Sickening. Horrible. Sad. Deplorable. These were some of the words that I heard people use to describe their reaction to the White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis who gathering in Charlottesville last weekend. Violence and hate filled the a city only 4 hours from our small southern town. For me personally, I tried to stay away from social media and the talking heads of cable news to process all that had transpired. It’s far too easy to allow the social media world as well as the main stream media to distract us from how we should be thinking and responding to such events. I’ve spent some time in prayer and thought deeply about how we should respond to events like Charlottesville and, as your pastor, I wanted to share with you 3 ideas that will help us to address these issues and continue our gospel mission here in Denver.
Relationship over rhetoric – As I saw pictures and video of last weekend’s Neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, I couldn’t believe that what we were seeing was actually happening in our country in 2017. Yet, even though that was my first reaction, it wasn’t the same response that my African-American brothers and sisters had. In talking briefly with some of them, the events in Charlottesville didn’t surprise them at all. My point is that it is very easy to have an opinion, even the right opinion about White Supremacists. And it’s even easier to blast out a 140-character thought out to the world about what we think. As Christians, we should be the best listeners in the world. Yet, much of the time we are known more for our opinions than our listening ability. What is needed though more than anything is true and genuine relationships between every ethnicity. The church needs to be modeling this more than anybody. We must model harmony between ethnicities more than talk about harmony between ethnicities. Rhetoric doesn’t change anyone’s heart and it won’t change the narrative of cultural and ethnic isolationism that exists in most of our communities (even our own).
Let’s be honest for a moment. We live in a community where 88% of the population is Caucasian. It’s quite easy for us in Denver to live our own lives and never rub shoulders with people who are different from us politically, socially, religiously, and ethnically. What is needed in order to change the narrative is for the people of God to choose to be intentional about relationships with people who are different than us. Let us not love in word, but in action as the apostle John wrote in 1 John 3. One of the greatest actions we can take is for us to build genuine friendships with others (different than us) and walk in love with one another. This is far more disruptive to our individualistic lives than a wordy blast on social media, but it is one of the best ways we can do something tangible to show the love of Christ in our community.
I can’t think of a better time to hold an event like Love Denver. It paints a sharp contrast to what happened in Charlottesville last weekend. The church unified and working together to bless all people in our city, no matter what their race, creed, or language.
Condemn with compassion – Tim Keller writes, “Christians should look at the energized and emboldened white nationalism movement, and at its fascist slogans, and condemn it—full stop. No, “But on the other hand.” The main way most people are responding across the political spectrum is by saying, “See? This is what I have been saying all along! This just proves my point.” The conservatives are using the events to prove that liberal identity politics is wrong, and liberals are using it to prove that conservatism is inherently racist. We should not do that.” We must call out evil when we see it. Yet when we do, we should do so without a political agenda. As followers of Christ, we must rise above political positioning. There is something far more important than the opinion polls of right and left. We need to stop thinking of these events through the lens of PC or un-PC and begin to think through the lens of up and down. What is from God and what is from the devil? In the darkest moment of human history, our Savior cried out, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing!” We cannot overcome the hate of one group with the same kind of hate. We use weapons that are not of this world. Jesus fought and defeated sin with righteousness, forgiveness, mercy, truth, and ultimately, sacrifice.
Those people who marched in Charlottesville, who are filled with some much hate, are not in need of more hate. More hate would just fuel their cause. I thank God that our country protects the right to assemble and protest and even counter-protest. But hearts aren’t being confronted with truth and grace in those moments. It’s only the power of the cross that can change their hearts. We should know this because our own hearts have been changed by the beauty of the gospel. It is being suggested by some that the best response to their actions is to silence such people, but Christ overcame sin and darkness with light. What is needed is the light of the gospel and the boldness to declare it in the face of those who hold such anti-God views. Whenever we see sin winning in the lives of those around us, are we more inclined to pray for them and lean into their lostness or do we separate and retreat into our own comfort?
Hope in Christ – God loves all people and Christ died for every nation (nation in the Greek is the word “ethnos”, where we get “ethnic” today) – Matthew 28:19-20; Rev. 5:9. Jesus loves the Iranian believer as much as He does the American believer. One of the most beautiful passages in the Bible is in Revelation 7:9-12, which states:
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
I heard a pastor once comment on this passage, “Worship is not final until it is multi-ethnic.” Racial discrimination and ethnic nationalism cannot survive under the power of the cross. We have made great strides over the course of human history to eradicate such hatred, but much more must be done. The church of Jesus Christ must lead every effort of reconciliation. One of the great aspects of the gospel is that it naturally produces reconciliation. The gospel reconciles human enemies, because Christ has reconciled us to God. An entire chapter in the Bible was written to describe how the gospel unifies different ethnicities, “breaking down the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2). Paul reminds us that we now have been given the ministry of reconciliation in 1 Corinthians 5:16-21. If we’ve been given this ministry, how faithful are we in fulfilling it? We know that we have the power and commissioning of Jesus to confront any and every situation where genuine hate, discrimination, and disharmony exists.
We talk so much about touching every man, woman, and child with the gospel of Jesus. This means every Hispanic man, woman, and child; and every African-American man, woman, and child; and every race, tribe, and tongue in our community. The call of Jesus to make disciples of every nation (ethnos) rings as true for us today in Denver, NC, as it did for the first disciples almost 2,000 years ago. My hope and prayer is that the events of last weekend do not cause us to retreat further in fear and isolation, but to move forward with intentionality in the power of the gospel. Now is the time to speak the truth in love and love with action. May we begin to see God do His work of reconciliation in Denver in the days ahead and may God use us to bring about this reconciliation to every man, woman, and child in our community.