A CALL TO AMERICAN EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS
I very rarely read a book than once. Outside of the Bible, there are a handful I’ve made a second attempt at. Beyond that, it’s been Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy and one more: Thomas Merton’s autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain. Those of you who read me enough think I’m a Willard nut? (And I am.) I’ve read Merton’s book at least twice as many times. It is like Augustine’s Confessions to me. I love Confessions as well. When he finally gets to the passage of “Pick up and read” I am in tears.
But Merton’s autobiography is the pinnacle for me. There is a richness to his writing and story that captures me. I find myself returning to this old friend yet again. As I read of his conversion, then his slow process of discipleship, I am struck by some thoughts in relation to the current situation with racism in America. We are at boiling point again. And this week, with the horrific killing in Charleston, there is a tipping point, I believe, for evangelical Christians to understand the deep seated need to act. Quite frankly, as I watch movies like “Selma” and “Lee Daniel’s The Butler” I am baffled somewhat by the silence of the evangelical church in that time period. But in light of how things are now, I can see how this is such a hard issue to dive into. So… we’re afraid.
I do not wish to be afraid any longer.
Merton came to faith at the end of 1938. He describes 1939 as a “grey year.” He muddled along not doing much to grow in faith. America and the rest of the world muddled along as Hitler propelled everyone toward war.
Everyone dreaded war, but no one wanted to do anything about it.
Merton writes this:
“… the dread of war is not enough. If you don’t want the effect, do something to remove the causes. There is no use loving the cause and fearing the effect and being surprised when the effect inevitably follows the cause.”
He had finally come to the realization that the cause of war was sin, but it’s his thoughts that followed that jolt me.
“If I had accepted the gift of sanctity that had been put in my hands when I stood by the font in November 1938 (when he was brought into the Church), what might have happened in the world? People have no idea what one saint can do: for sanctity is stronger than the whole of hell.”
Alas, he was muddling along in faith and did nothing in prayer. He leaves these haunting words:
“But the world did not get very much … out of me.”
I wasn’t born when Dr. King led the march at Selma. I am alive now, though.
And I’m wondering in the midst of all this upheaval… what is my voice? What in the world could I possibly do?
It’s a world that devolves quickly into bumper sticker arguments. We argue about gun rights. We argue about the virtue, or lack thereof, of the young black man that was killed. We argue about hating the police or liking the police.
We draw our lines and stay there.
And hatred builds.
So, I have to keep asking, “What good is my voice?”
I poke at the bear, showing the weakness of phrases from conservatives and liberals alike (because I am an equal opportunity offender), but what else? In my part of the Cities where I pastor, we have ethnic churches, but not many black churches. My hometown had a higher percentage of black population, so I was friends with many black pastors. But this area where I pastor is a bit different demographically.
I feel like I muddle along.
And then I am challenged deeply by Merton’s words. He truly felt if he had lived in power that year of 1939, the war might have been different. One man. Praying.
“People have no ideal what one saint can do: for sanctity is stronger than the whole of hell.”
That is why this week has the possibility of becoming a tipping point for evangelicals. And since that is my “tribe”, and I know all of maybe three people will actually take time to read this far on a very marginal blog, I will speak harshly. We need a good talking to.
I am angry at liberals and conservatives alike, but I save that for another day. I am tired of muddling as an evangelical and I am tired of evangelicals missing the obvious boat to be in during a time like this.
First of all, give up the standard conservative arguments and let me be as abundantly clear as possible: That means whatever FoxNews is touting… ignore it.
Ignore the whole thing of, “If someone had been packin’ in that church, this might not have happened!”
Ignore, “Well, the gunman was a loner.”
Ignore, “Well, the gunman was on medication.”
Ignore the bumper sticker answers. (I would plead with liberals to do the same thing.)
Let us THINK through this moment.
A young white gunman walked into a black church with hatred in his heart. He wrote about his hatred. He waved a Confederate flag in defiance on his web pages. He burned an American flag on his web pages. He celebrated Hitler. He did not walk in there on accident. He walked in with the intention of killing black people. With hatred in his heart, he shot black believers in a Bible study because they were black.
And here is why Charleston could be our tipping point as white evangelicals: Charleston didn’t erupt in violent protest. They prayed. Blacks and whites together. They prayed.
Everyone has witnessed the arraignment hearing where the killer was standing in the holding cell on video and family members vocally FORGAVE the young killer for what he did to their family members. FORGAVE him.
No fire bombs. No burning cars in the streets.
A deeply wounded community, torn to shreds once again by the violence of a racist rose up and forgave that racist. He will still be held accountable for his actions. But the community rose up to be bigger than the racist who tried to tear them up.
This is why I think we’ve reached a tipping point. And I want to jump into action, quite frankly.
I won’t hate all police. I won’t hate being white. I won’t hate anything.
I will work to build communication better with black churches, even if they aren’t directly in my community. I will try and hear their needs and see what I can do to help. I will advocate for better laws and speak out more boldly when a law really is unjust toward people of color.
If we will take this moment to consider what is before us, this is a moment we, as white evangelicals, don’t have to miss.
Acknowledge we have a deep problem with racism STILL in this country.
Mourn with the city of Charleston.
ASK how you can help a black church or black community leaders.
Watch your language.
Don’t jump to bumper sticker answers so quick.
Pray. Pray. PRAY.
And when you’ve done all that… pray some more.
“Sanctity is stronger than the whole of hell.”
May it not be said of me (at least) in this moment, “The world did not get much out of me.”