This past Sunday I had an opportunity to preach at Lighthouse Mpls Covenant Church where my wonderful friend, Dee McIntosh is the pastor. Check out the sermon in this video:
A teacher of the law asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Rather than answer his question, Jesus countered and asked the teacher to define the law himself and the teacher replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Agreeing to the teacher’s answer, Jesus said, “If you do this you will have eternal life.”
But the teacher wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to test Jesus further. “Who exactly is my neighbor?”
Rising to the challenge, Jesus proceeded to point to the one who was most vilified in their society – the Samaritan. The one who was religiously and culturally different from this teacher – and who was consistently exploited for being so – was the very one whom God called him to love. To embrace. To treat neighborly. To display kindness, mercy and humility toward.
Jesus did not stop there. He not only professed love for the socially outcast but built an entire ministry around other marginalized identities including the poor, the widow, the orphan, the prostitute, sinners, women, children and more, showing that true disciples of Christ show mercy and love to all people without distinction. In his ministry to the outcast, Jesus demanded very little of these people, in fact, he continually claimed that the kingdom of God belonged to those at the margins of society saying, “Blessed are you who are poor, meek, merciful, pure in heart, and persecuted for righteousness sake – for yours in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5.3 – 12, NRSV). And at the same time, he continually condemned those in power who were responsible for the marginalized’s misery.
In our day and time, we must consider Jesus’ words and ministry like never before. His injunction to love others unapologetically still applies and this application is not up for debate if we truly do believe that the Word of God is true! In this political moment, the personhood of many immigrant and refugee groups – including Muslims and Latinos – is being called into question as leaders in our nation attempt to pass laws that exclude them. Though some Evangelical leaders suggest that this is not a biblical issue, we do not get to decide what does and what does not apply. God alone calls the shots on God’s own Word, so that if He says that we need to love, we better love. Hard! If not, we have to perhaps consider that we are not only willing to disobey His Word but may be outside of the family of God.
Remember the teacher’s question to Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” For Jesus, love is not a matter of convenience or political expedience; it is a matter of eternal life. Period. In fact, all of the commandments and teachings of the law and the prophets hinge on this one single thing: love. To take it one step further, we cannot even say that we love God if we do not love others – we cannot despise those created in the image of God and still declare that we love God. For us, this means that we cannot say that we love God while simultaneously hating, despising, and oppressing Muslims and Latino immigrants and refugees. Also, remember God has a special heart for the foreigner in our land!
The biblical response to the Muslim Ban and the build the wall nonsense, is to love. And from the place of love, we speak up and speak out against everything that minimizes the personhood of others. We can do this in a myriad of ways including but not limited to writing letters to the editor of our local newspapers, speaking to our family and friends about the importance of resisting despotic policies, joining in protests that affirm the rights and dignity of the oppressed, or informing other Christians about what is going on. The form in which we engage and use our influence as believers is not as important – what is important is that we do something to extend God’s love in this moment.
I can see it in your eyes
The fear which clouds every thought
I can hear it in your words
The anxiety laced in everything you say
Fear of life itself
And all of those who walk about it
Anxious over the notion that someone somewhere just might
Take you out.
It’s scary, I know.
I feel that way too.
Every time a cop car pulls up behind me, I feel my heart sink further into my chest.
When I walk by strangers on the street, I wonder where there is malicious thought behind that half-baked smile
Or if someone aims to destroy at a park
in the mall
in a school
And the government,
It’s a whole different kind of beast
Claiming to be for the people
It destroys the people
Through lies and deception
Greed and destruction
Each of us – Black, white, Muslim and Jew – tremble in fear and trepidation with every passing moment.
And It’s only been 7 days!
It’s not supposed to be this way
Living in a constant tension between fight or flight
War exists but we were not made to live in a constant state of it
Resiliency is for the birds
We are dying
We are killing ourselves
Fear and hatred both incapacitates and alienates us
Aren’t you tired?
Aren’t you tired of that gnawing, aching feeling in the bottom of your chest
Aren’t you tired of living in between, with one foot in the grave and the other trying to walk around and feign sanity in the midst of destruction
Aren’t you tired of waking to fight to breathe, to exist in polluted air
Or of walking amongst corpses.
