Theology Current Events Christian Living

Charlottesville: A “Target” of Opportunity

Mike Higgins

What happened in Charlottesville, VA on Saturday, August 12th was a demonstration of evil in the form racism and bigotry. White Supremacists and White Nationalists are homegrown terrorists groups.

When I was trained as a field artillery officer in the US Army, I was told there were two types of targets: planned targets and targets of opportunity. A target of opportunity is one that appears out of nowhere – unplanned – but it is high value, and worth engaging.

Charlottesville is a target of opportunity. It is an unplanned crisis that the Church can use to express the love and reconciliation of the Gospel. It’s an opportunity to engage our people and engage Jesus who is always at work in the community, whether we acknowledge his work or not.

Sunday morning, the Holy Spirit moved me to pray for members of the KKK and the Neo NAZI Party. I didn’t want to, I really did not want to. I truly believe the Holy Spirit compelled me to do it. It was a serious Holy Spirit moment, because I don’t rock with racists. But I believe that the Holy Spirit caused me to see how their racist beliefs will impact their children and grandchildren. I just could not bring myself to be apathetic about the impact of domestic terrorists on their own children. I could not bring myself to return their hate with the same apathy. And this is a struggle for me.

While I struggle even now to offer this letter, it is worth while for me to state what should be obvious. What happened in Ferguson, at Mizzou and other universities, in Charleston, and now Charlottesville are much bigger than the physical encounters that we see in the 15-second loops shown on the news. But these events are not the same.

Telling the Truth

In Charleston and in Charlottesville, white supremacist terror wounded and murdered people. In Ferguson and St. Louis, at anti-racism protests around the world, people actively condemned white supremacy in many forms. For years, people have cried out a warning – and shown devastating proof – that hatred is deadly. The question remains, how will churches respond to these things?

I believe victory will be accomplished through Christians committed to showing up. I will still show up in places where clergy needs to be visible and vocal, and I will be an irritation to those who abuse their authority. I also believe the victory will be accomplished by 1) Gospel preaching that challenges the notion that the purpose of the evangelical church is to make evangelicals feel good, 2) radical prayer and worship at all times, and 3) supporting righteous resistance and the sacrificial actions of a Redeemed Army of lay people in our churches.

Perhaps most difficult of all, I believe victory will come through our obedience to the Lord who commanded us to love our enemies. We cannot live in the disobedience of ignoring the sin of racism and using the terminology “love your enemies” to justify the protection of prejudiced practices. This is not the example of Jesus.

Jesus taught us that telling the truth – and acting accordingly – is integral to godliness. As the Word of God and the Son of Man, he confronted the oppressive actions of church leaders. He challenged bigotry, judgmental attitudes, and injustice. He exposed the prejudices that his enemies loved. He knew exactly who his enemies were, and he took every opportunity to speak directly about the wickedness they shielded. The love of Jesus for his enemies was not a cover-up; it was rooted in revelation. This is the example we must follow. This is the work of love that the church has inherited.

But we have shunned the revealing, revolutionary acts of love because they are too difficult. We have invalidated our own message. The reason that the Church has not been able to rightly dismantle white supremacist notions is because the Church is guilty of undermining racial justice.

The Church is a spiritual army; it is not a production. This is not a space where our only obligation is to pay for coffee and a comfortable seat, watch four “acts” of music, announcements, and vague self-improvement tips from Invocation to Benediction, then go out and “do real life.” No. The Church is real life. And that means confronting the realities of our contexts with kingdom consciousness and truth.

The Body of Christ is past the time of posturing against racism, terrorism, and injustice in the world. Facebook posts are not enough. We need to walk out what we talk about. If we want to fight injustice, we will confess our own part in protecting and supporting it. We will change the way we spend money, the way we talk. And repentance – recognizing our own failures – will make us both humble and bold enough to confront any failures in our communities.

If I spoke to members of the KKK or the Neo-Nazis who claim to be Christians, I would want to find out exactly how long their country has been missing and who they think stole it. I would also ask, “Do you go to church? Where is that church? What does the story of Jesus mean to you?”

In South City Church’s Sunday School class, Renee and I are teaching on Racial Unity from Galatians. The class is called “Gentile Lives Matter.” I mentioned we must pray for the Lord to intervene and wreck the anti-christian Christianity of white supremacy and white-centeredness, for the sake of this generation and those to come. After the class, one of my members walked up to me and said, “My grandfather and great-grandfather were in the KKK, and I appreciate your model of praying for the children and grandchildren of these people.”

Dismantling racial terror will take radical love for our enemies, even when we have valid and justifiable reasons to call them racist, segregationists, ultranationalist, sexist, and terrorists.

