Monday, November 21, 2016

Reconciliation

by Tony Thomas

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21 ESV)

The Presidential election of 2016 has caused a great deal of division in the Body of Christ. The old wounds of racism have been reopened due to troubling statements made by the Republican candidate during the campaign. As a result, many African-American Christians are very concerned and even frightened because over 80% of white evangelicals reportedly voted for the President-elect. Even some respected Christian leaders sided with a candidate who used troubling code-words and “dog whistles”, thus emboldening those with a racist agenda. Since the election, racist incidents are on the increase and the situation seems unlikely to improve in the coming months. This is a tense time in our nation and a time of great trepidation and uncertainty. Should Christians be concerned?



Dark Shadows from the Past

If you study history, you will find that many in the Christian church were on the side of slavery during the Civil War. To their shame, some even exhibited overtly racist attitudes during this period and the reconstruction that followed.

Consider the words of the brilliant Presbyterian theologian, R. L. Dabney, whose theological works are well-respected and studied to this day:

“It is well known, that, as a general rule, [Negroes] are a graceless, vagabondish set, and contribute very little to the support of the State by which they are protected. They are not citizens, never can become citizens, and wherever found in large numbers they are an expense and a source of trouble…” [1]

“The black race is an alien one on our soil; and nothing except his amalgamation with ours, or his subordination to ours, can prevent the rise of that instinctive antipathy of race, which, history shows, always arises between opposite races in proximity…” [1]

“When the generation of freed-negroes, which works feebly, has passed away, can the white people of Southside Virginia endure the pilfering of a body of negroes more numerous than themselves, who will work not at all? And when the white people are at last driven to the end of all patience by intolerable annoyances, and the blacks are determined to live and not to work, collision cannot but ensue. What shall we do with that generation of negroes “educated” to be above work? I see no other prospect, humanly speaking, except the beginning of a war of races, which will bring back the provost marshal, and the government of the bayonet, and will, indeed, make us eager to welcome them…“ [2]


It is difficult, though not unimaginable, to believe that such words came from the pen of a man with such a deep knowledge of theology and the Bible. As some have said, somewhat apologetically, ”He was a man of his time“. But, is history repeating itself? Are there deep-seated racist attitudes still harbored by white evangelicals that produced this current crisis? I certainly hope not.

What was really troubling was the lack of repudiation of the blatant racism, misogyny and xenophobia during the Republican campaign. As many on the left were screaming wildly in protest, there was a deafening silence from much of the evangelical right. At the same time, the opposing party received scathing rebuke.

And while it is true that most white evangelicals voted for a platform and not for a man, and were primarily concerned with issues such as the right to life for the unborn and future Supreme Court appointments, this brings little comfort to those who are feeling oppressed.


The Way Forward

We simply cannot tolerate division within the church.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, 1:10 (ESV):

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

The true church of Christ is composed of people of all races, languages and ethnic backgrounds. We will all stand together before God’s throne (Revelation 7:9-10). They are our true brothers and sisters. Because of this, the church should be at the forefront of promoting racial reconciliation within the Body of Christ. Sadly, I see far more of this from liberal Christians, who deny much of the Bible and its doctrines, than I do from the evangelical church.

Christians must first be reconciled to one another before they can reconcile others to Christ. We cannot allow politics or social issues to destroy our unity in Jesus Christ! The devil has used them to divide us for far too long!

The Greek word for reconciliation is “katallage“ and it means “the exchange of hostility for a friendly relationship“ [3]. As Paul wrote in the passage cited at the beginning of this article, God has given us all the ministry of reconciliation.  First, there must be reconciliation to God, among ourselves, and then of the world to Christ. We are all to be bridge builders.

Next, we need to realize that because of these divisions and our loyal alignment with political parties, the evangelical church is losing its moral authority, its Gospel witness and its prophetic voice. Satan told Jesus that he could give Him all of the kingdoms of the world if He would just bow down and worship him. Is the true Church now bowing down to politicians and this evil world system to avoid persecution and scorn? Are we increasing the barriers between ourselves and a dying world?

Finally, we need to understand that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against evil forces of darkness as it says in Ephesians 6. The so-called "Christian Right" has always demonized and marginalized their opponents. This is wrong! We must see them as people made in the image of God for whom Christ died. They are not our enemies. They are our mission field.


[1] From:"A Defence of Virginia", R. L. Dabney.
[2]  From: "The Negro and the Common School", R. L. Dabney.
[3] BDAG: Bauer, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Edited by Frederick W. Danker. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

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