We are wounded people. Each of us deeply scarred.
Will we ever find a way to walk back towards each other?
Can we undo what has been already done?
Can we repair the foundation and rebuild a society that is strong, beautiful, loving, and true?
Or is this our final resting place?
The candle that I hold in my hand is small and seemingly insignificant. In a room full of other light, it goes mostly unnoticed. But in times of darkness, such as a power outage, I search for its light to illuminate the room so that I can see.
In many ways, I feel like this candle. Small. Quiet. Barely noticeable in a sea of greatness. A lifetime of being told that I don’t measure up and am not qualified enough, strong enough, charismatic enough, or whatever else, sometimes causes me to doubt that the light inside of me can be of any real worth to the world – just like the candle in my hand. But in times of spiritual darkness and despair, I am reminded that no matter how small or how great my light is, and no matter what others have told me about my light, that I can shine the spotlight on the truth of God’s Word and God’s world so that we can see. At this hour, we all need to see.
So with this little light of mine, I first shine on me. I pray that God would open my eyes to see what He sees, hear what He hears, and understand what He understands. I pray that the Holy Spirit would illuminate my heart and mind so that through His leading I will do what He has called me to do – whether that ‘to-do’ is to provide for a brother or sister in need, march with co-laborers in the fight for social justice, or prophesy in Spirit and in truth against an evil regime. I pray that I would throw of the lies that have been told about who I am and who I should be, and stand upright in the knowledge that I am fiercely loved by my creator.
With this little light of mine, I shine on my family. I pray that God would use both those who are near and far to represent love and mercy, justice and kindness. Through our lives characterized by faithfulness and sacrifice, I pray that God would show those around us what it is to truly follow after Him. I pray that we would make the kind of choices that prove that our love for God and love for others is truly real.
With this little light of mine, I shine on my people, my kin – African Americans. For nearly 400 years, we’ve been fighting the same fight against racism, white supremacy, capitalism and dehumanization. Through the Spirit’s power, I pray that we would find some answers. Through the light inside of all of us, I pray that we would powerfully resist and counter whatever new-fangled form of oppression the system throws our way. I pray that we stand, not as individuals, but as a community of people with a shared history. I pray that even when our strategies may not align, that we would take up the God-given mantle that resides within all of us to secure justice for our children and our children’s children.
With this little light of mine, I shine on other marginalized identities – immigrants of all races and nationalities; those experiencing religious persecution; people who are differently abled; the poor and otherwise economically disenfranchised; the widow and the orphan; LGBTQ communities; and women of all racial, economic, and religious backgrounds – even including those who may not see that I am as much as a part of them as they are a part of me. I hold all of our multiple identities up before God understanding that we all are suffering in different and distinct ways. In spite of the difference, I pray that we would unite and stick by each other. I pray that we build new communities and new alliances, and together begin to imagine what it would look like if we were all truly free.
With this little light of mine, I shine on our country. Oh Lord, have mercy on this country with its roots that are rotten and foundation corrupt. Have mercy on those who continue to wreck havoc on innocent lives simply for material gain that they cannot take beyond this earthly realm. Have mercy on those in power who don’t give a damn about the people and only care about themselves. In spite of the beginnings, I pray that you steer this country on a pathway of healing and reconciliation, justice and restoration. Redeem our past, as awful as it is, so that we may have a future.
With this little light of mine, I shine on our world. People around our globe are suffering under tyranny and oppression. God have mercy! People are seeing their children perish before their eyes for the sake of power, prestige, and resources. God have mercy! Our governments across the world continue to play a game of chicken with our lives and are doing very little to address climate change, protect the world from nuclear war, and ensure that our world economies provide for all. God have mercy! Through your power, steer us on the path of righteousness. Let leaders across the globe who have been on the path of evil and destruction awake from their slumber so that they begin to pursue justice instead. With this light, I pray for economic strategies that work for all of us instead of a few of us. And I pray that those who have been trapped in cycles of oppression – whether they be in India, Senegal, Honduras, or right here in the United States – receive liberation.
