Black Lives Matter vs All Lives Matter

The debate between those who say Black Lives Matter and those who respond All Lives Matter has moved in a direction that should make every Christian feel not only uncomfortable but frankly ashamed.

I cannot tell you how many of my white Christian Brothers and Sisters have posted things on various social media sites that are less than charitable in this issue. It grieves me and I believe it grieves the heart of God.

Before I say more, let me add this disclaimer: I am white. To be more specific I am a white pastor who has pastored an interracial church. I have many friends both white and black that I would stand up for and defend. Yes, I understand the white culture. No, I don’t totally understand the black culture. No one who is not black can.

Now with some reservations I want to go where angels fear to tread. I’ll probably get shot by both sides.

I think that both sides in this rancorous debate need to agree on several basic issues:

1. Innocent black men and boys have been killed by police officers. No one can deny it. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t raise their hands or obey an order (they should have). They were innocent and did not deserve to die.

2. We need to support our police. They are there to keep us safe and not all of them are bad. In fact most of them are good and a few are bad, as in every profession or group of people.

3. Some police are racists. Again, not the majority, but some.

4. You can’t cry racism when it’s a black officer who shot a black man. That’s just not racism.

5. Everyone needs to respond to the police in the proper way, even when they think that they are in the right and the police are wrong. This may not solve all of the problems but it will help in many situations.

6. There are racists white people and there are racists black people (and every other color). And some of them are Christians.

7. It’s not right to take sides, scream, protest, or burn and loot things until you have all of the facts. That takes time. (No I’m not suggesting that burning and looting is ever right, although our forefathers at the Boston Tea Party may take issue with me).

8. It’s not right to condemn those who take sides, scream, protest, (I draw the line at burning and looting) until you know all of the facts. That takes time.

I’m sure that there are other things that could be said but this is enough.

First let me talk to our black Christian Brothers and Sisters.

The first thing I want to say, and please hear me, is I love you. Please do not doubt my sincerity or my love. I am not trying to be an apologist for the whites.

I’m attempting to be an apologist for Jesus.

When you say Black Lives Matter, what most white people hear is, “Black lives matter more than white lives.” “Black people deserve special privileges.” “Black people don’t have to follow the law like white people.”

I’m sure that is not what you mean, but that is what we hear. Sadly.

You have to admit that the Black Lives Matter movement started out rather violently and without clear directions. White people look at them as thugs and looters. It’s going to be difficult to change perceptions. It’s important that you try.

It’s important because white people have some justification for their views. Black crime; violent inner-city neighborhoods; black men who father babies but don’t stick around to raise babies, to name a few.

I know that you can point to a history of slavery, generations of oppression, lack of job opportunities and, yes, racism. All of these are true but they should not define who you are.

Many races have come to America and faced these or similar obstacles and made a better life for themselves. Not even all black people have been held captive by their history or circumstances.

I want to affirm, and I believe it’s the right thing to do: Black Lives Matter.

Now let me talk to our white Christian Brothers and Sisters.

Again I want to say, I love you. Please do not feel that I am condemning you. I am not trying to be an apologist for blacks.

Remember it’s about Jesus.

When you say All Lives Matter, I think what most black people hear is “Black people don’t matter.” “You don’t value our lives the way you value white lives.” “We are expendable.” At the very least they hear “You are trying to dilute our message.”

It’s true that All Lives Matter, especially to God who is not limited by color, race or nationality (Galatians 3:28). But when you say it you are missing a huge point.

The slogan Black Lives Matter is a way to draw attention to one critical issue that most black people feel passionately about; the death of young black men. Some of them died innocently. Some were shot justifiably, but many, and this issue goes back many generations, were not.

We single out issues all of the time in our society and draw specific attention to them by wearing a certain color ribbon, sponsoring a golf tournament, or running a race. That is what the black community is trying to do.

That does not demean any other issue. It simply draws attention to one issue.

So here are my suggestions for how we should act as Christians facing this issue.

1) Let’s stop imitating the world and throwing our slogans in each other’s faces. Let’s try to understand the other side. It’s important, and I cannot emphasis this enough, that we as Christians act like Christians.

2) Let’s begin talking. I know that the black community has all but given up on dialog – they’ve been trying it for too many years. But the alternative has not worked.

3) Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt (1 Corinthians 13:7, love believes all things good about the other person).

4) Let’s begin loving each other, not when the other side does the “right” thing, but even if they don’t.

Yes, it is true that All Lives Matter. It is also true that Black Lives Matter.

Let the bullets fly (at me).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Advertisements

A Perspective on the Future of SCOTUS – and Our Country

Reactions to the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia have been all over the map. Those with liberal political leanings are mostly hopeful and excited about the prospect of another liberal judge on the high court while conservative reactions have varied from hand-wringing to militant.

Dr. Albert Mohler, the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary offered his perspective in a recent article. I have always found Dr. Mohler to be serious minded and Biblical. You can find his article, which I would encourage you to read, at:

http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/02/14/a-giant-has-fallen-the-death-of-justice-antonin-scalia-and-the-future-of-constitutional-government/

The Hobby Lobby Case: Victory for Religion or Harbinger of Defeat?

