Our nation is bleeding out. An old wound, which was yet in the process of healing, has been torn open over the past eight years. We need healing, and it doesn’t seem to be forthcoming. It could come sooner if we, as Christians, would focus on the Gospel and not on sociopolitical agenda. Somehow, we have it in our heads that if we address socially relevant issues head on and try to change our culture that we are helping people. Yet the point of Gospel is the Good News that God has sent His Son, Jesus, to make a way for men to be reconciled to God. Only then, will our hearts be changed, and only then will the way we treat and interact with one another be changed. Only then will our culture be changed.
Part of the problem is that we don’t understand history. Maybe the fault is with our schools who, 30 or 40 years ago, began trying to teach a more “honest” history – and began emphasizing the negative aspects of our nation’s past in general, and the failings of historical figures specifically. In the process, as we developed a more “real” social consciousness, the good aspects of our national history were swallowed up in the blackness of our failings. We were so busy casting stones that we didn’t realize we were pummeling our nation into oblivion. That’s the way it usually goes when we focus on someone else’s sin. We try to get the speck of sawdust out of their eye and don’t realize we’re smacking them upside the head with the 2×4 sticking out of our own eye, and everyone walks away bloody, bruised and blinded.
I’ve found several books recently that are histories of individual counties where some of my ancestors lived. The three I’ve read so far were written in the early 1900’s by Civil War veterans – one from Pennsylvania, one from Louisiana, and one from Mississippi. Their perspectives on the Civil War obviously vary. One of the confederate veterans surprised me a little by stating unequivocally that the nation went to war over the issue of slavery. From his perspective, the constitution gave the states the right to have slavery, and to secede. The north was destroying the constitution by ignoring it and forcing the south to abandon the practice. He pointed out the irony that the south had outlawed the importation of new slaves in the early 1800’s, but Northern slave traders continued to bring new slaves in from Africa and sell them in the slave markets into the 1840’s. He also pointed out the number of times northern states, especially Massachusetts, had threatened to exercise their constitutional right to secede from the Union over one issue or another, but when the south did, they went to war. He said the south fought for their constitutional rights, but that having gone through that and seen the end to slavery, they would fight again rather than go back to that institution.
One of the things that struck me the most in all three books, is the acceptance that once the war was over, it was over. The country was reunited. The men who fought on both sides went back to being committed, loyal citizens of the United States. Yes, there was still some anger, suffering, struggling (especially through the “Reconstruction Era”), but they began the process of restoring and renewing our land. Their fathers and forefathers were the founders of the nation, veterans of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Some of them, and their sons went on to become veterans of the Spanish-American War. The government eventually recognized Confederate soldiers as being American veterans and gave them veteran pensions and authorized veteran markers for their graves.
Obviously, in terms of race relations, there is still much to be done. If anything, in recent years we’ve seen reversals and increased division. It is way past time for us to promote healing in our nation. However, social action has had limited success. I was about to suggest messages for black preachers and white preachers, but 1) I’m not going to buy into the division, and 2) though there might be subtle nuances, the message is essentially the same for all of us.
Preacher, you have an opportunity right now to truly bring healing. It isn’t by tearing down monuments and renaming parks. Nor is it by fighting against that. Change will come by prayer and by proclamation of the Gospel. Paul’s example was to preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23).
What does that mean? It isn’t just “Jesus died for your sins.” The way you become a Christian is the way you live as a Christian (Col. 2:6). It means ‘By His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption’ (1 Cor. 1:30). It means ‘By grace you have been saved through faith;… it is the gift of God, lest any man should boast’ (Eph. 2:8). It means ‘you have been [made of no effect apart from] Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace‘ (Gal. 5:4).That doesn’t mean fallen from salvation. It means you stopped living by the heavenly, eternal grace that saved you and subjected yourself to worldly, temporal laws and notions of morality. As a result, you are of no effect as a Christian.
Instead of preaching social justice, ask your people, “Is slavery wrong? Is it evil? Is it an atrocity? Is it morally reprehensible that it was part of our nation’s history? Yes! But that was the past. In the present, in the here and now, if slavery is so evil, then why are you allowing yourselves to become slaves to sin? Why do you allow sin to dominate you? You want to show that you are better than someone else? Well, you’re not! We are all equal in Christ. The very fact that you think you are better than someone else proves that you are not. You want to be better than someone else? Well, quit it. Christianity isn’t about that. Die to yourself, love God, trust God! Give thanks to God. Let Jesus Christ come in and be at home in your heart. Let Him change you from within. When you honor and glorify Jesus by allowing Him to be your very life, when He is revealed to all as being your life and affects they way you live and love your fellow man in general and your Christian brothers (whatever their race) in particular, then you will be revealed with Him in glory! Not by exalting yourself, but by exalting Christ and becoming like Him will you gain the respect and esteem of all men.”
And how do you do that? Romans 1 ends with a long list of sins. But that list begins with a very significant insight. It talks about men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. It says that even though God made Himself known, “they did not honor Him as God or give thanks.” The King James says, “they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful.” That is the beginning point of sin. And the reverse is also true – if you want victory over sin, the starting place is learning to give thanks – extreme thanks – not just for good things, not even just for good things in the midst of bad things. Rather, it is giving thanks always, for all things. For the Father has given all things to the Son, and He will use all things to mold us into the image of the Son. That’s what dying to self is all about. That is the “crucified life.” It is learning to totally trust our totally trustworthy God.
If we think we are better than someone else because of our race or for any other reason, we need to realize we have no worth apart from our relationship with Jesus Christ. Hebrews 12:14-16 says, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of [fall short of] the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” Christian! Are you selling your spiritual birthright, the experience of the heavenly here on earth, the eternal in the here and now, for a morsel of temporal “meat”? Are you feeding bitterness by arguing over monuments, and parks, and the dead institution of slavery when our nation is defiled by spiritual death, enslaved by sin? The Bible does not deal directly with the issue of slavery because the real issue is the hearts of men and their eternal relationship with God. Make a real change there and it will have an impact on the “real” world.