And with this little light of mine, I hold us all. Each and every 7 billion of us. Not just for the next four years but for as long as it takes to see God’s kingdom unfold before us. And God’s kingdom, contrary to the empires of this world, is characterized by love, justice, mercy, forgiveness, and hospitality. There is enough food, water, land, and shelter for all – no one is hoarding, no one is stealing, everyone is content with the resources they have been given and generously gives to other. In God’s kingdom, our relationships are deep. The potential of community is fully realized. Our children our safe. Our elders are revered. And the environment not only nourishes but replenishes our soul. With this little light of mine, I will keep lifting up this vision until it is fully realized. Now my little light does not seem to be so little anymore.
Racism is alive and well in the United States. Those who were in denial about it before for one reason or another, must come to grips with this sobering reality post 2016 election. We have not progressed our way out of it as many have eagerly but ignorantly imagined. Nor have we come remotely close to dismantling it, in spite of all of our good, earnest efforts spanning generations. While political pundits analyze so many different components of the election results, all with varying and sometimes contradictory statements, one piece of truth that continues to bear out is that racism is the culprit laying at the root of the tree.
Let me be expressly clear about what I am and am not saying. I am not saying that one political party is racist and the other not. Both Republicans and Democrats embody deeply racist ideologies and both at times, can present policy platforms that appear to help vulnerable people while simultaneously screwing them over. And I am not saying that the other candidate was America’s salvation in any way – she represented more of the status quo way of doing things than any substantive change in either direction. And I am not saying that everyone who voted for the president-elect is necessarily racist, though I have some pointed questions for those who did. What I am saying is that the man who ran on a platform that was openly and explicitly crass towards African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and women – just to name a few – won. What I am saying is that the man who – without specifics – proposed building walls and banning people of a particular faith, just secured 304 electoral votes. What I am saying is that the man who received the endorsement of a known terrorist organization, is slated to become the next president of the United States. In just a few more days. God have mercy on us all!
To me this reaffirms this nation’s historic roots. In spite of all of the work that activists, faith leaders, community residents, academics, journalists, and even government allies have done over the last eight years – not to mention the work spanning hundreds of years which made the last eight years possible – racism is rearing its ugly head, insisting its pre-eminence and staking its claim on the United States’ soil, land, and air. Racism, the manner by which this country was built since it was stolen from American Indians, is here to stay. It is the only way that this country can survive – the entire nation’s economy, power, and way of being in the world exists only because racism exists. It is the nexus by which every other thing in this nation holds together.
Because it is the way of doing things in the United States, all of the effort that we put into uprooting this awful evil often seems to be ineffective. Sure, there may be short terms wins along the way evidenced through policy change and shifts in individual attitudes. But these wins, just as quickly as they come, can disappear when the political climate shifts, the economy fails, or when people simply grow tired of doing the right thing. When it is no longer expedient to do the right thing, when equity is no longer as appealing as it once was, when people forget all of the work that we have collectively put in to get us to this point, these wins – like voter rights and affirmative action – lose their effectiveness. They either lack enforcement metrics or laws change so that the metrics that secured equal rights are no longer valid as evidenced in the work to repeal Obamacare just this week.
It is very difficult to maintain hope in the face of such a reality. It’s not impossible, as with God all things are possible, but it is beyond challenging to keep imagining that liberation could actually be a tangible reality when this present-day system has endured for more than 500 years. Could this great imperialistic evil, that haunts our memories and threatens the future of our children and our children’s children – children who are increasingly of color as our nation’s demographics continue to change – come to an end so that we can all be free? Can we dismantle the spirit of white supremacy, that in the words of Toni Morrison causes people to do things that they otherwise would not do and abandon their sense of human dignity in the name of identity? “Much as they may hate their behavior, and know full well how craven it is, they are willing to kill small children attending Sunday school and slaughter churchgoers who invite a white boy to pray. Embarrassing as the obvious display of cowardice must be, they are willing to set fire to churches, and to start firing in them while the members are at prayer. And, shameful as such demonstrations of weakness are, they are willing to shoot black children in the street.” Is a reality beyond this current situation even plausible or are we merely deceiving ourselves?
Permanence of Racism
I recently finished reading Derrick Bell’s ‘Faces at the Bottom of the Well.” Like December recently. I bought the book over a year ago and finally picked it up the week before the election. Perfect timing! Although it was written in 1992, I was struck by how relevant Bell’s analysis around the black experience was more than 20 years after he published the book.
One of the most compelling chapters in the book was the last one – the Space Traders. An allegory, it illustrated how in times of political and financial turmoil, black people are easily scapegoated for the nation’s problems while being simultaneously called on to fix the nation’s ills. In this particular story, visitors from another world visited the U.S. and promised the country financial resources, the means to clean up the climate, and other goods in exchange for its black citizens. Activists, journalists and other leaders representing different racial and religious backgrounds tried to make the moral case for denying the visitor’s offer. Business leaders also tried to make a financial case for resisting this great temptation, not in the name of morality but because of black citizen’s purchasing power. Some leaders who were worried about violating the constitution, even tried to make a legal case against the Space Trader’s offer.
In the end, politicians gave into their depraved lusts and took the visitor’s offer. They amended the constitution so that it was now legal, even honorable to exile a whole race of people – telling black citizens that they were now being enlisted in selective service to save the country. They shut down journalists who contradicted their narratives, published the names of Jewish leaders who were to secretly give black people refuge, and even published propaganda through religious leaders who could deceive their audiences into believing that this was the right thing. They even went as far as to criminalize and even kill blacks who tried to escape the country or who fought back. Nothing would keep them from securing the financial and material gain that could be theirs by turning over the country’s black citizens to God knows what fate met them ahead.
Fortunately, no visitors from outer space are coming to take any of us away! And still, the parallels between this allegory written more than 20 years ago and our present day reality are uncanny. While the sanctioned means of exploitation and oppression changes from generation to generation – slavery to convict leasing system to Jim Crow to mass incarceration to police brutality – the oppression of black people is part and parcel to this nation’s survival. And as the country becomes increasingly diverse the codified hatred of blacks has expanded to include everyone who is not white, and particularly, not a wealthy, white, able-bodied, heterosexual ‘Evangelical’ male.
Everyone outside of this narrow demographic has been blamed for the economic and social instability in our country, further proving that the struggle for human rights and survival is now a struggle shared by all of us – even the so-called disenfranchised whites who voted for him in the first place. Many of these – certainly not all – voted out of the desire to Make America Great Again. While the popular slogan never mentioned race, it was a dog-whistle that called out for days gone by when whites held more power.
But not all whites, let us remember that. Power, as much as it is divided along racial lines, is more greatly defined along economic ones. Race is not the foundation, the foundation is gross inequities and class divisions between wealthy whites and non wealthy whites. Race keeps those without resources from going after the wealthy, instead turning their attention to people of color of all economic classes. Race has been effective in warding off uprisings and political revolts as so commonly happened in Europe between the 14th and 16th centuries. And in order to hold on to economic power, the wealthy rally disenfranchised whites to put pressure on people of color. As Obama so eloquently stated in last week’s farewell speech, “If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving (person of color), then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.”
If this is it, and this is all we have, and if policies that promoted human rights can be taken away with the stroke of a pen, and if it is so seemingly easy to incite people to turn on each other, what, pray tell, can we hope in? How do we keep ourselves from becoming filled with utter despair and sadness as we see history repeat itself right before our eyes? How do we keep marching forward and stay stedfast on the course of justice, truth and righteousness when others around us, even in the household of faith, have seemed to lose sight of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a gospel that is “about God’s saving love that wants to restore all of humanity to full communion.”
A Reason to Hope
Unfortunately, many people have cast off hope. After seeing generations of their ancestors struggle and fight for the same basic human decency in which we strive for today, some have given up on the idea that things could actually improve. The unbelief, which manifests itself in various forms including nihilism and atheism, comes from a place of deep despair and hopelessness as a result of the continual failure of the system to change. And who can blame those who embrace such ideologies? It is not for wantonness and debasement that these choose unbelief, but rather out of desperation and pain. Persistent despair causes people to surrender hope in exchange for something tangible, something real in order to face reality for what it is. As the Word of God affirms, hope deferred makes the heart grow sick.
