Simon Peter just didn’t understand what Jesus meant. He was thrilled and honored, as a fisherman, to be among a select few individuals invited to travel around with such a smart grassroots rabbi who could perform real miracles. But Jesus had to suffer and die? Of course not! Jesus is the Messiah. He was the powerful king who would finally bring the exceptional Israel to be a great nation again, instead of a conquered people tossed between dynasties. How else would the throne of David last forever?
So, when soldiers, led by the treacherous Judas, came to arrest Jesus, Simon Peter picked up a sword and attacked a guard named Malchus, cutting off his ear. Was Simon Peter defending Jesus so Jesus could fulfill what He had told His disciples he would do? Or was Simon Peter defending Jesus so he could be a militant messiah and overthrow Roman rule?
Sometimes, as white Christians in America, we defend the god we’ve made in our own image.
And it’s become easier to tell when we’ve done so. Christianity is no longer the white man’s religion. It may have been raised in Europe and the U.S., but it is a global faith, transcending cultures. The largest assemblies of Christians aren’t in the northern hemisphere anymore. And sadly, unsettling truths of history are being revealed, showing, among other things, (for me, at least) previously-unknown and scandalous words spoken and actions taken by men we have considered American and/or Christian leaders. No matter the cleanliness of your family heritage, you cannot, as someone versed with the words of Jesus and the suffering service of the New Testament Church, read an objective history of the United States and believe that America is exceptional in any positive way in God’s eyes.
But I used to. And some of us still do. We make God in our own image. And when we think we are defending Him, we are defending an idol. This is confusing at best, and a bad witness at worst. White Christians, I, as your fellow, want to make clear:
If you show aggression or bully in the name of a certain cultural tradition or theological non-essential, you are not defending God.
If you ridicule the poor in the name of capitalism, you are not defending God.
If you disregard biblical values in your support of any political leader, you are not defending God.
If you deny and downplay the reality of white supremacy, you are not defending God.
If you are willing to risk or allow the suffering of others so that your felt rights are not threatened, you are not defending God.
White Christians, please understand. The Church has survived, not by any merit or effort of man, but by the power of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the humility and suffering of God’s people. The Bible is the inspired Word of God. Jesus is Lord. All of us are sinners, no exceptions. Everything else man-made, including church traditions, theological education, cultural customs of worship and other kitsch and franchised things, can be good but also so easily idolized.
We have an opportunity, white Christians, to acknowledge our failures and humble ourselves in the sight of the true and gracious God. Let us be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to be angry. Let us live such good lives that when we’re accused of doing wrong, our good deeds will show the love of the true God. Not a much smaller god of idols we’ve made.
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