Disclaimer: I admit that this post has nothing to do with student ministry and is far away from the normal subject matter that is discussed on this blog. However, I think that we as Christians must be in the mix regarding issues of race and sexism. We need to help those in our circles to navigate these difficult topics. My intention is to find common ground, own the garbage on my side of the street, and move conversation and policy forward in a way that resembles the Kingdom of God.
I have been brokenhearted by the news of the past few months, especially surrounding issues of racism and rape.
These are two of the most awful types of crimes, in that, when we objectify or dehumanize others, no matter the reason, but especially based on race and gender, we spit in the face of God and his Creation. He created all of humanity in His image, and therefore all humans are worthy of dignity and respect.
Over the past month I have read and watched just about all I could get a hold of as the grand juries met in Ferguson and in New York, and where the aftermath of rape charges in the the University of West Virginia, as well as at Olbelin college, which was supposed to spark a much needed national conversation. But, instead, it seems that everyone has gone to the echo chamber of their particular camp and have turned up the rhetoric.
I love and value my activist friends and their passion to keep issues of racism, institutional racism, a broken justice system, mass incarceration, sexism, rape culture, and brutality towards woman front and center. These are issues that any follower of Christ should care about, should advocate for, and should stand shoulder to shoulder on. Christians are the original abolitionists, the original feminists, and should never give up that mantle.
With all that being said, I have also noticed an alarming trend among the activist community, that I fear, will actually devastate this movement and send the issues we are fighting for back generations.
It seems to me that activists, in an effort to gain and use power, are willing to ignore facts in order to maintain a narrative that propels the story, conversation, and policy towards their desired outcome. And the church was guilty of this crime and has been reeling ever since.
I think the reason I am so sensitive to this power grab, and its ramifications is that this is being done based on mythology and not facts. And this cycle is almost an exact replication of the power grab the Religious Right made in the 80’s and early 90’s. And I have seen firsthand the devastation that happens to a movement when that movement uses mythology and hyperbole to make their case.
If you are ever wondering why so many people hate the church and do not trust Christians as far as they can throw them, I think a large part of the reason is the way Christian activists handled themselves throughout the cultural wars.
There was this awful intersection that occurred in the early 1990's. The height of modernity, combined with the emerging post-modern majority put foundationalsim in a perilous position. Evangelicalism was an incredible moment which brought about a huge revival in our country. But over the course of the last 50-75 years, this movement went from being a Jesus centric movement to a Bible centric one.
And whereas the Bible went from being the document that pointed to Jesus, the Evangelical movement morphed into into modern day Pharisees and used scripture to defend their positions. Using the inerrant Word of God as their ammunition, church leaders leveraged their power to attempt to enact some social change.
In this process church leaders doubled down on their foundational assumptions. And rather than defending the resurrection of Jesus, Evangelicals were forced to defend the inerrant word of God, and the cornerstone of this worldview came down to a literal 7, 24 hour day, creation event.
This debate was ground zero. If there is no creation event, then no Adam and Eve, and no argument against gay marriage or abortion.
The problem was that evangelical activists did exactly what the current activists are doing. They doubled down on the myth, or narrative, in order to maintain power and keep others silent or fearful of opposing them. While the goal was noble, making policy that would advance our vision and values, we let the ends justify the means.
And in short order, critical mass of culture, of christians, and even of Evangelical Christians couldn’t hold to this account of creation. And when the creation narrative crumbled, so did their argument. And as the foundational assumptions were challenged, the critical eye of culture then moved from the argument to the tactics and found the church wanting. And these tactics of manipulating the facts and grabbing and leveraging power has put a permanent stain on the church and its mission to the world.
I often wonder what sort of place Christians would have in our culture if we didn't come to be addicted to power, to convince ourselves that the end justified the means, and if the only item we needed to defend was the strange theology of resurrection. Because outside of that strange theology, our testimony to the world should have been love, grace, forgiveness, justice, and mercy.
But we screwed up, and Christianity has been relegated to the very back of back burners.
I say all of this, because I see this exact patten happening all over again within the activist community. While I sympathize with their concerns, with the injustices, and mostly their desired ends, where we part ways is the manner in which this movement is going about accomplishing these ends. The foundational stories that are leading the activist community are turning out to be full of myths and hyperbole, and as this becomes more and more clear to the larger culture, I fear, will lead to this movement’s destruction.
Our country can not endure the kind of destruction that would happen when the mass majority of Americans turns a deaf ear, or worse, a hostility towards those who seek reconciliation and equality.
Amassing power must not be the goal of the activist community. Hogging the microphone to get your point made, does not build the bridges of reconciliation that many seek. Slow and steady change should be our aim. The vast majority of our country wants racial reconciliation and equity between women and men. This happens when we open lines of communication, when we hear from each other, and not shout over each other. We must own our own side of the street and take responsibility for the messes in our front yards. Screaming over the fence at others, name calling them, or belittling them does not move the conversation toward reconciliation.
These conversations have to be grounded on facts, not just impressions. They have to be motivated by love and grace, not hatred or stereotypes.
Let us celebrate the incredible gains that our culture has made in these areas.
And let us work together on the areas we all can agree on. The truth is there are several issues that people all across the political spectrum, racial spectrum, socio-economic spectrum do intact agree on. Let’s start there and build a brighter future together.
Some these issues include, police brutality, mandatory sentencing, sex trafficking and illegal prostitution. These are real issues with real facts, and real laws that need to be changed, or need to be enforced. Crying racism and sexism at every turn does not move the ball forward, and forward is where so many of us want to go.
May we learn from the past, and not let the ends justify the means. Gaining power for ourselves, or even for our particular cause will backfire horrifically. That is because whenever any group seeks power at the expense of another group, bitterness, anger, and hatred are born. When we leverage power and seek to extend the reach of power for more and more people, then reconciliation can happen, and there is a chance for peace.
Mythology and narrative must not be the foundation for change. Rather, let us lean into the facts, for which there are plenty, and build on where we have consensus. This will allow for us to actually make incremental change, and the accumulation of all this incremental changes moves our entire culture closer and closer to the Kingdom of God.