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.