I did not say much about the horror in Charlottesville over the weekend beyond a few things on Twitter. Many wiser, clearer heads had spoken and were speaking and it made more sense to share their thoughts. After church yesterday, though, I was left with a couple theological meditations on the practices of the church and the issue of race. They are small and incomplete, and yet I offer them such as they are.
The Lord’s Prayer
Jesus left us a prayer and it’s one my church prays every Sunday. We ask God our Father that he hallow his name–set it apart as Holy and unique–among us and in all the world. We expand on this by asking him that his kingdom come, his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. To ask God for his kingdom to come is to pray for many things, but central among them is the gift of justice. To know God as Holy is know God as the just in all his judgments (Rev. 16:5).
What’s more, this prayer is a self-involving prayer. Praying the Lord’s Prayer cultivates in us a desire, a longing, to see the justice of our God done here and now in this world. We make these petitions of God recognizing that if justice is to come in this world, however much is possible before Christ’s final advent in justice, it is only and ultimately by his hand and will.
And yet, God’s hand works in and through us. God involves his children. Working for justice is not opposed to trusting in the Lord for justice. We do not bring the kingdom of God, but we work for it nonetheless, and trust God to give the growth (1 Cor. 3). And this is true of our work to oppose the works of darkness in our hearts and communities, including racism, and in this country, the lasting legacy of white supremacy.
One more point. In the second half of the prayer, we also pray for God’s provision (“our daily bread”), protection (“keep us from the evil One”), and transforming grace (“forgive us as we forgive”). All of these are essential.
We work in God’s strength. What’s more, we need to recognize that we work against opposition. Not primarily the flesh and blood racists we can see, though, but against the principalities and powers which stand behind them, blinding the hearts and minds of those under their thrall (Eph. 6). So we pray. And we remember to forgive as God has forgiven us our own sins. It is in that forgiveness we hope that just as God transformed our stony hearts, he might transform theirs as well as we witness to the Gospel of Jesus.
It is only as the Church depends on God’s provision, protection, and transforming grace that our work for justice can be the kind which demonstrates the Name of our Father.
The Lord’s Supper
We also celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week. As one body we share one loaf and one cup with our one Lord through whom our one Father feeds us in the one Spirit we share. In it we hear the promises of the one Gospel. One Supper flows from one Gospel. This one Gospel is the good news of our one Savior, Jesus Christ, who is the Son become man by taking on our one humanity, putting it to death, and raising it to new life again in his resurrection. And it is this one humanity that is made in the Image of our one God.
It is precisely this oneness that any doctrine of racial supremacy and superiority violates. For that reason, I do not think it wrong to speak of such teachings such as white supremacy, not merely as sin, but as damnable heresy. It violates so many doctrines in the faith and practice of the Church, there is simply no gospel left on the other side of it.
The Supper stands, then, as testimony that now there is neither Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, black or white, but all are one in Christ who redeems and restores the original unity of humanity in a higher register. To practice the Lord’s Supper is to tacitly condemn the sin and unrighteousness of racial exaltation or subjugation. A racially-divided Supper is no Supper at all.
And yet the beauty of the Supper is that it is not primarily condemnation. It also stands as a witness to the gospel. It is an invitation out of these divisions into the unity of the body, into the family of God who share the feast of the Father’s forgiveness. Here in the Supper we begin to taste the justice and reconciliation of our God.
Of course, for people to hear the invitation out of sin and into life, it must be articulated as such. Which means sin, including racism, must be named as sin. This will take courage and wisdom. But then, so do most of the Christian life and ministry. Our God is faithful, though. He will direct the path of those who call on him and strengthen the voices of those who cry to him for aid. His Kingdom shall come, his Will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. For all his children.
Soli Deo Gloria
This is short on addressing all of the issues involved in the tragic events at Charlottesville. And where it actually mentions one of the issues, it speaks strongly by calling any doctrine of white supremacy a ‘damnable heresy‘ without addressing the history of Christian involvement and support of such doctrines. Doctrines of white supremacy were applied not just to the march in Charlottesville, but in justifying the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans from the land, the chattel slavery of Blacks, and the Jim Crow era. Would we pronounce an anathema on all German Christians who fought for the their nation in WW II? That is an important question because Nazism included a more intense doctrine of racial superiority than what allowed our nation to steal land from the Native Americans and to enslave Blacks.
Don’t get me wrong, I strong condemn any doctrine of racial supremacy and superiority. But before we can pronounce an anathema on all who hold to such doctrines, we need to consider history first
Would you say spiritual unity, the likes of which you describe, also necessitates organizational unity? For example, are mono-ethnic churches sinful?
Well, let me be careful here and ask one question: are churches in rural Chinese villages which are composed entirely of Chinese people who speak only the particular dialect of that region sinful for being mono-ethnic? I think not. So long as they are not purposely excluding anyone from another region, ethnicity, etc. on the basis of some alleged superiority, regionally you can only have in your church whoever lives nearby.
In the States, things are different to a degree because it is a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual nation. In which case, I suppose I’d say a church should strive to be as ethnically or culturally diverse as its surrounding environs. There shouldn’t be barriers to entry of a sort that presume any superiority, or that deny spiritual unity, etc. But again, even there, I know some Korean and Chinese churches up the road that are, in some sense, mono-ethnic by nature because they were planted to specifically care for Christians whose primary language is Chinese, or Korean, and so forth. And you find the same with varieties of immigrant populations like the Spanish-speaking church I went to as a kid. White people were totally allowed to come, be welcome, etc., but the service and worship were in Spanish, so you mostly got Hispanics in service. It wasn’t intentionally exclusive, but in order to minister to that particular population, it was less likely to minister to others. And so they are not likely to show up. But that’s just part of the problem of particularity.
So, I guess what I am saying is that in some contexts mono-ethnic church is inevitable, and even institutionally-inevitable. BUT, the problem comes with intentional institutional division for the sake of separation, keeping “pure”, hostility, etc. which would work to keep the make-up of the congregation from becoming diverse. That would be sinful. Especially when it comes with some doctrine of racial supremacy such as White supremacy.