I come from a hot tempered breed, so it doesn’t take a lot to get my going. At the same time, over the last decade or so, I’ve worked hard to not let myself get too worked up about stuff, and I’ve think I’ve done relatively well. But yesterday something got under my skin. It wasn’t really just this one little thing that did it. It’s been a series of things over a span of years, but yesterday was kind of the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back for me. What it comes down to is this: There has been, over a period of years, a beautiful stream of socially progressive, Biblically rooted, and in many ways evangelical, Christianity evolving. For someone like me, for whom it has seemed that my only options are socially and politically conservative evangelical christianity or no Christianity at all, this has been a renewing stream for me. But it also seems to me that this stream is quickly losing its way, and some of the social media buzz around the #BlackFair demonstration last Saturday highlighted it for me. My soul is restless as I see much of the this beautiful progressive Christian stream slipping into the same divisive, polarizing, politically overrun ways that we’ve seen from the conservative Christian streams over the lat 25 years.
Here’s what happened: I came across a tweet from a fellow clergy person that said this:
“Just attended a church that didn’t even mention #BlackFair. That’s called deep fried racism-by-omission on a stick, yall”. It set me off. It shouldn’t, but it did. It just did. We did not mention #BlackFair in our congregation Sunday, and because of this (unless I am grossly misunderstanding something) I have herein been pegged as racist by virtue of the sin of omission. This person does not know me, does not know my congregation, and does not know where the Spirit of God of leading us at this time. Yet because I did not mention an event (not even an issue, mind you, but an event), I am guilty of racism. I understand when the political world begins to speak in polarizing language like this. The political world needs to or it wont’ survive. But those of us who subscribe to Christianity, especially our pastors and church leaders, are bound by a different covenant. And this covenant is one that chooses to enter into the complexities of the world’s issues; it lives in the messiness of the gray, and does not reduce itself to polarizing “black and white” rhetoric. The world will do this- we cannot expect otherwise, but, please, fellow progressive Christians, can we find a third way? Can we work hard to avoid the alluring trap of the “either/or” world? This dualistic way of being is damaging, not only to a Gospel of Peace, but also to the causes we are supporting. The way forward is not alienation, division, condemnation, and lines in the sand. As we talked about in my congregation yesterday, we must remember that “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh.” That does not mean that we shouldn’t work for social change. It does not mean that we shouldn’t say hard things. It means that we must be careful not to tear one another down as we do so. I fear that much of the progressive Christian stream is falling into the same trap that the conservative Christian stream fell into, which is speaking our truth absent of love. The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” I am going to take some heat for saying this, but I fear that many progressive movements like #BlackLivesMatter, whose message is too important to be lost, are becoming noisy gongs and clanging symbols.
These issues are too important to get lost in the noise of polarizing speech, and we, as the Church, have a responsibility to see to it that they don’t. I am begging all progressively minded Christians to not let this beautiful stream fall victim to the trap of condemnation, judgement, polarization, and noise. Let’s be the people that enter into the complexities of these issues. Let’s willingly and courageously step into the difficult space where, without compromising our convictions, we can confess that being a law enforcement officer in today’s world is often dangerous and terrifying work… and being a young black male is often a dangerous and terrifying existence. I think it’s ok to hold both of these as true, and more so, when we do, we begin to step into a third way of social change. Those who oppose the Black Lives Matter movement must come to understand that its whole point is that “all lives matter”, but our justice system does not seem to bear that out. You cannot avert your eyes from the statistics, which indicate that not quite all lives matter. As Christians, when a group of people begin to cry out for justice, we must carefully and patiently listen. At the same time, as we begin to cry out for such justice, we must not do so in a way that further polarizes and divides. Demonstrations are beautiful, but let’s be careful about how we do it. Let’s be careful about the means to our end. The world often operates “by any means necessary”. But for those of us who subscribe to the way of Christ, the means matter. Drawing condemning lines in the sand that broadly paint our sisters and brothers in the faith as bigots, racists, and the like might move a political cause forward, but it falls out of the rhythm of grace of peace. Yes, Jesus turned over tables; and, yes, Jesus called people a “brood of vipers”, but he did so carefully, intentionally, not broadly and with knowledge of those to whom his words were directed.
So, beloved Christ following, progressively minded friends, let’s step into the space where we believe that others can be supporters of our causes without carrying a sign and without condemning those who don’t understand our cause. Can we step in the difficult space where love permeates our every move, our every step and our every word? Can we step into the difficult space where we don’t take the tempting bate of division, pious platitudes, and further polarization. There is a third way. It’s a hard way. It’s a confusing way. It’s an uncomfortable way. It is a way which I guess you could say is narrow and few will find it. But let’s look for it. Let’s struggle to find it together and not give this beautiful stream of progressive Christianity over to the same wide path of the world which merely divides us further.