Growing Kingdom People – A Response to Charlottesville
With the video from last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville still rolling on the news, and controversy over how people in authority responded brewing, I wish to offer a perspective. I concede the issues at play in the clash between protestors are complex.
As you know, the occasion for the protest was the immanent removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. The debate over the statue has its own complexities. There are those who look unfavorably on Lee’s role in the Civil War, but believe the statue should remain as a reminder of one of the darkest eras in our country’s history. There are those who want the statue to stay because it provides a rallying point for their ideology. And, of course, there are those who want the statue removed because it represents a past that includes slavery and a culture of injustice and inequality.
Then there is the privilege of free speech and the discussion over when free speech becomes an excuse to spread hate or encourage violent acts. Our rights should not be allowed to infringe on the rights of others, but defining this line can be challenging.
How are Christians to respond in this time of chaos and debate? What can we learn from these troubled times and what is God calling us to do? I offer the following thoughts for your consideration:
God is calling us to see people as He sees them, not as we see them. When God sent Samuel to pick a king for Israel he cautioned him against choosing someone based on appearance. He said, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). I am not suggesting we pretend we are all the same color or come from the same background. Rather, we should understand that although we have different skin tones and heritages, God does not define us by these things. At the risk of entering into a scientific field that is out of my skill set, I have read that as a white man I might have more in common genetically with an African than my white neighbor. Whether or not it is this simple, it does put skin color and heritage in perspective. The genes that define color are a relatively small piece of our DNA.
God is commanding us to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31). We really can’t get around this command. Not only are we told to love others, but our “others” include our enemies and those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). We can disagree and debate, but when differences of opinion turn to hate we are in spiritual danger. Did you know Jesus said we are in danger of going to hell if we hate our brother? (Matthew 5:21-22). If you think this doesn’t apply to people you disagree with, fine. Tell it to the judge. Not the judge at the courthouse but Jesus who, at the end, will separate those who obeyed His will from those who didn’t. We can’t hate our neighbor and love God. It is biblically, theologically and logically impossible. And in case you are wondering, I think it is sometimes necessary to go to war. But we should never be driven by hate.
God is using us to teach a younger generation. How we respond to conflict leaves a lasting impression on our children. We may think otherwise because children are so durable and generally more accepting of others. But they will remember our words and actions. In Proverbs 22:6 we are told to train up a child in the way he should go with the promise he won’t depart from our teaching when he is old. We use this passage to promote good parenting, and rightfully so. But the same principle is true of bad parenting, or bad adult behavior by anyone. When we hate we create havens for demons in our children’s hearts, and someday we may be sorry we didn’t use teachable moments to show the people we love a better way.
God is asking us to be salt and light. (Matthew 5:13-16) Salt seasons and preserves. Light exposes the darkness. The Word of God that works in us and the Holy Spirit that dwells in us transforms us into reflections of Jesus. When people see Jesus in us, they understand there is a better way to treat others with whom they disagree. They remember we respect one another because we are made in God’s image. And when we understand this as our role, we extinguish hate and bigotry when it attempts to take root in our own hearts.
Hate is a cancer I believe we will always have with us as a result of our fallen human nature. But we can manage it and thrive in the midst of it.
A final reminder. It isn’t enough to remember what Jesus said. We must remember what Jesus commanded. If people who claim to love Jesus obeyed Him there is a good chance Charlottesville would not have happened (Matthew 7:21-23).