Evangelical & the Pursuit for Justice
A riot is the sound of the unheard
Dr. Martin Luther King
Growing up, Dr. Martin Luther King was an icon and deserving so. It is without dispute his impact upon the world in addressing racial injustice. The things accomplished during his time as the chief spokesperson of the Civil Rights movement are without parallel or equal in world significance. He is known and widely quoted; in fact, I used several of his quotes in my upcoming book.
No one and I emphasize no one is above criticism or correction, even someone on the level of Dr. King. The quote, “A riot is the sound of the unheard,” when used as justification for the actions of those who choose to use the occasion to loot and destroy private property during the George Floyd dilemma, is utterly incorrect. The use of wholly inaccurate is the most agreeable terms I could choose to employ. Consistent with my personality, let me be blunt: looting during a riot is a depraved act committed by despicable parasites who look for occasions to exploit their rebellion to their creator.
Looting and the destruction of property violate the seventh commandment. The issue of racism is a real issue (by the way, I too am outraged, angry, and mad as hell, but I would NEVER resort to using that anger as a cover to participate in mayhem). Addressing one sinful action with another sinful action is a sure recipe for disaster. The rioter loses all moral credibility as they lament about the perceived injustice they are engaging in protest.
What is even more tragic is the groundswell of religious leaders and civic leaders who give cover to the people who chose to loot and destroy property. I add to that list the individuals who decide to disobey the curfews implemented by local officials when civic unrests take place.
It is Evangelicals, or whatever moniker you prefer, who should be known as the most model citizens in the land. Unless a law expressly commands Evangelicals to do something the Word of God explicitly forbids or prohibits something the Holy Writ commands all Evangelicals’ conscience are held captive by the Word of God.
Contrary to the dominant held view by far too many professing Evangelicals, the Constitution is not our ultimate authority. Evangelicals are not free to voice our angst in any manner we seem fit to use. The Bible commands even our dissent to be seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6), but you would never know from many of the comments we are far too comfortable displaying in public discourse. Frankly, I cannot believe the venom expressed by far too many people in the course of daily interactions. I am confident, if queried, many of these same individuals would claim some faith affiliation of some sort. Yet, you would never know it from the way they comport themselves.
One very recent example happened to me just today. I decided to post pictures on a Chicago Bears page I belong to on FB. I have been wearing and posting photos daily of me in one of my favorite Bears jerseys. On Day One, I happened to take a picture with my wife with a Black Lives Matter poster I had made to use in the civic engagement my fraternity held over this past weekend.
Please note this is a page devoted to supposed Bears fan who should be united around the singular quest to see our beloved Chicago Bears do well this season. The expression Black Live Matter is a perfectly sound statement. There is nothing inherently evil in neither the sentiment nor the philosophical rationale behind it. Now, if one were to make a statement or adopt a worldview that communicated Only Black Lives Matter, then that would be a statement that is inherently polarizing or problematic.
One has to interject a foreign concept into the equation to come to the position that Black Lives Matter equates to the conclusion that some other demographic does not matter. Now, the expression Black Lives Matter could be used or employed by someone to nefarious ends, but the phrase is not inherently evil or even misguided, given the current racial malaise in our culture.
By the way, the failure to allow the author to control the meaning of their message is indicative of a much larger issue our society is facing and failing miserably. We see this in how many of the decisions the United States Supreme Court are adjudicated. Two divergent philosophical approaches govern the judicial decisions from our highest court in the land. On the one hand, you have one group, aka the conservatives, known as strict constructionists and another side, aka the liberals, that believe the words and meanings of the Constitution to be an evolving document. The former thinks the author controls the meaning of the text, aka authorial intent; the latter posits the audience controls the meaning, aka reader response.
The informed Evangelicals quickly realize this debate has far-reaching implications as to how Evangelicals are to read and interpret the Holy Scriptures accurately. The only thing that should matter to the reader when they come to the Scripture is what did the author intend when he wrote and how would the original audience understood the author’s letter or communique. Tragically, the average person when they come to the Bible asks the wrong question, which is “what does this passage I am currently reading mean to me?” My retort to such an inquiry is, “Who cares what the passage means to you.” The Bible, properly understood, is not written to us. When correctly understood, the Bible is written for us. There is a real sense we are allowed to eavesdrop in on a private conversation between two parties that would have never had us in mind as they go about their interaction.
So, back to the expression Black Live Matters, what we are witnessing are people coming to the statement and interjecting their understanding of what the statement means to them. When I say Black Lives Matters, I do so with the full recognition All Lives Matters; that Blue Lives Matter or whatever concoction one could imagine. Black Lives Matter resonates and is wholly appropriate when one seeks to understand the matter in light of the context that makes it necessary to address the issue at hand.
I love an illustration that really helped me to understood the thinking behind the expression Black Lives Matter. Jesus Christ tells the parable of the shepherd who leaves the other 99 sheep to retrieve the one stray sheep. When Jesus Christ left the 99 sheep, did that mean Jesus Christ no longer cared about the plight of the 99 sheep, and then suddenly, the only thing that mattered to Christ was the one stray sheep? Of course not, no one would intellectually make such an outrageous claim against the Savior. Jesus left the 99 sheep because, at that precise moment in time, it was the stray sheep that was in peril. We know all 100 sheep mattered very much to Jesus Christ at all times and in all ways.
That is how I understand and what I communicate when I espouse that Black Lives Matter. I control the meaning of the words I chose to convey. No one can come and say, “well, when I hear someone say, Black Lives Matter, what I understand is ……” That is not how communication works when it functions as intended.