Still, I believe. For me, hope does not equate to a sense of false optimism, but it is a hope that is painfully aware of the current reality and still utterly convinced that another reality is possible. Though it may come off as mere foolishness to some, I sincerely do believe that change is not only possible but is on its way. You see, evil always resists the hardest right before a cataclysmic shift in the spirit. Remember the stories of Moses and Jesus, and how the ruling powers of their day both tried to extinguish the chance of deliverance through genocide and oppression? Similarly, in our time, the national and global intensity of oppression in this moment has to cause us to ask what the Spirit of God is about to do in this moment. Though we are prone to tremble and fear, we still have to understand that there is so much taking place in the spiritual world that we cannot see with our natural eyes. As hard as we are fighting for the cause of justice in the natural, we can trust that God is moving things in the supernatural. If He wasn’t, if things truly were not changing, if that moral arc of the universe was not ever more bending towards justice, peace, and reconciliation, Satan would not be fighting so hard. Satan fights because he is fighting a losing battle – he will not win, God’s peace, truth, and righteousness will prevail!
In that vein, I also hope because of the imminent return of Christ. Deep in my heart, I believe He is coming back to restore all of humanity to Himself, each other, and the environment. All of the relationships that were destroyed as a result of disobedience will be repaired and we will finally enjoy the fullness of His presence. In that return, the systems of this world will fall. Every empire built on the backs of the disenfranchised will not only be called into account but will also be done away with. You see, if Jesus is Savior and LORD, there is no way that any of the rulers in this world can occupy that space. Even the most powerful dictator will have to face the fact that they are not in charge and will be held accountable for how they marginalized vulnerable populations for the sake of financial and political gain.
I also hope because there are so many people who are rallying for justice. People of different races, ethnicities and creeds. People of different income and educational levels. People within the nation’s boarders and without. People of different genders and sexual orientations. People of different abilities. People of all different shapes and sizes. People of different religions and faith expressions. Even people of different political ideologies. All of us, in spite of our differences, are pursuing justice. Because of our differences, we may not all take up the same approach but the point is, each of us with our gifts, skills, and abilities are doing what we can to usher in peace and justice, and stomp out evil and oppression. The sheer vastness of this coalition of folks also tells me that there are more people intent on securing righteousness than those bent on evil. Evil, at times, may seem to be more powerful. Because of its reach, we may even begin to feel that we are outnumbered. But let us remember the apostle Paul’s admonition to the early church who faced persecution under the Roman occupation, saying “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew! Do you not know what the scripture says about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; I alone am left and they are seeking my life!” 4 But what was the divine response to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand people who have not bent the knee to Baal (Romans 11.2 – 4, NET).”
There are more of us than there are of them. Though those bent on evil may wield power and resources, we are mighty if we stand together under the common bond of love, mercy, justice, and reconciliation. As the words of the 1973 Chilean socialist movement declared, ‘El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido (The People United, Will Never Be Defeated)! If we stand united in purpose, even if our approaches and methodologies differ, we will not only be able to stand against the present day threat to our collective human rights, but we can stand against structural racism and capitalism that continues to devastate our beings and witness the unfolding of the kin-dom of God before our very eyes!
Today, I sit before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, so that you may live, you and your descendants. – Deuteronomy 30.14
The task that is laid before the people of every generation is whether or not they will follow after God. Will they build upon the good works and faith of the ancestors who have gone on before them? Or will they turn away from the path laid out before them and embrace chaos, destruction, and death instead, pushing the world further away from existence? Will they seek to redeem the despotic decision making of their fore fathers and mothers by fighting for justice and telling God’s good news about deliverance? Or will they, like their ancestors before them, persist in grinding the face of the poor for power and profit?
No matter the good done by those before, subsequent generations are expected to affirm their commitment to living a life modeled after God’s ideas rather than imperialistic obsessions with greed, evil, and death. While the idea of generational blessings has merit from a theological standpoint, this idea still clarifies the need for each generation to stand for justice and righteousness. No generation of people are exempt from having to make such a commitment, each is called to decide and declare its allegiance to God – most notably in times of transition including political and economic instability.