Today the Supreme Court of the United States handed down what many believe will be one of its most significant decisions of this term. In summary the court decided by the narrowest of margins (5-4) that a privately owned company cannot be forced by the government to pay for health care which violates the religious convictions of the owners. Those who sided with the plaintiffs, which in this case were Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, will claim a great victory for our first amendment rights, specifically the protection of religion. The comments posted online by the Pennsylvania Family Institute reflect the sentiments of many evangelicals. Liberty in America was affirmed and protected today as the United States Supreme Court sided with advocates for First Amendment freedoms, and rejected government overreach into the lives of those who own and operate businesses. You can read their complete statement here.

There is, however, cause for great concern in this apparent victory. Our government was established to function with three equal but separate powers; the executive (president), the legislative (congress) and the judicial (courts). Each has their role to play in concert with the others. One of the geniuses of our founders was that our laws were to be established by the officials who were elected by the people. Those who were closest to the people and answerable to the people made the laws.

However, recent history has demonstrated the inability of the executive and legislative branches of our government to function together for the good of our nation. For some time our nation has been at a political impasse. While many on both the right and the left of the political spectrum see their primary responsibility as impeding the agenda of their opponents there is a dark side to this impasse. We have effectively become a nation ruled by the courts. No longer is the will of the people or their elected representatives the key factor in determining our laws. Instead a few unelected judges who do not need to answer to the people determine the laws that govern us.

In the case of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Christians approve the court’s decision. But what happens when the makeup of the court shifts to the left? When decisions begin to come down in opposition to our religious beliefs? It will only take one more strategic appointment for the votes to become 5-4 against religious freedom. And another to be 6-3. Before we rejoice too loudly we need to understand what is at stake. We need to realistically evaluate the course on which we are headed. A country that is ruled by its judiciary can more easily be led down a different path than a country in which the laws are established by the representatives of the people. Do we really want to be a nation ruled by judges? Even if they occasionally rule in our favor?

While I am grateful for the ruling in the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Woods case, I believe that it is a dangerous harbinger of things to come. That we will increasingly become a nation ruled, not by laws passed by the people or their representatives, but by judges. And if recent history is any indicator, the decisions will not reflect a biblically based wisdom, but a humanistic view of life. There is danger in the path that we are on even if we see occasional victories.

Which brings me to this: our confidence is not in man but in God. The Psalmist reminds us that it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man (Psalm 118:8) and the writer of Hebrews that the Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me? (Hebrews 13:6).

Ultimately our hope is not in the laws that are passed or the judicial decisions that are rendered but in a righteous God who never changes (Hebrews 13:8). That is where we need to rejoice!

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Christians and Civil Discourse

One of the areas that Christians seem to shy away from discussing is Christians and Civil Discourse. Put simply, civil discourse has to do with how we verbally (in person, in writing, on Facebook or Twitter etc) engage people with different opinions (often held passionately) in a kind and courteous manner.

As I began to look at the information available online several things stood out. The first thing that I noticed was that there are a number of organizations who make the concept of civil discourse a major aspect of their focus. The Nation Institute for Civil Discourse, the Project Civil Discourse, the Institute for Civil Discourse and Democracy, and Citizens for Civil Discourse (whose primary goal seems to be to stop politicians from making robocalls! – I think they may be onto something!) are just a few that I found.

The second thing that I quickly noticed in my brief survey was that I only found one Christian organization that addressed this issue. There may be more, and probably are, but I didn’t find them. That shouldn’t be. As Christians we should be at the forefront of the discussion. After all, our faith directly addresses this issue.

I recognize that the issue of civil discourse can be used to intimidate people into silence by their opponents. The minute something is said that disagrees with their position the label of intolerant is hung on them and they are accused of violating the laws of civil discourse. Christians can run up against this in the areas of same sex relationships and abortion. That in itself, however, should not stop us from addressing those who disagree with us in a Biblical, i.e. civil manner.

Several passages are worth noting here. In Colossians 4:6 the Apostle Paul writes: Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. The each one is defined in the preceding verse as those who are outside, that is, unbelievers. As Christians we are to speak to those who disagree with us with grace and in a way that is purifying to the culture around us. Too often we have equated purifying speech with confrontational speech, but God equates it with graceful speech.

Another passage, and there are more, that applies here is Ephesians 4:29-32:

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

While this was directed to believers interacting with other believers, do you think that God has one standard for how we talk to each other and another standard for how we talk to those outside the faith? Our speech is ALWAYS to impart grace to the hearers. There is NEVER to be a time when what we say can be characterized by bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor or malice. Unfortunately Christians are often the ones accused of ignoring civil discourse, and sometimes it’s true.

I’m not advocating silence. Christians need to speak up on the cultural issues of the day. But we need to do it in a way that is consistent with the Word of God. After all, true civil discourse is simply Godly discourse. In this area we need to be known as people who practice speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

How Should Christians be Treated in an Unredeemed Culture?