Well, I hope that detour was beneficial and edifying though it does not explicitly address the thesis of this blog article. It is utterly tragic we live in an extremely politically correct (PC) culture. I strenuously object to this reality as demonstrated by the CEO of Chick Fil A when in his demonstration of racial sensitivity very publicly washed the feet of some evidently prominent African American rap artist ( I readily admit I have no clue who this rap artist is and I wouldn’t recognize him if he plopped a seat right next to me).
I would now like to circle back to the wisdom of those, as mentioned earlier, religious and civic leaders. They seem to be falling all over themselves to mollify those who are angrily protesting in the streets. Incredibly, we have a whole group of US citizens who believe the proper response to injustice is to take over a part of the city forcefully. In Seattle, Washington, citizens of this city have taken control of a police precinct and declared themselves sovereign from the duly recognized authorities there in Seattle. What is even more maddening is they have done so with the expressed forbearance of the mayor.
We have lost our moral conviction to call sin for what it is: SIN. Using an analogy, I am the President at 5614 Devonwood St. You could say Monique is the Vice-President. My children, especially when they were younger, were nothing more than mere citizens. Classifying my children as citizens in no way strips them of any humanity or dignity.
The classification of citizens just reveals my children’s status in the Kyles’ family hierarchy, their rank in the Kyles’ family pecking order. They could not or would not be allowed to declare their bedroom a sovereign domain outside the purview of my jurisdiction. That would be pure crazy talk. It is Monique and me who provided the resources that allow that bedroom to be a reality. The inmates never ran the asylum at 5614 Devonwood, and the inmates should not be dictating terms to the duly appointed authorities in Seattle.
Yet, the inmates running the asylum is what is happening right before our eyes. Similarly, we have religious leaders either too afraid or lacking the Biblical acumen to understand what is happening is not a failure to not hear those who have dissent. No, what is happening is sinful behavior, plain and simple. Compounding the matter is the prevailing notion when one calls out sin for what it is: sin, then you are quickly labeled as judgmental.
Here is another grievous error committed by many. There is a significant difference being judgmental and judging. Human beings, by necessity, make judgments all day and every day. One could not function in society without judging. We choose to eat at this restaurant, and we arrange to not eat at that restaurant. We socialize with this particular group of individuals while purposely avoiding another group of individuals. What have I just described? I have just described the art of judging. Judging is a perfectly reasonable and necessary enterprise.
Now, being judgmental is the exact opposite. If one is genuinely judgmental, that means that person is displaying an attribute that is not balanced or appropriate, in a way, it is sinful. Thus, Jesus Christ expertly practiced the art of judging, yet He was never judgmental. The former is necessary, while the latter is sinful in every case.
We have seeming lost our collective minds. It was just during the writing of this blog article I had to attempt to inform someone of the difference between being practical and being pragmatic. Anytime anyone adds the suffix “ism” to an otherwise perfectly good word, it radically changes the constitution of the word. For example, take the word sex, a perfectly reasonable and necessary word. Yet when you attach the suffix ism to the root of any term, you take it from a neutral setting to an inherently negative one. Sorry, we cannot employ the human language as our waxed nose to dole out as we wish.
Hopefully, this serves as a clean transition back to the consideration of whether the expression attributed to Dr. King and quoted ubiquitously by so many is valid. I declare in the most absolute terms possible it most certainly is not. Responding to one action, no matter how egregious one believes the action to be, with another egregiously wrong action is not a viable option for the conscientious minded Evangelical. Evangelicals are admonished never to meet hate with hate but instead to meet hate with love (Matthew 5:38-48), to not seek vengeance (Romans 12:9).
Granted, the quest to live in fidelity to the Word of God is never an easy one, but Evangelicals are never permitted to lower the bar when God speaks. The permission to live in open rebellion to the Word of God is never to be the preferred course of action for the Evangelical. Yet, this is what I believe happens when we gloss over the actions of people, even when they have a legitimate complaint.
Racism is wrong, police brutality of any kind and directed to anyone is always wrong. Evangelicals must never be silent whenever and wherever racism is legitimately found. I feel the Caucasian Evangelical church has been woefully tepid in their response. Benjamin Franklin, while not regarded as a solid believer, nonetheless spoke prophetically regarding injustice when he said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” You see, all truth is ultimately God’s truth, so it does not matter who expresses the correct sentiment. It helps the cause of Christ immensely when the people of God espouse the truth, but like the Apostle Paul said, we will rejoice even when what is spoken is not said with the best of intentions (Philippians 4:4). The Evangelicals must concede we will take the truth whenever we can find it. It seems in such short supply today.
I am just as angry and mad as hell as the average African American. Still, my parents raised me never to believe engaging in sinful actions like stealing the property of others is permissible under any conditions. I openly confess I am the chief of sinners, so I am not one writing from ivory towers. I write as one who struggles daily to know the right thing to do but often finding myself not doing the proper thing. Improper actions, no matter the supposed justification, that my friend, is called by the name of sin. There is no need to sugar coat it. It cannot be regarded as a permissible action because people believe their rights have been violated. The murder of George Floyd was inexcusable, perpetuated by the very individual sworn to serve and protect. Yet, we dishonor the memory of all the George Floyds when we as a society, accept looting and the destruction of property as an acceptable response.
Thus, the philosophy espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King was wrong, and he was not marginally wrong, he was egregiously wrong. That is why Evangelicals are command to test everything and only hold fast to what adheres and conforms to the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Dr. King had much to say that was good, beautiful, and true, but this is not of those cases.
We need courageous Evangelicals in the pulpit; we need them in the barbershop, we need them in the government, we need them everywhere. We need them to give no cover whatsoever to racism, and we need them not to protect individuals who respond to injustice with tools that come not from the mind of God but the pits of hell.
Let me know what you think. Until then, keep your hands to the plow and seek to serve for an Audience of One.