This is the challenge that the Israelites faced after being freed from Egypt. Three generations made distinctly different choices in their decision to follow after God. The first generation, or Moses’ generation, exhibited unfaith even though they witnessed with their own eyes God’s saving power. In spite of all that God had done for them – parting the Red Sea, dropping bread out of the sky, and so many other miracles – they complained, worshipped idols, and also simply refused to believe in God. As a result of their actions, they died out in the wilderness and failed to fully inherit all that God had for them. The second generation, Joshua’s generation, made different choices. Unlike their parents before them, or perhaps because of them, this generation inherited the Promised Land as a result of consistent, albeit imperfect obedience to God. The third generation, not knowing anything about Joshua or how God delivered the Israelites, pursued evil. The people of this generation, and even ones proceeding after it were consistently described as ones who did was what right in their own eyes and had little regard for God.
Similarly throughout the lineage of the Davidic Empire in Israel, each generation made different decisions in terms of how they would either follow God by pursuing justice, mercy, and humility or turn away from God. David, though an ardent worshipper, compromised his faith by pursuing prestige, power, and possessions – even those that belonged to other people. Although God gave his son Solomon the authority to build the Jewish Temple, Solomon greatly oppressed those within the kingdom to not only pull off the building of this great edifice but other visible institutions of the Empire. In addition, his pursuit of political power at the expense of his love for God cost him the intimacy that he once enjoyed with God. And Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, decided to further depart from God’s will instead of improving upon his ancestors weaknesses. Although he knew about how his father Solomon bought and sold people for the sake of expansion, and how David – his grandfather – was responsible for so much bloodshed, both within and without the kingdom, Rehoboam vowed to make things even worse for the people when presented with the opportunity to ease the burden of the oppressed: “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions” (I Kings 12.11, NASB).
Yet, disobedience and departure from the ways of God came with a cost. In each instance when a generation chose to pursue injustice instead of embracing God’s shalom, there was catastrophe. Though this catastrophe was most often felt among those who were already oppressed – after all, vulnerable and marginalized communities often pay the most in times of civil and political unrest – there were consequences for every decision that squelched the opportunity for God’s love, peace, mercy, and justice to be felt among God’s people. Such was the case with Rehoboam – his persistence in following evil was a pivotal moment in Israel’s history that precipitated the downfall of the empire. Unfortunately, the kings that arose after him made similar decisions which only hastened the eventual destruction of Jerusalem and captivity of the people.
God always gives us a choice. Because He is patient and kind, not willing for anyone to perish, He consistently extends to each and every one of us the opportunity to chose Him. Not just to believe in Him or express faith in Him, but to back up what we believe about God by our commitment to pursue justice, love, and mercy instead of injustice, hatred and war.
Somehow we forget that this is what God is concerned about. We forget, or rather we do not know, that God’s heart aches for the broken and despised in this world. He grieves over the fatherless, the widow, the foreigner – people who have been made poor because of the systems of this world. Because He is concerned about them, He demands that we be concerned about them. Over and over and over again throughout the biblical text, He raises our consciousness on the plight of these and asks us to choose: Choose life so that you may live. Clothe the naked. Feed the hungry. Liberate those in prison. Preach good news to those who are hopeless as a result of their condition.
God’s Clarion Call Today
Once again, we are at a point in history where God is asking us – and by us I want to specifically address Christian believers and also recognize that He extends the same invitation to the rest of the world – to make a decision. I call out the Church specifically because, unfortunately, we have a track record of ignoring social problems – if not condoning them – for the sake of comfort and security. In our time, right now, people across the globe are suffering tremendously because of the United States’ obsession with power. Because of power, we wage war against nations with impunity. Because of power, we consume the world’s goods – without care for who or what we are dispossessing even if the one that is being dispossessed is the earth itself. Because of power, we make allegiances with nations who are bent towards evil and ignore the plight of nations that are suffering because of our policies.
