Tag Archives: Alton Sterling

We Must Not Be Silent: Why the Only Gospel is a Social One

WE MUST NOT BE SILENT

A few days ago, in the midst of this past week’s series of tragedies that included the horrific deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and five members of the Dallas Police Department, Christian leader John MacArthur appeared in a video titled “Racism and the Black Lives Matter Movement.” The video was posted by The Master’s Seminary, where MacArthur is the president. The video addressed the topic in a fairly roundabout manner, closing with MacArthur stating that “when the Gospel changes your life, you go from social issues to spiritual issues.”

Let me begin by saying that the aforementioned statement is a downright theological disaster. The Gospel — the pure, unadulterated Gospel — does not set us free from taking part in social action. Instead, the Gospel demands our presence when social problems arise. If we care in the slightest about the temporary and eternal well-being of our fellow humans, we MUST respond to social issues. In fact, we must be at the forefront of response. Christian rapper Trip Lee responded to MacArthur’s video on Twitter by saying “The Good News doesn’t mean ignore social issues, because it’s all that matters. It means we can’t ignore them. God cares & we should too.”

If we believe God is a God of justice, we must be His hands and feet during times of social turmoil. If we do the opposite and remove ourselves, retreating to what some would call “more spiritual things,” we’re doing a poor job, to say the least, of reflecting God’s character. Scripture clearly states that God loves justice. Isaiah prophesies about the Messiah’s love for justice in Isaiah 61:1-3:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.”

Jesus did not only care about justice. It was His mission. He came to this world as a man, He felt our pain and He chose to die so that we’d hear a resounding “NOT GUILTY” come Judgment Day, if we simply believe in His love for us. While on Earth, He demonstrated this justice by refusing religious passivity and instead showing compassion for prostitutes, loving those who were at the time the very symbol of injustice (tax collectors), and declaring that His followers should do the same. He was the greatest humanitarian the world has ever known.

The Gospel preached by this man, this Jesus, demands social action. To instead build a wall between sacred and secular is to misunderstand such a Gospel. There is a false theology circulating amongst many Christian communities and even believed by pastors and leaders, even in this day and age, that there is some sort of barrier between the sacred things and the secular things. Those who subscribe to this barrier attempt to push Christians to the side of the sacred. This could mean simply reading Bibles, praying, attending Bible studies, memorizing Scripture, etc., WITHOUT involvement in non-Christian circles. In my humble opinion, such a way of life has detached Christians from engaging with culture in the name of creating Christian countercultures that have little potential for spreading the Gospel. Instead of seeking and saving the lost (the words of Jesus), we retreat to our Christian bubbles.

It’s safe there, right? We won’t be affected by the world’s evils and we won’t have to face others who don’t think like us. Bring your notebook and your acoustic guitar! (Please don’t take this the wrong way).

While studying for my undergraduate thesis project, I read a book by Al Wolters entitled Creation Regained that deconstructed this sacred/secular divide and instead provided the outline for a reformational worldview of Christianity. A reformational worldview calls Christians to step directly into what some would call “the secular,” proposing that Christ is sovereign over every square inch (Abraham Kuyper). Christ is sovereign over politics, art, sports, government. He is sovereign over the world’s problems and injustices. There’s not one space in the universe over which Jesus Christ is not sovereign.

The implications of this worldview are many. One of them is blatantly clear: as Christians, we MUST care about justice. It’s simply a requirement of following Christ. He cared about justice, so I must. It was His mission, so it must be mine. And that doesn’t mean I should start to care about justice when I die and go to Heaven, when I’m finally surrounded by every nation, tribe and tongue.

It starts here and now. It starts with the thrust of the Gospel: love your neighbor. Most of your neighbors don’t look like you, and many times it’s uncomfortable to love them. Sometimes you won’t feel like you belong. Sometimes you won’t know what to say. In those times, simply listen. I promise you, if you take a step toward hearing the story, the pain, the joys, the life experiences of a neighbor unlike yourself, the GOSPEL will come alive to you as you begin to love the person’s very humanity. I promise you, this Gospel will taste much sweeter than the one whose rulebook instructed you not to associate with anyone who regularly commits taboo sins you’re supposed to be afraid of.

Jesus both taught and demonstrated that we should go to people who don’t act like us, don’t look like us and don’t believe the same as us in order to hear their stories and love them in response. Through this love, the world will know that we are His disciples (John 13:34-35).

This is why, as a white Christian, I must be involved when my African-American brothers and sisters tell me they’re hurting. When they release cries of oppression, I listen, because Jesus was sent to bind up the brokenhearted. Therefore, I will attempt to do the same. When they mourn, I mourn, because Jesus was sent to comfort those who mourn. When they are grieving, I grieve, because Jesus was sent to provide for those who grieve. 

If I want to be like Jesus, I must step into the social narrative of our day and do what He would have done. If I settle for what is merely “spiritual,” I have completely missed His Gospel of love and compassion. On the other hand, if I have made an intentional move toward the so-called secular sphere and have there made a conscious effort to hear the stories and pain of those who don’t look like me, responding with pure compassion, I’ve actually stepped into the spiritual.

I challenge you to take that step. You’ll meet Jesus there. He’s already there, binding up the wounds of the brokenhearted. His Spirit is in the shouts of “we shall overcome.” His love is in the hearts of those who respond to the cries of the oppressed.

I want no part of a gospel whose believers would prefer to remove themselves from social issues, simultaneously refusing to validate the pain of others with passivity and instead retreating to what they’d call “more spiritual things.”

I’ll take the social Gospel instead… the one Jesus preached. I will not be silent.

Live it with me. Reject the fear-motivated, false dichotomies that have been perpetuated in the voices of those who prefer comfort over compassion. Reject safety in the name of love. Jesus didn’t save the world with safety. He saved it with a daring, reckless love.

Get woke. Stay woke.

Note: An incredible piece of art that encompasses the beauty of the social gospel is Kendrick Lamar’s song titled “How Much A Dollar Cost.” I challenge you to listen, read the lyrics, and act accordingly. Search for the metaphor at work in the song and read Matthew 25 to understand how it’s not so metaphorical after all.

White Christians: Time to Get Woke

I should start by giving a disclaimer. I don’t claim to be completely “woke.” In fact, I’m probably far from woke. I’m trying to get woke, hence the title. I simply want other people like myself to try, simply attempt to get woke with me. 

I am as white as it gets. Nearly 100% European ancestry, mostly English. I grew up in a mostly white suburb and live in a mostly white town. I’m soon moving to a town that’s probably whiter than the one I live in now. I’m WHITE. I haven’t shielded myself from cultures different my own, but I haven’t exactly immersed myself in them.

However, for probably 10 years, I’ve truly appreciated many pieces of art created by brothers and sisters who do not share my skin color. In my middle school years, the rhymes of African-American and Christian rapper Da’ T.R.U.T.H. filled my headphones. I had little to no understanding of the meanings of said rhymes, but the beats pumped me up and I sensed a true devotion to Jesus in his music.

Da’ T.R.U.T.H. had some dude named Lecrae in a couple of his songs, but it wasn’t until my college years that the latter man burst onto the scene and became easily the most well-known Christian rapper of all time. Lecrae’s music was (is) raw, real and authentic. His carefully crafted words told (tell) of past sins, current struggles and future hopes. Like me, many others found inspiration, motivation and breaths of fresh air in his tunes. I began to appreciate Lecrae, Trip Lee, Propaganda and other African-American rappers because of the truth in their words and the vulnerability of their souls in the face of potential hate.

While I began to truly appreciate the art crafted by my black brothers and sisters (Jackie Hill-Perry, for one) for their pure takes on life, the university environment and my simultaneous maturing process opened my eyes and heart to things going on in the world that were outside myself. I remember hearing the buzz about Trayvon Martin and reading up on the situation. I was mostly confused. I still didn’t quite care. This situation was too far outside of my sphere of influence. Too far for me to care, or to spend serious time thinking about it.

I continued to grow in Christ through the next couple years and my compassion grew for those who didn’t look, act or think like me.

Then came Mike Brown and Ferguson. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. Laquan McDonald. I couldn’t turn a blind eye. These news stories haunted my soul… but they were more than news stories. They were the stories of real people, and they sadly became more normal than anomalous.

I didn’t only hear stories, but through the artists I mentioned previously as well as the general voice of the African-American public, I heard the cry of a people in utter pain. I heard the creative voices of Lecrae, Propaganda, Kendrick Lamar. I heard the cry of a suffering people. I watched closely as the commentary from African-American leaders in the church screamed “Black Lives Matter!” These were genuine, Jesus-loving people. Their cries weren’t attempts to advance an ideology. These cries would hopefully find the ears of others who would simply care. 

Not to fix. Not to politicize. Not to pity. Definitely not to argue.

To simply care.

I will not mince my words here: it is an absolute disgrace, in fact, a downright abomination that these cries have mostly failed to find listening ears from white people who claim to love Jesus. It’s sickening that these cries are met with arguments and agendas.

In my communications classes, I learned something called the XYZ skill. In conflict, accusing and pointing fingers rarely works or incites progress. It’s much more effective to frame the issue this way: “when you do X, I feel Y, because of Z.”

Why is this effective? Because somebody can’t tell you that you don’t feel a certain way. They’re your feelings. You’re the only one who truly knows them. When the listener understands how you’re feeling, the path to understanding, compassion, and forgiveness grows much wider. Healing begins. It’s still a process, sometimes a long one.

African-Americans are feeling pain because of the systematic racism that exists in this country. To white people who claim to follow Jesus, we are simply asinine if we tell our brothers and sisters they’re in the wrong for feeling a certain way. The feelings may not be verbalized in a way that makes you comfortable, but that probably just reveals their legitimacy even further. You can’t disqualify the feelings of an entire demographic because you don’t agree. At the least, that’s illogical. At most, it’s insane.

But you can pay attention. Better yet, you can listen. You can be educated. There are plenty of resources available to learn the Z behind the Y, the why behind the feeling. The reason for the cries, the purposes for the pain. You can attempt to get woke. That doesn’t mean you’ll always say or do the right things. I’ve probably misused my language somewhere within this post.

But I’m freaking trying, man. Because white Christians NEED TO BE BETTER. The church has to lead the way in tearing down the ugly walls of racism, but our arguments are simply adding bricks.

I’m not above this. I can count my black friends on one hand. That hurts to say. There are parts of my heart and mind that tend toward racism. I have to actively condemn these and ask God to change my wretched heart. It’s the sickness of my sin that causes racism to live inside me… but I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it’s absolutely gasping for breath, until it finally chokes and dies. But I need help. I want to get better.

Do you really believe that African-Americans who believe in Jesus are your own flesh & blood? As unworthy of grace as you are, but as forgiven and redeemed as you are? Made in the same image as you, the image of a God whose color is yet unknown to our eyes? If yes, do your actions follow? We must ask these questions. We must listen. We must converse.

You’ll find that the process of getting woke is much more gratifying than settling for winning an argument.

As Propaganda himself said in Lecrae’s “Gangland,” being right is a distant second to the joy of compassion. A collective step toward compassion is a step on the head of Satan.

In his song Broken, Lecrae says “we all broke together, and if we don’t swallow our pride we gon’ choke together.”

White Christians: we’ve already choked together, now it’s time to get woke together.

*I highly recommend this podcast from The Liturgists, featuring a conversation with Propaganda and worship artist William Matthews, to begin your journey towards getting woke.*

Note: After writing this post, I heard the absolutely sickening news about #AltonSterling. I sobbed after watching the video of his murder. This post is dedicated to him, the memory of his life, and the countless people before him whose lives have been taken unjustly. Alton, I’m sorry this is too late.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” – Romans 12:15

WOKE.