Not Doctrinally But Culturally
The last two days have been an emotional whirlwind and a revelatory experience. The Church of Christ in America might not be fully identified with Evangelicalism doctrinally, but it is culturally. This was a hard and even embarrassing revelation for me to embrace. What is happening in America regarding race, racism, white supremacy culture, and white supremacist action is beyond disturbing. Related to race relations in America, I live in a constant state of outrage. It does not mean I am out of control or off-balance, but as a Black Christian preacher, husband, father, educator and more, I remain concerned.
Saturday (1/16/2021), I was in my home office, adding the final touches to my Sunday sermons, and I really do not know how, but I stumbled across a Youtube interview or panel featuring Dr. Voddie Baucham. I am not very familiar with him, but he was discussing his soon-to-be-released book, Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe. The trajectory was clear. The issue of race, antiracism, social justice, whiteness, etc., are dangerous for the church, and especially the Evangelical movement. What troubles me most about the concept is that there appears to be an unwillingness to discuss the impact of race and racism under any circumstance. It seems that racial silence is preferred and perceived to be the healing solution.
Dr. Baucham expressed his concern because it appears that some have adopted a form of a social justice motif in the evangelical ranks. Listening to that video then morphed into an interview of Pastor John Fullerton MacArthur Jr. I probably should, but I do not really know him either, but he spent most of the time talking about his legal battle to maintain his mega-church in-person worship service during this season of COVID-19. However, in the last 16-minutes of the interview, he also expressed his views on race, Black Lives Matter, the Black community, individual responsibility, whiteness, and the trap of social justice inside the Evangelical movement. By the end of the interview, I was in shock and momentarily depressed. In full confession, I ended the evening by watching a full question and answer session by Dr. R.C. Sproul, followed by another session that included Sproul, MacArthur, and another white biblical scholar and professor. It was not my intent, but it was as if I had leaped into an evangelical pool of water.
Listening to Baucham and MacArthur, and because of what they view to be offensive about a social justice movement, there is no room for a healthy dialogue about race, racism, racial justice, or a need for systemic and policy change. MacArthur even failed to properly explain social justice and also said the Black community needs to take responsibility and “get a grip on itself.”
PAIN & PROCESS
I went to bed disturbed and woke up disturbed, contemplating if I should share and discuss the 16-minute clip with my Sunday morning Bible school class. I briefly made reference to the video in my class and had it ready to go but pressured by my whiteness, I elected not to share. I struggled through most of Sunday. I taught Bible school at 9:45 AM, and then preached for our 11:00 AM service. I wrote my quotes for the week, ate a nice meal, and then prepared for our 3:00 PM service. The way the word hit me during the PM service was unexpected.
My sermonic theme, carried over from 2020, is Let God! The subtopic for this current portion of the theme/sermon series is Revelation Unsynchronized. In multiple ways, the goal is to show how the revelation of God’s word, not just intellectual reception of information, but a heartfelt embrace and understanding that results in change, happens at different times for different believers. We started in Acts 2 and are making our way to Acts 6 before we move into another sub-topic. Peter preached the Gospel in Acts 2 to thousands of people, but it only resulted in revelation or a revelatory experience for the 3,000 that were saved (Acts 2:36-42). The others heard it but elected not to act, and even others were highly offended by the powerful message.
As an example, I am sure Saul was in attendance at the Acts 2, Feast of Weeks Pentecost celebration and heard the preaching of Peter, but he was not moved into revelation until he met, heard, and experienced Jesus on the Damascus road (Acts 9:1-19).
IN THE MOMENT
During our congregational 3:00 PM service and dialogue, I dealt with portions of 1 Samuel 7 and 8. The current PM theme in 1 Samuel is entitled A Brief Look at Correction and Consecration. The first two Sundays of the year, we explored how God dealt with Eli’s leadership and fatherhood, the scandal and rebellion of his sons, and the nuance and danger of not destroying the alters in our life, while also understanding the purpose of thorns in the flesh. On 1/17/2021, the goal was to briefly explore the solid example of Prophet and Judge Samuel as the Man of God, but how that did not guarantee faithful children. The end goal was to explore how the request of a king was actually stimulated by Israel not wanting to be judged or ruled by the deceitful sons of Samuel. It was in reading these passages, something that had not hit me the night before, leaped off the page in real-time, evoking a revelatory moment. Observe the text:
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” (1 Samuel 8:4-9 ESV)
EVANGELICALISM & THE CHURCH OF CHRIST
Evangelicals are upset, because racism, whiteness, and white supremacy culture are dialectically gaining an analytical seat at the table. MacArthur said it is a trap and the most destructive ideology Evangelicalism has ever faced. Dr. Baucham labels it a catastrophic fault line. Since today is the day we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and his martyrdom for love and civil rights, did the Evangelical movement (in the 1960s) embrace him, or were they also guilty of labeling him an agitator?
If the sons of Samuel were not rebellious and prone to criminality, the Hebrew people may have never requested a king. Yet again, as God stipulated, they were not rejecting Samuel, they were rejecting God as their King. For me, this is the crux of the matter within our clumsy and racial disposition within Christendom in America. The culture of the Evangelical movement has always been that of whiteness, and now the lines are so blurred that the notion of patriotism, the American flag, Republican party, conservativism, and President Trump has been consciously or unconsciously adopted as the Evangelical king. I know that sounds harsh, but through a lens of Kingdom, someone will have to help me unsee it.
TOXIC CHRISTIANITY & A KINGDOM RESPONSE
You see the image above. This is the refined 2021 version of the white supremacy nexus of Trump, Christ, and the Christian faith. Any Christian that is concerned about Kingdom, should be highly offended. Despite the fact that the image does not accurately reflect Christ, it is a concept that teaches, informs, persuades, and offends. If the true church ignores such imagery and explains it away as meaningless foolishness, how much Kingdom concern do you have? The religiously uninformed gaze at such an image and ignorantly charge it to the Christian faith.
The Evangelical movement does not want to consider the impact of race and racism in America. What about the Church of Christ? What is our position? What is our posture? Doctrinally, baptism is what separates us theologically, but nothing separates us culturally. The Church of Christ is just as silent and just as vocal as the racist elements within Evangelicalism. Are you satisfied with that? The only way we can be unbothered by the current state of affairs across Christianity in America is if we are only congregationally minded and not Kingdom minded.
Our Christological concern must be for the local body (congregationally) and for the universal body. If the cosmic Kingdom of God is truly the body of Christ we must be concerned about how the bride of Christ is represented in every aspect. Related to Kingdom, Paul said, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but justice, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17 DRA). He also expressed to the saints at Rome, “For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 ESV). Justice is connected to the Kingdom, as well as walking worthy. We all must be accountable.
Based on my limited look and investigation, Churches of Christ are in-line culturally with Evangelical Christianity, and this is disturbing. If there is a concern for the body of Christ, it calls for the complete body to convene and work on our issues and our witness and expression to the world.
In America, we are a house divided theologically and racially.
GENERATIVE INQUIRY & REFLECTION
- Are you concerned about your congregation alone or the complete body of Christ (Kingdom)?
- What is your response and responsibility, when you see Christianity co-opted under white supremacy ideals and imagery?
- How does your church handle issues of race and racism in America, from a biblical justice perspective?
- What does your congregation do to work toward racial unity across the kingdom?
- As a Christian, are you impacted by race and racism?
Dr. Ammar Saheli