And that is just what we are doing to people outside of our nation’s borders. The things that we are doing to our own kin are just as atrocious and despicable. Although this nation has always despised Black, Indigenous, and Other People of Color (BIPOC), we are now seeing this hatred at a heightened level. The policies that were arguably covert since the Civil Rights era are now overt making it nearly impossible to deny that racism and white supremacy not only exist, but are still preferred weapons of war against non-whites. Will we stand to see stand to see Latinos deported, Muslims targeted, Blacks criminalized, American Indians lose even more land, LGBTQ persons increasingly discriminated against, and the poor of all races and cultures pitted against each other as the nation hoards more and more resources? Or will we stand and say no? Will we make a clear, unequivocal statement saying that we not only support these moves but will resist them through civic engagement, advocacy, civil disobedience, and prayer?
In recent history, the Church was called to make a similar decision. This time, the location was Germany and the people who were being persecuted were the Jews. As Nazism increased in the country, there arose a strange marriage between nationalism and Christianity, where the church produced anti-Semitic literature, banned Christians of Jewish ancestry from membership, and defaced the sacred scriptures – throwing out the Old Testament and amending the New Testament scriptures to erase Jesus’ connection to Judaism.
In his book, Living Faith: How Faith Inspires Social Justice, Dr. Curtiss DeYoung writes that in spite of the fact that church leaders were bothered by these moves, many refused to speak against Hitler. “They were encouraged at how the Nazis were reviving the nation’s morale and economy. And Nazi anti-Semitism was far from foreign to much of Christianity, which had a long anti-Semitic history, based on church teachings that Jews were guilty as a race for the death of Christ. (Living Faith: How Faith Inspires Social Justice p 30).”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the few pastors – let alone Christians – who took a stand against Hitler noted how incapable the church was in standing up for justice, in spite of the teachings of the Jesus who advocated for such a witness against evil empires and oppression. For Bonhoeffer this “revealed the problematic character of its entire past: its veneration of and obedience to the state, its support for the traditional class system, its resistance to social change, its indifference to the plight of workers and the poor, and its opposition to socialism and working class politics” (ibid, 35). Unfortunately, Bonhoeffer was not just referring to the church in Germany but the entirety of Western Christian witness noting that delegates at the World Council of Churches held in Denmark of 1934 were resigned to the reality of war in Europe. At such a critical time in world history, Christians failed to speak and exercise the gift of the Holy Spirit working on the inside of them.
Listen, I’m not equating what’s going on in our nation and conspiring nations to what happened to the Jews – although there are strikingly similar comparisons that we must stay vigilant about. However, regardless of the scale of evil – whether it is concentrated in one region of the world or widespread across the globe – as Christians, we must speak out about it. We must speak if it affects us directly and we must speak if it does not. As a result of the church’s failure to speak, millions of people died in the Holocaust – Jews, blacks, people with disabilities, and anyone Hitler found a political threat, including Bonhoeffer himself. As a result of the church’s inability to extend compassion, love, and justice to others, millions more in our own life times are living lives under siege. Will we ignore their suffering and turn a deaf ear to their cries as did the church in WWII? Or will we choose life so that we, our descendants, our kin around the world, may live?
Oh, I pray that we choose life. Today, in this moment, let it be said that this generation chose life. Let it be said that we resisted. That we prayed. That we gathered around the dispossessed. That we extended God’s love to those who are near and far. That we refused to hide behind comfortable Christianity and took a chance on love, took a chance on God. That we welcomed the kingdom of God among us as we provided for the needs of those who are without. That’s my prayer for you, that’s my prayer for all of us as we embrace this New Year.
The human condition is predicated on the premise that we belong and are needed by others. In order to survive and live life well, we are dependent on the presence and generosity of those who surround us – not only for provision but for meaning, relationship, and warmth as well. Just think about it: in creating humanity, God recognized the need for Adam to have a companion, a wife, a compadre in the struggle who he would be able to do life with. In His own words, God said that it was not good for humans to live alone. Such isolation not only gives us an inflated vision of ourselves but it denies us the opportunity to love and be fully loved by others.
Babies are born utterly dependent on their caregivers and as they mature into adults, they remain dependent on parents for years to come. Adults, in their old age, are dependent on younger family members, social programs, and so much more in order to provide for their needs. Every one of us is a part of a family, a community, places of worship and/or culture where we give our time, talent, and treasure. None of us are able to survive without these connections. We can neither go it alone or imagine that others can go it without us. Such demands that we relinquish selfish ideologies that place ourselves at the center, understanding that the center is much bigger than we ourselves, it consists of all of us. All of us are needed, important, valued and loved.
