I just couldn’t believe it. A police officer had his body weight on the neck of a fellow human being for almost nine minutes, killing him, on suspicion of a counterfeit $20 bill. The presidency of Donald Trump and the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic had already showed what non-white and multicultural churches already knew: the Church in America has a “race problem.” As a white male Christian, I cannot and will not speak about the pain and trauma that women and POC have suffered over the centuries in this country. But surely, I thought, George Floyd’s murder would open more Christian eyes to that reality.
Not really. The year 2020 actually increased the number of practicing Christians unmotivated to address racial injustice.
It’s not surprising to me, as I recall all the statements and messages made from the pulpit and in cyberspace from my fellow white Christians over the past year. Mostly denial, complacency and/or apathy. Even after the jury’s verdict on Derek Chauvin.
As the pandemic fades, many Christians and church leaders in America want life to “return to normal.” But I fear that this desired “normal” is a retrogression from what we should have learned from 2020: a Church that is culturally-segregated, consumer-based, self-isolated, and replete with idols.
Despite the efforts I saw from many dominantly-white churches, such issues can't be solved with the appointment of one black guest preacher, or even permanent staff member. If the dominantly-white churches is to really move forward from 2020, more things need to change:
Fruit of the Spirit over non-essential theological precision. Having been involved in a few ministry communities, I’ve seen an undercurrent of condescension and rudeness from students of theology towards any possible dissenters (not so much the dissent itself). We over-analyze words of worship songs and literature with our Western minds and use words like “heresy” and “bad theology” too loosely. Altogether, we may assume that theological correctness (the more the better) will lead to godly living. But it doesn’t work that way.
Definitely be political. Just don’t be partisan. If the Church wasn’t ever political, it would have been an insignificant and pedestrian movement. It never would have survived the world’s political history, much less grown. Whenever people complain about a pastor preaching about politics from the pulpit, I wonder if they would have preferred American pastors of the early 19th century not talk about the evils of slavery. Saying “the church shouldn’t be political” is a dodge because church leaders should be initiating conversations about what is the most God-honoring approach to every issue. And it sadly can’t be emphasized enough that neither of America’s main political parties are showing God-honoring strives to establish biblical justice (the right relationship between God, self, others, and creation). Talk about biblical approaches to each and every individual issue. Just don’t theorize about God ordaining particular political parties or individuals.
No more enemies. Let me posit the following: the only enemies to truly receive our utmost hostility as Christians are Satan and his demons (and we can’t engage them alone). Other than that, we have no enemies. Politicians, CEO’s, and criminals are not our enemy. They are fellow human beings, made in the image of God. Ideologies and their purporters are not our enemies. Engaging with ideologies has always been how the Church has established its own theology. Since we have no visible enemies, let’s not treat anyone like we do.
Embrace the myth of objectivity. As white Christians, we are not objective in our theology and practice. Nor are we the standard. Yet, we qualify everyone else (e.g. “ethnic church,” “black theology”). A dominantly-white church that practices traditions and customs developed in Europe and the U.S. is not a “church” but an “ethnic church.” Theological statements and stances produced by individuals and organizations in Europe and the U.S. should not be termed as “theology” but qualified as “Western theology.” We need to be self-aware with how we have been influenced and discipled beyond what’s in the Nicene Creed. This includes our flaws, which leads me to the next point . . .
Get ready for some plank removal. Be willing and able to evaluate your self, your motivations, your community, and your heritage. No matter who you are, none of it is spotless. I’m not a Calvinist, but I certainly believe that total depravity applies to all things man-made, including systems, policies, organizations and, yes, even ministry practices and theology. We should always let iron sharpen iron, no matter how sharp we feel we’ve become.
Some means can’t be justified, no matter the ends. There are some things that a Christian just shouldn’t do. For example, even if the 2020 election was stolen (it wasn’t) and QAnon beliefs are true (they aren’t), no Christian should have raided the Capitol building. And it was quite eerie to see people praying thanks to God after they had “taken over” the Senate chamber. All the while, many Christians in America seem, at the very least, comfortable with supporting (invisibly or visibly) morally-compromised individuals to advocate for their supposed Christian values, sometimes even using non-Christian means. This is hypocrisy at best, corruption and apostasy at worst. This also leads me to the final point.
Get rid of idols. All of them. Your favorite political or ministry leaders. Your favorite political or theological stances. Your church’s or ministry’s brand equity. Your own reputation. Your beloved but extra-biblical ministry methods and philosophies. The good terms of your family, friends and financial supporters. As American Christians, we have the tragic unconscious habit of turning good things (as well as bad things) into idols. That needs to stop yesterday.
This is what we, as white Christians, should have learned from George Floyd’s murder, if not a long time ago. If we, as the numerical cultural majority of the American Church, can’t understand these New Testament principles even now, I seriously fear for the future of the American Church as a whole.
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