Pastor Louie Giglio is in the middle of a firestorm that he never saw coming. For those of you not familiar with Pastor Giglio, he is the pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, Georgia and a leading evangelical voice exposing the modern day slave trade (it is estimated that there are as many as 27 million slaves around the world today!). His Passion2013 conference drew 60,000 young people (you could not attend if you were over the age of 26 except as a group leader) to rally for an end to slavery.

Because of his exemplary work in the area of slavery, Pastor Giglio was invited by the White House Inauguration Committee to deliver the benediction at the end of the presidential inaugural ceremony. It didn’t take long for him to be denounced as “anti-gay” because of his biblical stand on marriage. At this point it’s unclear whether Pastor Giglio removed his name from the program voluntarily or whether he did so at the request of the White House. The end result was the same.

The battle lines have been drawn. On one side are those holding the banners of tolerance and equal rights – on the other are those waving the banners of freedom of speech and discrimination against Christians.

While I find the political arguments interesting, there is another angle to this debate that Christians need to consider and that is how should Christians expect to be treated in a secular, unredeemed culture? On issues such as life, marriage and morality we are the minority; we are the ones struggling against the current. We are the ones pointing out that the emperor has no clothes.

Why are we surprised when an unredeemed culture screams for tolerance but at the same time is intolerant of our beliefs? Why do we find it disturbing that an unredeemed culture views us as hate-mongers for telling them that God loves them so much that He wants them to live a godly lifestyle? Why does it shock us when our rights are diminished in favor of the rights of others?

God has laid things out rather clearly – in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:1-4). It’s even worse than you think. Matthew used the term perilous to describe the savage nature of two demon possessed men (Matthew 8:28) who were exceedingly fierce to the point that no one could approach them. We live in a culture that is very much like that – dangerous, even savage, to any kind of spiritual perspective on the issues we face.

When people treat Christians as the problem rather than as the answer to the issues of our culture they are simply acting out of their sinful nature. They are doing exactly what we should expect them to do. We should not be surprised. We should expect no less.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

President Obama is Not the Enemy

I come from a place, literally, philosophically and religiously, where people struggle greatly with President Obama. Many in fact do more than just struggle; they have such strong convictions and feelings that it’s just a step this side of hatred. Be honest. Some of you are (sadly) there and some are almost at that point.

The reasons for such strong feelings vary. For some it’s the intrusion of government into our lives.  For others it’s the lack of economic discipline, the trampling of religious freedoms, or the specter of socialism. For many it’s all of the above.

It’s good to have differences with the President. I have no problem with people who disagree with him on his health care initiative, his stance on marriage, his soft support for Israel and his position on abortion. Our democracy was founded on the right of the minority (sometimes the majority) to openly and vigorously express their dissent with the direction our leaders are taking our country. But for the Christian dissent cannot be regulated just by our constitution. In a higher sense it must first of all be regulated by our faith.

So how do we respond to a President with whom we have such great and consequential differences? I think that there are several things that we can and should do as Christians.

1. Pray for the President.

This isn’t just a good suggestion, it’s a divine directive. Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Period. Not if we like him, agree with him or voted for him. Just pray for him. And not just pray that God would remove him from office. That’s not the spirit of the passage. Pray that God will use him. Pray for his health. Pray for his family. Pray for him to have wisdom. Pray for him to make the right decisions. And while you’re at it you might pray that your heart will be right before God.

2. Respect the man.

We like to say that we respect the office but not the man. That’s a Christian cope-out – not to mention unbiblical. There’s no place in scripture that teaches that Christians can disrespect anyone. In fact just the opposite is true. The Apostle Peter wrote, Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king (1 Peter 2:17). We may not have a king but that doesn’t change the message. We are to honor to all people including our leaders, no matter how strongly we may disagree with them. Peter’s king was Nero who unleashed one of the greatest waves of persecutions against Christians up to that point in history, using them as human torches to light the city of Rome. Yet Peter’s message was that we are to honor (a word that refers to placing a value on something or someone) the king. How can you honor the President if you don’t first of all respect the man?

3. Agree with him when you can.

The popular sentiment in our political culture seems to be that if you are from one political party or persuasion you can never agree with those from another party or persuasion. For conservatives there is a fear that if they ever agree with the President they will be labeled with a scarlet M (as in moderate) which for many would be tantamount to political suicide. But you don’t have to be a moderate to agree with someone from the other side; you just have to be more interested in doing the right thing than in the political fallout. Are we to believe that there is no single issue on which we can agree with President Obama? If there is an issue on which we can agree, then isn’t opposing him at that point not only betraying our values but more importantly, betraying our faith (honesty vs. dishonesty)?

You don’t have to be on board with everything the President does, and I hope that you have differences with him on a whole range of issues that we as Christians hold dear. But neither should you reach the point where your passion leads you into sin. Strong disagreement is fine, hatred, disrespect and unkind words are not.

It’s important to remember that President Obama, for all of his political positions with which we may disagree, is not the enemy.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve