“Falseness often lurks beneath fair hair.” - Danish Proverb
Almost 53 years ago, on December 1, 1955, a young woman's bus ride began that would land the first black man on the steps of the White House on Pennsylvania Ave, not as a servant, but as President of the United States. Though not the first person, Rosa Parks refused the command of a Montgomery bus driver to give up her seat for a white person, and thus was born the civil rights movement in this country.
Black churches around the country soon galvanized and began to launch staging points for protests, and rallies, and voter turn out, generating both support, but more likely hatred, from the white community. None of us should forget the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, the water hoses and police dogs, Bull Conner and the beating of the Freedom Riders right here in our fair city.
Nonetheless, the black church now had a mission: To point out and rectify the social, economic, and legal injustice that plagued the country from its founding: slavery and inequality was wrong for all but blacks. Black pastors decried the unjust system from their pulpits, organized marches, and thought through strategies on ways to change the system, sometimes through legal means, and other times through violence.
These pastors adopted many of the thoughts, theology, and actions of Liberation Theology, a movement originating in the Roman Catholic Church in South America in the 60's and 70's. This movement, a hybrid of Christian Theology and Marxism, held to the tenet that Jesus came to "free the prisoners and release the oppressed." It is the job of the people, and the church, they say, to force its government to recognize and deliver rights to the oppressed, and bring about the equality that Jesus came to give. From MLK's nonviolent marches to the Black Panthers and Weather Underground's violent protests and acts, change was going to be forced on the American people. The revolution was here.
Thus was born the liberal social movement, or revolution, in our country.
This Christian "revolution" would shortly transform the American political landscape, giving us the Rainbow/Push Coalition, the NAACP, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al. Sharpton and most recently Rev. Jeremiah Wright and host of other less well known preachers. Race and equality would be subsumed in the larger context of ever broadening "rights" together with correspondingly decreased personal responsibility. The movement ultimately left even its loose theological roots to become nothing more than community organizing for every cause that could bring them to power.
But never fear, for while all this was going on, real Christian Americans, a/k/a white, middle class Christian Americans, moved by the spirit, organized and would not be outdone politically. Strangely silent during the equal rights marches of the 50s and 60s, they were content to maintain the most segregated hour in America, 11:00 AM on Sunday morning. But this liberal social agenda was more than they could bear.
In the late 70s and early 80s, such stalwart and fundamentally godly men like the late Rev Jerry Falwell, TV evangelist Pat Robertson, and men like W.A. Criswell, Adrien Rogers, and others within the Southern Baptist Convention formulated the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition. The marches of the 50s and 60s, and the riot at the '68 Democratic Convention weren't enough to dislodge them from their complacency, but the loss of political power and the rise of threats to the conservative white church made them realize they had to be organized as well.
And so it would be theirs to let America know, through the ballot box, what Christians are against.
Credited with Ronald Reagan's big victory over Jimmy Carter in 1980, the sheer numbers of God's people on the right made a formidable political ally, and opponent, for some twenty five years, culminating with the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004. The work of God through the evangelical right (as opposed to the evangelical left, which is primarily black churches) is to paint the opposing party (ie Democratic) candidate, position, initiative or plan as un-Christian, Marxist, and or satanic. The woes of America, they would proclaim, exist because of godless morality, none more godless than the current political opponent (ie Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Kerry, and Obama). Christians had to stand up and tell godlessness to go away, or this sacred country would fall.
They stirred white Christians with the promise that "if my people will humble themselves and pray, then God will hear from heaven and heal their land." Obviously, the United States of America is God's gift to the world, and as Christians it is the Church's job to protect God's gifts. Wrap God in the American flag, and the true American candidate in God, and you have a winning formula. Who would dare vote against God?
Politically savvy, this "Moral Majority" would energize their own base to go vote with a host of initiatives that Christians are against. Christians gave little thought to why ballot initiatives such as gay marriage amendments and readily accessible abortions initiatives appeared on the ballot in swing states at the same time as a presidential election. All they know is they needed to be there to make sure they voted God's way. Oh, and while there, they should also pull the lever for God's man to be in office.
Apparently, God needed a little help to get His man elected, because the power of the heathen left is too much for God to handle by His lonesome.
And in the midst of all this, Satan laughed. The fog of god-talk on both sides left the church in the lurch. So caught up in the politics of the moment the two groups forgot that they each proclaim a common tie: an abiding faith in Jesus Christ. Their political agendas of social liberalism and conservative Christianity had overwhelmed their doctrine.
The right called into question the faith of the left by asking, "how can any Christian be for equality and social justice for people like that?" and the left responds, appropriately, "how could any Christian be against equality and social justice for anyone, regardless of who they are and what they have done?"
The right wanted to turn the church into the country, and the left wanted to turn the country into the church.
But if Christ died to give the world the United States of America, then for over 1700 years, He failed. But perhaps democracy was not what he had in mind after all, but rather a church rooted in Him and built up. Perhaps it was the church He died for that was to be the the place the world should look when oppression and injustice become too much to bear?
Paul said in Colossians 3:11-17, in speak of our duty as Christians:
Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
The church has flourished in times of governmental adversity, and decayed in times of governmental consent. One need only look at the church during the reign of the wrathful Roman emperors and in modern day China and compare it to the Church during the inquisition, the reformation, and World War II. We have reached the day where being a good American and a good Christian are synonymous.
The church, whether on the right or the left, should remember that a resort to politics to bring about the Kingdom of God is a damning statement that the church has failed. It is a damnable statement to say that there is no hope in Christ, only in governments led by failed and corrupt people.
In the violence of the world, the hurricanes of injustice and inequality will ebb and flow. But among God's people, the church, there is to be haven and safety, acceptance and peace. Not to change the world, but rather because of changed hearts that provide shelter.
While the government is important to all of our lives, it is the church, not the United States of America, where one should look to find equality, hope, love, support and wisdom. Our hope is in Christ, and not the constitution.
Regardless of the government, the church should be the one place where something is done because it is the right thing to do.
On Tuesday, November 4, 2008, we have the government-created right to elect a leader of this country, and one which we as God's people should exercise. No matter who it is you vote for, that choice will be a selfish one in which you will decide who will make you most comfortable with the future unknowns.
But in the end, Christ's kingdom is not on the line, and we wield no power over God's sovereign plan for His people. A vote for Obama is not a vote against God, nor is a vote for McCain a vote for God. Our witness to the truths of Christ is not found in our political record, but how we love one another.
Its His bus, and like Rosa Parks, we are just along for the ride.
Perhaps Rosa would have done more for our country by sitting on the front pew of the First Baptist Church of Montgomery.
But then again, perhaps it is easier to find justice and equality in courts and governments than in the church.