it is because of our own arrogance and disobedience.
What is the solution?
The solution is repentance! Not simply repentance of our individual sins (for they are many), but repentance of our corporate sins, our national sins, and our sins as churches and as pastors. Our sin of not being bold enough to say, “No more! The insanity stops now!” In the words of the prophet Joel, we need to “Declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord” (Joel 1:14).
An individualistic faith is not powerful enough to change the rising tide of chaos. It will take a corporate repentance, and a corporate faith, to combat the arsenal of racism, bigotry, hatred, violence, and all other forms of injustice.
We are the body of Christ, the incarnation of Jesus in the world today. We must reclaim our marching orders and remember that we have been “anointed…to preach good news to the poor. [We have been] sent to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18). We must never forget that God’s Kingdom is both NOW AND not yet. We need to be reminded that the difference between sheep and goats is clear, and it’s an eternal difference (see Matthew 25:31-46). Are we…
…feeding the hungry?
…quenching the thirsty?
…welcoming the immigrant?
…clothing the naked?
…caring for the sick?
…visiting the prisoner?
…caring for the widow?
…protecting the orphan?
…ridding our communities of poverty?
One last thing:
I believe, as a white pastor, the solution is repentance, AND THEN sitting down and being quiet, letting our minority brothers and sisters (our brothers and sisters of color–Black, Asian, and Hispanic) lead us out of this wilderness of chaos. Why? Because the Scriptures were not written from a place of dominance, and thus, should not be interpreted from a place of privilege. The Scriptures were written by oppressed people, to oppressed people, for oppressed people, showing them the path from oppression to freedom in Christ.. In the words of Dr. James Cone and Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, “A theology of suffering IS a theology of the cross” (see NOTE below). Jesus could have been talking to the modern, white, evangelical church in the United States when He said, “Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27-28).
So, to recap: We are in chaos because the church has not been the church. The solution is corporate repentance, and the humility to let the oppressed lead us out of Egypt into the Promise Land.
That sounds biblical, don’t you think?
NOTE: The exact quote is from Dr. Rah’s book, The Next Evangelicalism, 2009, p. 153. But I believe this quote also reflects most, if not all, of Dr. Cone’s theology, especially in his book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree.