Jeremiah’s words apply to the situation of the United States and the American churches over the last six years since Ferguson. “For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.” (6:13-14) It is evil to declare peace while slaughter continues. Applying a small bandage to a wound that needs stitches is malpractice. There is no way around these hard truths. We would declare such actions to be crimes. Why then does the Church try to do it?
Dealing With Our Brokenness
A colleague of mine and I sat at lunch many years ago. He is a traditionalist. Our conversation turned to how our continuing education was being conducted. “I am tired of being told to accept my brokenness,” he said. “I want to be better.” It was a good sentiment. We cannot be whole or perfect without some work of divine influence. Aging has taught me that my frustration over not being able to do things I did when I was younger is futile. Yet that does not mean I cannot improve other areas of my life.
Human beings are more inclined to acknowledge their own woundedness before admitting they have wounded others. Twelve step programs ask their members to list the people and situations they resent. Then they ask the member to define what part they played in their own wounding. There are some situations where a person is completely innocent of wrong doing. And there are situations where a person has wronged an innocent person and makes excuses as to why they did it.
Truth must be acknowledged before overcoming a lie. Once the lie is understood it can be corrected. When a person causes harm to others, that person is wounding themselves in ways they don’t immediately understand. If such a person intends to “get better,” confession must be made before pardon is granted.
Forgive For Peace?
There are two ways to continue wounding people.
- The first way is to tell them their wounds are either all in their heads or not that serious. Minimizing the situation cannot help either party.
- The second way is to declare that no matter what happened the injured people must forgive the one’s who continue to injure them.
Serious bleeding does not stop if pressure is not applied. The American Church needs a period of truth and reconciliation. Forgiving one’s own injurer is a goal that cannot be forced from outside. Speaking truth in love and asking for reconciliation is offering grace. Requesting grace requires repentance and restitution. Can forgiveness and peace be achieved? Yes, if these requirements are met. It cannot be achieved before they are.
The Racial Divide
Christians introduced the concept of the hierarchy of races to the Americas. This perverse idea is still with us. And it will not go away until we are ready to do two things.
- Material reparations must be made. Material injustice was and is being committed. Restitution in kind is required.
- Ending tribalism is imperative. Any “us versus them” mentality must be overcome. This problem will be harder to achieve. The declaration “I don’t owe them anything” regarding the first point illustrates this point.
The racial divide in the United States is as much an economic divide which is unjustly justified by tribalism. When upper middle class people avoid paying employment taxes for their domestic help, it is often treated as though paying such a tax is somehow beneath them. “Asking us to pay the tax is like asking us to take out the garbage,” was once the battle cry of Texas homemakers.
Christians of the Mainline and Evangelical churches will either acknowledge the racial and material divide or live with periodic destruction. One cannot sue for peace without agreeing to concessions.
The Reign Of Peace
White Christians will be accountable to all other Christians. There is no racial hierarchy in the “Peaceable Kingdom.” Being accountable is very difficult. The one action that will expose the privilege of Christians of European heritage is when we start listening to the grievances of other Christians. Even though I am from a white working class background, I know that white privilege has benefited me. I admit I do not know every way it has. But recognizing my own privilege allows me to see how white Christians benefit when other Christians do not. And sometimes we benefit at the other believer’s expense.
For there to be peace, Christians in America need to petition our government and denominational leadership to pursue policies of justice. It is sad to note that there will be those who do not see the wisdom of such actions. Such failures should not hold us back from being just, truthful, and striving for holiness.