After Charlottesville, What Can We Do?- Posted 8/17/2017
From Pastor Chris

“Daniel, are you for or against King Nebuchadnezzar? What is your position on the king’s statue?” 

Imagine the befuddlement you would see on the young Judean’s face at such a question. Daniel was a man in exile. He was not in Babylon to take sides or play partisan politics. He had an allegiance to Yahweh, the one true God, and God’s message to Daniel and his fellow exiles was to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to Yahweh on its behalf” even as they waited for God to “fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to [Jerusalem]” (Jeremiah 29:7, 10).

Thus Daniel’s vision centered on the promises, character, and covenant loyalty of God Almighty. King Nebuchadnezzar mattered only in relation to Yahweh’s purposes, a mere Mars orbiting the Sun. So to ask Daniel whether he was for or against Nebuchadnezzar would be to ask him an unanswerable question. Daniel went along with his new Babylonian name and Ivy League education the king provided, but he rejected the king’s rich food that would assimilate him entirely into Babylonian life. He displayed sincere empathy when the king’s dream of a felled tree portended his demise, yet he boldly called the king to a just and merciful rule (“break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed” [Daniel 4:27]). Daniel could not answer a “for or against” question of every Babylonian issue, for he was a worshipper of Yahweh with eyes set on his true home in Jerusalem. 

This exile’s orientation sets the table for how we approach the current events with the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville and the broader racial history they represent. Some issues are straightforwardly sinful and should be addressed with prophetic clarity. In the case of the rallies, let me say unequivocally that racism in all its forms—whether subtle or overt—is sin and should be denounced. Peripheral to that are a host of troublesome issues such as President Trump’s response, the place of Confederate statues, and the lawful assembly of hate groups. But to fixate on any of these threatens to focus us on Mars rather than the Sun. 

What is the more excellent way?

For Groveton Baptist Church, I believe the answer begins with viewing our multi-ethnic congregation as a unique stewardship. Nearly everyone in America has access to the internet where they can read articles, form opinions, and broadcast their views on social media. A much smaller percentage has the privilege of membership in a church family made up of more than 20 nationalities. We have relational opportunities like few others in America do. Each person in our congregation is a unique individual shaped by family and cultural dynamics. Truly building relationships requires us to lay aside stereotypes (“you are [insert ethnicity] so you must [insert assumed beliefs and behaviors]”) and embrace the opportunity to actually know one another, brothers and sisters in God’s family.

Our staff and deacons are taking the initiative to begin these conversations with one another. 9Marks Ministries, out of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in the District, published a journal about “Multi-Ethnic Churches.” Over the next few months, we will be reading through the articles and hearing each other’s perspectives. One article is titled “Why White Churches Are Hard for Black People.” I am eager to listen and learn from my black brothers and sisters as they reflect on the author’s experience. I trust that we will have the type of environment where respectful questions can be asked, new angles can be considered, and–most importantly–relationships forged as we press our common identity in Christ into the nooks and crannies of our varied experiences.

None of these relational endeavors replace the need to address our nation’s real history of racial injustice. Rather, they serve as the beginning point of loving our neighbor as ourselves. My prayer is that these relationships will produce action steps far more significant than any policy positions; that our love for one another will impassion our engagement in the community for justice and mercy; that our identity not just as “diverse” for diversity’s sake but as a house of prayer for all nations will be a redemptive presence in Northern Virginia; that the end-game of our work for the welfare of this land will be the increase of citizens heading with us to our heavenly home.

Let us lay aside our opinions and prepare our hearts to listen, learn, love, and lead.

 

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