Have you ever had one of those weeks that restored your faith in humanity? Last week was turning out to be one of those weeks for me as we began our local work camp here in East Alabama/West Georgia. We had teenagers from Alabama, Georgia, and even Arkansas joining together to work on houses that belonged to complete strangers. We were bonding with other Christians that we just met and having great evening meals and devotionals. Wednesday night was probably the high point as we had a Bible study with a discussion format highlighting how our young people had set good examples at their individual work sites. I could not have imagined a more uplifting week…and then Thursday came.
I woke up to the news that while I was on cloud nine celebrating how Christians can make a positive impact in the community, another group meeting in South Carolina was finding out that no amount of kindness can eliminate evil from the world. In Charleston, Dylann Roof walked into the Emmanuel A.M.E. church and killed nine innocent people that were gathered together for their mid-week meeting. As the story continued to unfold the world found out that he was a white supremacist who targeted the church due to its influential preacher, a politician and activist, and its prominent role in the history of the civil rights movement. Not only did this unimaginable act of hate bring pain to the victims and their families, it ripped the scab off the wound of prejudice that has again divided our country for the last several years.
While our nation mourned yet another tragedy, many turned to social media to share their enlightened opinions on the subject. I have come to expect mostly nonsense from the “knuckleheads” on my news feed, but it breaks my heart to see Christians feeding into the ignorance and rhetoric on both sides of the political aisle. From government conspiracies to the sacred nature of the confederate flag, I saw Christians sharing and commenting on things that caused further division instead of showing the love of Christ to a nation DESPERATELY in need of healing. I do not pretend to have answers on how to fix the problems that plague our country, but I want to humbly suggest two things that we as Christians should STOP doing and two things that we should START doing to make sure that we set the proper example and yield the most positive influence that we can as we continue to serve as ambassadors of our Savior (2 Cor. 5:20).
STOP Being Divided
The most segregated place in our society is the inside of a church building. The fact that assemblies of God’s people are labeled as “predominately” white, black, or Hispanic is an absolute disgrace. I’m so proud to preach for a congregation that is ethnically diverse and not defined by these labels. Every church should look this way, and we should do whatever it takes to make that happen. We cannot preach racial equality yet refuse to worship with Christians who have a different skin color or ethnic background. Notice Paul’s words to the Galatians, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:26-29).
Let me also say something that should not have to be said. If you are a Christian and there is any part of you that feels prejudice towards another group of people you need to repent – TODAY. I do not imagine that many Christians would openly use racial slurs or inflammatory language towards a specific group of people, but prejudice exists just as much in the heart as it does out in the open. If we ever have those feelings we have to remember that every human being in the world should be viewed as a soul that needs saving by the blood of Christ.
STOP Politicizing Tragedy
I love my country; I think it is the greatest country in the world. I also feel that I have a responsibility to perform my civic duty and choose candidates to represent me in every level of government. However, I also feel that my identity as a Christian supersedes any secular designation. When something tragic happens Christians seem to immediately divide over political issues. Following the situation in Charleston, the two battleground issues have become gun control legislation and the status of the confederate flag as the state flag of South Carolina. As I scroll through social media and scan news outlets these issues are making headlines while the families of innocent victims mourn in anonymity. We, as Christians and just human beings, have to stop using tragedy as an opportunity to push personal political agendas.
START Choosing Our Words Carefully
I have blogged and preached frequently on the power of words. James spends a lot of time in his pragmatic epistle talking about taming the tongue, but in situations involving tragedy and political unrest I think it’s important to remember and utilize James 1:19 as a slogan, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” We take for granted the influence that we yield through our friends, family, and co-workers and our countless acquaintances on social media. Before we speak or hit send this sentence should be sounding in our minds as an alarm. Never speak without thinking and NEVER speak while angry.
We also need to cautiously choose the topics that we weigh in on. There are some battles that are not worth fighting and have a negative effect on our influence. Even if you are one of those people who think the confederate flag is a source of pride or family history, how important is it that it continues to fly over South Carolina? Furthermore, is it an issue that is important enough to take a stand on via social media KNOWING it could be deemed offensive? If our goal is to spread the love of Jesus Christ to all people, why don’t we leave polarizing issues to those who really have a dog in the fight? I realize we cannot remain silent on all political issues, but we need to learn to choose our words and our battles carefully.
START Living With Love and Compassion
My heart broke when I heard how innocent people were killed inside their place of worship last Wednesday. Maybe the hardest part to handle was the slaying of an 87-year old woman based on the color of her skin. That generation of Americans has seen so much change and progress in our country, yet prejudice and hatred led to her being murdered. It’s easy for me to identify with this particular tragedy because I’m a preacher who lives and works in Alabama. It’s easy to feel empathy when you feel like the same thing could happen in your own place of worship. However, I know that it is often tough for us to identify with calamities that befall people that we have never met or have nothing in common with. As Christians, we must learn to feel compassion for all people just as Jesus did. In Matthew 9:36 Jesus looked out into the world and saw how lost and helpless the people were. I can only imagine that he saw all varieties of sins and struggles among those people and Matthew says he felt compassion for them all. We need to be the laborers he asked for in the following verse, but we must first learn to feel that same love for all of those who need Christ!
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
– Matthew 9:35-38
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