Our country was founded on racist ideals that were then woven into the fabric of our culture. Charlottesville is an anomaly only in the sense that the racism many cling to behind closed doors was on display for the world to see. The hoods were gone but the hate remained.
And too often, American Evagelicalism has either abetted the racist programs of our country (think Jim Crow or the “War on Drugs”) or turned a blind eye (which, of course, is just another form of approval).
While some claim that their theology leads them to hate (White Supremacy often bills itself as a form of Christian expression even though it is clearly not.), others’ theology might not lead them to active hate but to passive indifference or to even critique those who do speak and act out. Let me explain.
I was once part of a church that was invited to a multi-church prayer gathering for the city. Our elders declined to participate because it was not only being headed up by the Methodists, but a woman pastor. I don’t know if they thought that God somehow wouldn’t hear our prayers if we said them in the same setting as a woman pastor or what, but we did not participate in the gathering and I’ve thought about it many times since. I wish we had participated.
Many churches who consider themeselves theologically conservative allow their concern for theologically purity to lead them to criticize the very churches that are often at the fore of confronting vital social issues.
Years ago, for some reason, many so-called theological conservatives adopted the phrase “Social Justice Warrior” as a perjorative term. Many theological conservatives expressed the concern that to care about social justice was a slippery slope to abandoning the Gospel itself. Concern for social justice has often been equated with being “liberal” (which is to be understood again, as a perjorative term). Therefore, many otherwise well-intentioned theological conservatives have distanced themselves from things like fighting for civil rights.
Of course there have been liberal churches whose cultural agendas have been coupled with trips to the edges of orthodoxy. But it’s wrong to equate a concern for social concerns with abandoning orthodoxy. And, also of course, many churches on the right have coupled theological concerns with inaction, which, in its worst forms is also complicity.
The question becomes whether our pursuit of theological clarity will cage us in or propel us out. Don’t let your concern for theological purity prevent you from speaking out against evils and partnering with those doing so as well. Even if they have different theological views.
Praying with a Methodist doesn’t all of the sudden mean I don’t have theological disagreements with Methodism, it means I think our cooperation is vital. Linking arms with someone on one issue doesn’t mean we agree on every issue, nor must it. But let’s stop believing that we just because we don’t agree on every issue, we can’t cooperate on any issues.
I know that some willl hear what I’ve said as Brent no longer believes theology is important. He’s some kind of liberal universalist. That’s not true. Theology is immensely important. And we have some vital in-house disagreements. But what family doesn’t. I’m saying that I know the dangers of allowing theological concerns to prevent partnerships with other currents of the stream because I’ve been there.
I want my theology to breed love and I want to live love. I want a faith for the good of others through the glory of God. I want to humble myself to learn from other faith traditions. And I want the Church in America to stand in the gap for the oppressed. I want us to stand against systemic racism. I want us to fight for civil rights. I long for us to be the ones to care for widows and orphans; to love and serve the poor, the immigrants and the disenfranchised.
I want us to find the balance of valuing our theological differences while working together for Shalom.
Events like Charlottesville are teaching us that we can’t wait.