4 thoughts on “Charlottesville: A “Target” of Opportunity

  1. Matt

    After watching various video presentations recently on Desiring God and becoming convicted of my sins of omission and commission related to racism, I did an online search for reformed black pastors seeking biblical discussions related to this. I ran across this site. I truly appreciate the article and these comments. I think I’ve lived in a bubble so to speak, being white, Republican etc. for a very long time. I did believe this was someone else’s problem because it didn’t affect me. I’m being convicted by the Holy Spirit otherwise. Thank you for your honesty and openness in this forum.

  2. Ron Carroll

    Pastor Higgins,

    Many of the things you’ve said I am in agreement with. One of the hardest things to live with in this country is the different point of views of racism. African Americans have been telling White Americans the depth of racisms for years, how European racism came to America and has festered for centuries and we just are not capable of eradicating it from society.
    I’ve been a Christian for 35 years and have heard uncounted preachers speak from their pulpit about sin. But it wasn’t until my pastor, Brad Anderson said one thing, one line, one reality and that was, we’re in a sin state. Plain and simple. The concept is we are sin and it’s up to each individual to realize it and deal with it with the help of Christ Jesus that will change our hearts.
    Part of our sin nature is arrogance. We often announce ourselves fit for the kingdom of God. It’s like packing for a vacation. The luggage is packed and ready to load and we’re off. God comes by and says, you’ve forgotten a few things, but we wave it off and say we don’t need it, let’s go. God may frown and say you’ll need this, you’ll see.
    We’ve said too often in our society that we don’t need to learn and understand our history. We don’t need to stomach the atrocities of the past. It’s not my trip. That’s the other guy’s trip. I’m good to go. In our hearts we say, I didn’t do it. I’m not a racist! Yet for years Blacks, Jewish people and minorities have been trying to convey that the legacies of the past have damaged the present and minorities in this country have suffered. I realize there are millions of Whites in this country that are no better of than I am economically. They feel like, hey, we’re no better off. Stop blaming me! I’m not. I just want you to listen.
    The Body of Christ is to be different, There’s no arguments and no exceptions, we’re to be different. We are to be a light in a dark world. We are called by Christ Jesus to be different and charged by Christ to show and share the love of Christ. We have to bare our cross in this. We have to give up of our inner feelings, traditions and the way we were raised. We somehow have to put Christ Jesus first in our hearts. We’re to lead by example and we’re to suffer the disappointments when we don’t see the love of Christ in others.
    I am in total agreement that the Church is to be charged with the indictment of hatred. The Church has held the gift of love since it was formed by the Apostles, but our sin has forbidden God like decisions within in our hearts. The Body of Christ in America during the early colonies felt American slavery was fine and that separation of the races was perfectly OK by God. It was an economic boom for many White Americans. We justified it in our hearts that these conditions were fine by the Lord, if not endorsed. As far as I’m concerned the heart is contaminated. We have to adjust our thinking and think more in line with the truth of Christ Jesus. We don’t gets to make it up as we go along.
    While the arguments rage, the finger pointing, outright denial and other social ramifications ensue, we the Body of Christ have to relent. We have to insist that not our will, but the will of God be done. We have to understand and know that the will of God is the unification of His Body for the betterment of His people. No one gets ownership of God. God has said nothing about our political policies and leadership in America. One is fooled by the devil in his deception of the human spirit if one believes that God has found favor with certain Americans because they called themselves good Christian believers. The word of God does not support this. It’s a lie from the pit of hell. These are the attitudes that perpetuates these acts of racism in America. We can hash over our personal feelings all we want, but the fact remains, we are still in our sin state and only the love of Christ Jesus can remedy that.
    I am African American, attending a predominantly White church in Roseville, CA. I was invited 11 years ago to a Men’s Bible study and through the twist and turns that is this life, my wife converting from Catholism to Protestant and all that goes into that, we have talked endlessly about where we are in the church and what God’s word says. My wife is White. There was a small issue with the Kapernick thing with a few of the guys. My wife and I are working on it. It’s no day at the beach because hearts get stuck in mud of sin. Digging out and scraping the mud off isn’t easy. When any racial incidents happens in America I take it personal because I often say to myself, that could have been me.
    The love of Christ means we reach out to one another and we suck it up. We learn to listen. We don’t just blow it off as having nothing to do with it. I was as usual, deeply hurt and annoyed because only one, just one of my White friends said a word about the event in Charlottesville. That was Pastor Anderson. I had one discussing with a man I’m getting to know. As for those that have known me for several years, it goes on as it has gone, not a single word. My brother, who pastors his own church and is a committed Repuiblican, narrowed the Charoletteville down to the media playing it up. I said 3 lives were lost for absolutely nothing! Nothing! He said nothing.
    Racism in America is overwhelming. It’s a time when all people, especially people of the true and living God, the Body of Christ, those of us that call ourselves followers of Christ Jesus, that is the Christians need to examine our hearts and motives. We’re not allow to call ourselves fit for the kingdom. God will say, well done, good and faithful servant. Not us. In the meantime we’re to practice what Jesus has commanded, that we love one another as He has loved us. This isn’t to be taken lightly as if we’re at a church picnic with fun and games. We’re to get to the depths of our heart and work at loving one another in the true sense of Christ Jesus. Then and only then will we learn to love, be Christ like and be the light of Christ in a sinful dark world.

    We have to love. No exceptions. We have to love.

    Give the glory and honor to Christ Jesus and allow Him to say to us, job well done, good and faithful servant.

  3. Brenda

    Thanks j.c. a well written reply that mirrors my own questions and kudos.

  4. JC

    Rev Higgins,

    Thank you for your article. It was well written.

    There are a couple of comments I would like to make. First, (full disclosure) I am a white, protestant (politically conservative) male who did NOT vote for Trump (I think he is a complete buffoon for a variety of reasons). Just letting you know I am not wearing my MAGA hat, watching Fox News and trying to troll you during a Hannity commercial break.

    You have two paragraphs that I would like to interact with.
    The first – “If I spoke to members of the KKK or the Neo-Nazis who claim to be Christians, I would want to find out exactly how long their country has been missing and who they think stole it. I would also ask, “Do you go to church? Where is that church? What does the story of Jesus mean to you?””

    While I think you are on the right track, I believe you miss the point.
    I truly believe that the white supremacists/Nazi’s/KKK are not Christians at all. They may be “Christian” in the sense that they aren’t Muslim and they aren’t atheist, but they are not Christian in a Biblical sense. I believe if you asked the protesters who claim to be Christian to name the 10 Commandments, explain how a person is justified, describe the purpose of Christ’s death, or explain any other rudimentary doctrine of basic, reformed Christianity, you would be met with a blank look. My point here is that if these folks aren’t Christians (and I believe almost all of them aren’t) it makes it very difficult for us to confront them, especially within the church context. I don’t believe that most white supremacists attend evangelical churches at all, let alone churches that practice a Biblical version of church discipline.

    Secondly, – “But we have shunned the revealing, revolutionary acts of love because they are too difficult. We have invalidated our own message. The reason that the Church has not been able to rightly dismantle white supremacist notions is because the Church is guilty of undermining racial justice.”
    I believe you are incorrect here. The reason that the church has not been able to dismantle white supremacy is because white supremacy is a sin. And the church can’t dismantle any other sin (coveting, fornication, infidelity, envy, taking the Lord’s name in vain, murder, etc. have not and will not be “dismantled” by the church). The only thing that can “dismantle” sin is the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in the life of each individual believer of the Gospel. If you give the (white?) Church the task of dismantling racism, I believe you are asking it to do something of which it is incapable of doing.
    Additionally, I would find it helpful if you defined “the Church” in this paragraph. Are you referring to anyone who goes to any church in the world? In the United States? Is this the invisible Church or the visible Church? Does this comment apply to churchgoers in North Korea, Syria, Sudan, Scotland, etc? Are the Korean Presbyterian church down the street from my house, the AME church in the inner city or the underground house church in China all “guilty of undermining racial justice”? Or do you mean only white churches in America? Again, this is a very broad statement and really needs to be defined. Broad statements just lead everyone to say “that’s not me, guess he’s talking about someone else”.

    Thirdly, as someone who has spent their whole life in a predominantly white church, I think you give us way to much credit for being racists and causing so many racial problems (I’m talking about currently, clearly there was a time when the local imperial wizard was also the chairman of the deacons). We are too busy dealing with marital infidelity, pornography “addictions”, materialism, weak doctrine, consumerism, excessive entertainment, etc to spend a lot of time being racist. That’s obviously tongue in cheek. But my point is that when I look around, if I had to rank the seriousness (with regards to the depth and breadth) of sins of my white church folk (and me as well), there are sadly many in front of racism. This doesn’t excuse racism, I’m just making the point that when people say “why isn’t the white churching doing more?”, it’s often because the “white church” has its hands full with a significant amount of other problems (read: sins) and the majority of white churches are (in my opinion) in very bad shape spiritually.

    Lastly, I do appreciate the reminder to pray for our enemies (and their families). This is something that is easy to say but hard to do. Thank you for setting a good example for us in your own life.

    I know racism exists (both in the church and out) and I am sure there are things as a black guy that you have to deal with that I never will. And I hate that you have to deal with that. However, like I said, general statements like (and I know you didn’t say these exact words) “the Church (?) is responsible for this and not doing enough” is not overly helpful for the average white person. Something that would be helpful would be – “Here are actual, racist (sinful) behaviors that I have recently seen in some churches. If these are happening in your church and your pastors are not Biblically disciplining members who do these, it is possible that you have a church that is perpetuating racial discord and not acting in a manner according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ….”

    If I am ever in St. Louis, I look forward to visiting your church!

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