I am still in shock about what we saw in Charlottesville. You may have heard it said, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” The unique outrage of a follower of Jesus is far deeper than a political perspective or a patriotic love of one’s country. It is outrage against racism and its direct opposition to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Racism is about valuing one race over another. Jesus came for the world, every single person. The heart that believes one race is more valuable than another is a sinful heart in need of God’s transforming grace.
Jesus spoke of the kingdom, a theology of grace. Because of his death and resurrection, a transformation can happen in our attitude toward our own race and culture as well as to those belonging to other races and cultures.
In his book Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian, John Piper (2011) wisely points out, “The bloodline of Jesus Christ is deeper than the bloodlines of race. The death and resurrection of the Son of God for sinners is the only sufficient power to bring the bloodlines of race into the single bloodline of the cross” (pp. 13-14).
It was unbelievable to watch a group called “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville with torches lit, chanting hateful phrases. It was moving to watch the clergy of Charlottesville stand, kneel, and lock arms in silent protest. Their action proclaimed that White supremacy is a lie. Linked together, they powerfully embodied the love of Jesus on a very dark day.
What does a non-violent, Christian and cruciform response look like to the hatred in Charlottesville? There is much wisdom in the words of, Etty Hillesum, a Dutch Jewish woman, who fought courageously to save as many as she could from the horrors of Auschwitz and ultimately succumbed to the gas chambers. She wrote of her captors:
Like us, they too, are bearers of the Divine image however deeply marred and buried it may be, and so they are people to whom we belong. To remove from the mind the label of enemy’ is like removing the blinds from a window and letting the light in. If you will not hate them, then you may begin to see them. We should be willing to act as a balm for all wounds. (Woodhouse, P. 2009. Etty Hillesum: A Life Transformed.)
In our outrage at those who dehumanize others, we do not respond with dehumanizing words or actions because to do so causes us to lose our witness. This world is broken, but God is whole. So we continually ask Him to draw us into wholeness, and to allow us to live out a third way – one that is not “the left” or the right” but altogether different because it is led by Jesus himself. He leads us into being unpredictable people of peace, just in all we say and do each day.
In his very interesting article in Time this week, Brian McLaren spoke about what he saw in Charlottesville as he joined with clergy in protest. McLaren describes the movement as an “alt-religious” movement that is providing disenchanted people with identity, community and purpose. This, he says, is what religious communities do. They provide people with a sense of identity (a personal sense of who we are), community (a social sense of where we belong), and purpose (a spiritual sense of why our lives matter).
If faith communities don’t provide these healthy life-giving human needs, then death-dealing alt-religions will fill the gap…. In Charlottesville, I saw Nazi flags on American soil and alt religious fervor in the faces of American Nazis and white nationalists. The message I will bring to faith leaders around our nation is both urgent and clear: Aristotle was right. Nature indeed abhors a vacuum. If we don’t provide emerging generations with genuine identity, community and purpose through robust and vibrant spiritual communities, somebody else will do so. If good religion slumbers and stagnates, bad religion is the alternative. (http://time.com/4915161/charlottesville-alt-right-alt-christianity/)
So Platt Park Church, what we are building together matters. It matters far beyond our personal enjoyment of the music, message, or community. Together we are building an environment where people can come to find a deep and true identity, community, and purpose for life.