|I grew up in Virginia. Specifically, I grew up in the western part, the Shenandoah Valley, where I lived the first 24 years of my life. The area is stunningly picturesque, particularly in October, when the leaves turn to an orchestra of color. I love that part of the country. It is tranquil and beautiful.
So it grieved me greatly when I read the news of the violent and ugly events in Charlottesville this weekend. One person was killed and 19 others injured when a driver, fueled with hate, intentionally slammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. This was the predictable and tragic result of an unlawful but well-communicated rally, designed and built to promote a message of white supremacy and hate. The Governor of Virginia, the Mayor of Charlottesville and many other politicians were quick to condemn the actions of the driver and many others who provoked violent skirmishes leading up to this devastating act.
However, as we have learned over several decades, words of condemnation will never be enough.
Change will take more than words
I was in one of our West Coast Converge churches this weekend where the pastor had the boldness to address the Charlottesville incident and issue of racism in our country. First, let me say I am grateful for his initiative and courage, because I imagine many pastors were unsure about how to approach this kind of violence―again. He reminded us that what seems to be an issue based on difference in outward appearances is, in reality, an inward sickness of the heart. He reminded us that every person was created in the image of God and has intrinsic value. He grieved over the treatment of African Americans and other minorities in our country and that he, as a Caucasian, has no way to grasp their consistent unfair treatment. He then condemned the cowardly actions of those who promote hatred, bigotry, prejudice, a sense of superiority and fear, and called on the congregation to search their hearts and to confess and repent their biases and to call on God to intervene in this situation as well as in our lives, relationships and communities. In other words, he led.
I recalled the words of the prophet Isaiah as he led the people of God in his day. They had prayed and fasted. They had gone through their religious rituals and routines. They had given their tithes and offerings. Yet when God had not shown up in the way they had expected, they questioned him. God’s response to their questioning was that their religious efforts missed the mark.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I” (Isa. 58:6-9).
God’s contention with the people of God was that they did not act like the people of God. God expected more than just religious vigor. He expected righteous intervention.
Pastor Shaun Marshall communicated this on our Converge Mid-America website on Sunday:
My prayer for the Church today:
That pastors everywhere resist the cowardice and complicity of silence; leveraging a significant moment in their services to make disciples who faithfully denounce and resist the anti-gospels of white supremacy, racism and nationalism; that Church people be challenged out of comfort, complacency, religious indifference and spiritualized inaction; that the Holy Spirit lead us forward in uniqueness and unity to demonstrate the otherness of God’s kingdom.
To that I say, “Amen.”
What is the biblical response?
These are complex times socially, politically and relationally. Yet the response of the church is simple.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).
According to Scripture, we are to speak out against injustice, to defend the helpless and to recognize and root out falsehood. In the midst of living out these actions, we are to take the gospel to the people of every nation so that they may understand and experience the love of God and experience the forgiveness, hope and healing that comes through Jesus Christ.
What is the “alt-right”?
According to Wikipedia, they are a “loosely defined group of people with far-right ideologies who reject mainstream conservatism in favor of white nationalism.”
According to NPR, “Most of its members are young white men who see themselves first and foremost as champions of their own demographic. However, apart from their allegiance to their “tribe,” as they call it, their greatest points of unity lie in what they are against: multiculturalism, immigration, feminism and, above all, political correctness.
According to the Bible, the “alt-right” promotes an ideology that is contrary to Scripture and grievous to the heart of God. It dehumanizes and divides. It promotes favoritism and fear, bigotry and bias. Its tenets are contradictory to what the Bible teaches about the value of every person, the character of God and the priorities of the church. It is anti-biblical, anti-Christian, anti-God and antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Its ideologies and actions have no place in our communities, congregations or hearts.
The Converge movement is built on four values:
- We are spiritually dynamic. We hold to the truth of the Word of God and commit to live our lives for his glory through the power of the Holy Spirit.
- We are missionally driven. We strive to see every person come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and be transformed by the power of the gospel.
- We are relationally devoted. We believe every person matters to God and therefore they should matter to us, and we will best accomplish this mission by working together.
- We are culturally diverse. We believe our diversity is a beautiful gift of God and one of our greatest strengths as a movement. We believe we are better together.
One day we will stand before the throne of God and people from every tongue, tribe, people and nation will worship him (Rev. 7:9). Until then, the church has work to do.
Doing the work of our times
We must Speak Out. We must condemn the actions of those who promote the errant ideologies of hate, injustice, bigotry and racism. We must correct false understandings. We must challenge the people of our congregation to believe the truth of Scripture and to condemn the actions of those who support what Scripture condemns.
We must Call Out. We must pray. We must ask God to use us to intervene on behalf of the hurting, helpless and oppressed. We must beg him to open the eyes of those who have been duped into false teaching and to open their hearts to the truth. We must pray for the courage of our leaders, the unity of our communities and the witness of our churches to do the right (as in “righteous”) things. We must pray for and encourage the leaders of our non-Anglo congregations, acknowledging the difficulty of these issues and reminding them that we are with them and for them.
We must Reach Out. Prayer without action won’t be enough. We must extend our hands across the divides, both personal and corporate. We must create relationships with other churches/organizations that don’t look like us or sound like us, but believe with us there is power in the gospel and in working together. We must engage the world with the love of Christ and the transforming power of the truth through love in action. The Church must act like the Church. We must believe God is a redeemer and we have been given a ministry of reconciliation, first between people and God, but also between people and people–and have our efforts match our beliefs.
We must Stand Out. We cannot wait for other organizations and leaders to take charge. We must step up and lead the way. By faith we must engage in this difficult work, believing that God will move ahead of us. We must commit ourselves to living out the gospel of reconciliation circumstance by circumstance, day by day, relationship by relationship and community by community, believing God has the power to open the eyes of the blind and break the chains of those in bondage. As reconcilers, we are committed to tearing down walls.
I believe God has given us great leaders in our churches and on our mission fields–so let’s lead well! In doing so, I am confident we will help many people meet, know and follow Jesus by starting and strengthening churches together worldwide. May God give us the wisdom to know the right thing to do and the courage to do it.
Scott Ridout, Converge President