We cannot imagine for one minute that we could have it any other way. It may seem convenient at times to distance ourselves from others, minimizing our commonalities and mutual need for connection in order to survive. At least, that is what we are told – that life is a zero-sum game where there are winners and losers and that in order to survive, some of us just have to lose. In this alternate reality – alternate because it has no truth in it – people grow richer and more powerful by annihilating all of those who get in their way. Truth is, the act of casting others off comes with the cost of one’s own demise. Remember Cain? Many of us, I’m sure, recall the way in which Cain killed his brother Abel out of jealousy and greed. Many of us, I’m sure, have grown up mourning the loss of Abel. And while, Abel’s loss is tragic, the greatest tragedy of the story is that in Cain’s murderous act against his own brother, he likewise separated himself from community and love. He cut himself off from the very human fabric of which he denied his brother.
Likewise, every time we deny others the opportunity to live and be free, we cut our own selves off from the same opportunity. When we choose profit over life, we rob our own water supply, diminish our own land, and compromise our own ability to breathe fresh air. When we marginalize communities through acts of racism, xenophobia, and homophobia, we cause our own communities to be less safe and driven by acts of fear and aggression. When we trust in politicians instead of the testimony of our neighbors, we put our own lives at risk of being exploited by their despotic policies and practices.
Darwin – in so many ways – had it wrong: our survival is not predicated on the extinction of others. The opposite is true, our survival as a human people necessitates the wellbeing of others. If we want to exist, live, be free, and do well, we have to ensure that no one – on account of their race, religion, ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, age, or income – is marginalized for the sake of the advancement of a few or even the security of many. Picking others off just so that some can get ahead only creates an incessant cycle of finding a new class of people to demonize and vilify – until there is no one left.
We are not each other’s enemies; we are each other’s best chance at making it! We are our best chance at putting to rest all of the ways in which we allow ourselves to be cut off from each other. We are our best chance at combating climate change and uprooting white supremacy. We are our best chance at dismantling patriarchy and homophobia. This is not to say that God doesn’t have a part to play, this is His world after-all, but we have to stop using the will of God as a crutch to justify our spirit of do-nothingness. The Spirit of God will do what the Spirit of God will do, and fortunately for us, God often chooses to work through the hearts and lives of human beings. Throughout the Word, the history of the world, and in this present moment, God calls us to recognize our interdependence and out of that recognition, pursue love, justice, and mercy with all people without distinction.
God does this because He knows the ways in which division and disconnection destroys all of us. After-all, He was there when Cain killed Abel. With His own eyes, God saw how Abel’s act made him a fugitive and wanderer on the face of the earth.
And He saw how sin destroyed the unity between Adam and Eve (Genesis 3).
And how fear caused Sarah to abuse and misuse Hagar (Genesis 16; 19).
And how desperation separated brothers Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25, 27).
And how out of jealousy, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery (Genesis 37 – 50).
In each of these instances, the very act of exclusion that people used in hopes of survival cost them greatly. Acts of exploitation and oppression always come at great cost – not just to the marginalized but to the oppressor as well. This is because God in His infinite wisdom, created us to survive on the connection of others so that when we hurt others, we hurt ourselves. As the South African concept of Ubuntu affirms, we only exist because of the existence of others.
Today, let’s commit to walk back toward one another. I know we’ve been through a rough year, a year marked by violence and chaos on a local, national, and global scale – all of which has been heightened by the lies the we’ve been told about each other. Some believed those lies for various reasons – be it fear, hatred, or bigotry – but at the root of them all was the need for survival.
Let’s reject the lie. Every day, starting from today for the rest of our lives, reject the lie that someone else’s life is costing us our survival. Every day, let us rehearse the truth that we know about each other – that each of us are loved, valued, and needed. And then, let us reach out and form unsuspecting alliances to bring each other in.
Because we’re worth it, I’m not willing to give up on us!