I find myself troubled by Christians in America today who seem to live in a state of incapacitated outrage. Many say they are livid about the state of our country and our churches. Yet these same people, clergy and congregants, seldom speak truth to power – perhaps afraid of looming political correctness pundits (with clearly divergent definitions of political correctness) – and rarely do anything else of substantial risk for Jesus.
Unfortunate though they are, despicable, petty comments by the 45th president of the United States should be expected by now as the schtick of his shrewd regime. Donald Trump is simply being what he knows to be, a white male whose soul was calcified by greed a long time ago.
Consider me “sick and tired of being sick and tired” and “no ways tired.” These prophetic words from Fannie Lou Hamer in 1964 and H.T. Burleigh in 1917, respectively, are twin phrases all Christians should know, and Christians of the African American sojourn probably know better than most. While there is no monopoly on abuse, we have been through the wringer.
I say “we” because I am a Christian of African American ancestry, born in Okinawa, Japan, when my father was serving in the United States military. Our family moved to the States when I was four, and I learned quickly that navigating race in this country is draining, but also unavoidable, for people like me. The bulk of us know, and history shows, that we can never assimilate or overachieve quite enough. Christ remains our redemptive portion.
President Trump is a problem, yes, but he won’t be the last, and he isn’t the biggest problem Christians face. We are.
“What we need are knees worn out from prayer, hearts captivated by biblical authority and a will surrendered to God’s will.”
“I fell in love with the game and I married it,” raps Meek Mill on a track with Calboy and others. Certainly they are referring to the drug trade, but even for those us outside that world there is the haunting awareness of something that speaks so powerfully to our deepest brokenness that we have quietly taken its hand in marriage.
For me, the temptation has been to play games with ministry. Ministers with a behind-the-scenes pass to those sacred corridors know what I mean. It’s often easy to treat co-laborers and those needing to taste, touch, see and hear the Gospel like disposable automatons, valued only until their purposes in my kingdom are no longer needed. I have seen the wicked, the lazy and the privileged prosper, often advantaged by the sacrifices not belonging to them. I have been tempted to theologize about this or that without one boot ever hitting the ground to make a practical difference. Books and formal learning don’t guard ordained ministers from corruption.
Christianity is not a game of chess. Sharpening stratagems to combat the enemy is overrated. What we need are knees worn out from prayer, hearts captivated by biblical authority and a will surrendered to God’s will, committed to go, do and say whatsoever God desires, no matter the outcome. This is risky business, I know, but there are more than enough religious leaders in our culture today calling evil good and good evil or living the life of a marketer, desperate for acceptance from the highest bidder.
None of this is about your chances for tenure, your five-year business plan or your overall likeability. It is about God’s people being God’s people. Cornel West was right: “There is a price to pay for speaking the truth. There is a bigger price for living a lie.”
“Hell will freeze over before I sit back and let someone colonize or muzzle my witness for the Lord.”
Of course, even if Christians follow the call of scripture more fully, unacceptable events like those involving Bill Hybels, founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, will still occur. But exposure should happen earlier, and clergy misconduct should be comprehensively addressed with unapologetic Gospel accountability. Preventative measures and appropriate intervention also are needed. If anyone should abhor playing silly, ego-driven games it should be Christians. Too much is at stake.
Ungodly leadership always finds its footing first in the allure of sin, for we have a primal drive to have our cake and eat it, too. Not everyone wants to “get right” before a holy God. That sanctifying posture comes only from the Holy Spirit.
Yes, aspects of President Trump’s leadership are disgraceful, clearly beneath the office to which he was elected. Even a young child can see that. However, the pressing matter at hand for Christians is our individual and collective response. I fear we will fight to impeccably manicure our lawns while our souls are being choked by greed, pride and racism as we sporadically shake our fists at the sky. God requires more. Let us spur one another on, in love, to require more as well.
Oftentimes, pride and prejudice are hellish bedfellows plotting toward the same dysfunctional end, so God’s people need to stop majoring in beating around the bush and turning a blind eye to foolishness. In his iconic “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” penned April 16, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. offered words that remains relevant: “We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” While we should most certainly be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16) and be wary of arguing with fools (Proverbs 26:4-14), we cannot fear conflict. Faith that plays dodgeball with risk is anything but.
Because on the third day Christ arose from a borrowed tomb, we are victorious already; but time is not on our side. He is coming again and not for play-play. He will judge the living and the dead.
Hell will freeze over before I sit back and let someone colonize or muzzle my witness for the Lord. I am not a politician; I am a pastor. Neither Hybels nor Trump are boogeymen. Created in the image of God, they will have to one day answer for their conduct, as will all of us.
Let’s not spin our wheels conniving toward a tomorrow that is not promised when today’s invitation is one of surrender. For the love of God, literally, let’s “go hard in the paint” for Jesus.