What I Wish Every Church Knew
Webster’s dictionary defines radical as favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions or institutions. When Jesus walked the earth, He walked as a radical. . He said things that made people uncomfortable. He acted in ways that challenged the system, or at least, the common understanding of it. He did it so much so, that the religious leaders conspired against Him. They realized he threatened the established order.
I think about how Jesus entered the houses of sinners and tax collectors like Mathew. (Mark 9:9-13) I think about His visit to the Temple when He cleared out the Court of the Gentiles, the place reserved for non-Jewish people to worship God. (Mark 11:15-18) The establishment had turned it into a marketplace, making it difficult for Gentile seekers to encounter God. I think about His trip to Samaria. Most Jews avoided the place. Not only did Jesus go there, but He sat at Jacob’s well and engaged a Samaritan woman in conversation. When the disciples saw it, they felt uncomfortable and were amazed (John 4:27). Jesus spoke truth. He proclaimed justice and exhorted people to do what was right. He lifted burdons from those who carried them and comforted those who suffered.
The past few weeks in the US have been turbulent to say the least. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in protest. Some terrible things have happened in the course of the demonstrations. We cannot deny that, nor can we allow the actions of some to distract us from the realities that stir the hearts of millions. We might not understand them. We may not even agree with the protests or with what we think motivates them. But, something in our society has left a huge population feeling marginalized and angry. We cannot ignore that.
As I reflect, I cannot help but think about the church and the role it plays in society. “The one who says he abides in [Christ] ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”(1 John 2:6) It’s true, Jesus never took to the streets in protest. He did not even confront the authorities except when they came to Him. But He did see the marginalized and the oppressed. He did stand up for righteousness and justice. He did reach out with kindness and listen with compassion.
When I was a student at Penn State, I had an unfortunate experience as I sought a church to attend. I walked in alone, sat and worshipped alone and, after the service, I walked out without ever having anyone speak to me. I did not think much of it, but several weeks later, my roommate visited the same church and had a completely different experience. He left feeling seen and welcomed. Was it because of race? My roommate thought so. He is white. I am black. Thirty years later, I had a similar experience in Portland, Oregon. This time, I even spent ten minutes browsing at the welcome table, but once again, I left feeling unseen and unwelcomed.
I cannot judge motives, but I do not believe that anyone ever left Jesus’ presence feeling unseen and unwelcomed. How then can it happen in the church, especially when many in society, people of color in particular, often feel unseen and unwelcome in many of the places they go. Intentional or unintentional, it feels the same.
Some might say, “We don’t see color.” I find that unfortunate. It often assumes that everyone is “like me”. It implies that culture and lifestyles often attached to color really don’t matter. As a result, we remain ignorant of one another and divided. In the church, we must embrace differences. While treating everyone as equal, we must see color and reach out to and embrace those who are different, creating the opportunity to learn from one another and grow.
Jesus did not just wait for the marginalized to come to Him. On one occasion, He proactively ventured into Samaria. Most Jews took the long way around, preferring to spend extra time on the road than to run the risk of interacting with Samaritans. But Jesus was looking for the marginalized. He wanted to break into their world. I believe the church, in our present context, needs to do this too. Barriers must be crossed in order for real exchange to take place. I realize that in some areas, few opportunities exist to cross barriers. But, with electronic communication and social media, it’s still possible to develop meaningful relationships. Some might ask, “With all of the other needs in the world, why invest the time and effort?” In short, the time has come for change. Developing multi-racial relationships takes us one small step in the right direction.
The other day, I read a post that seemed to suggest that protests are unnecessary and possibly even wrong because God has said that vengeance belongs to Him. In part, I can accept that. Jesus’ enemies tormented and persecuted Him to the point of death, and He never uttered a word of protest. God never invites His people to defend themselves, but He does command them to defend the oppressed and the needy. (see Isaiah 1:17, Proverbs 31:9, Psalm 82:1-3)
He also tells them to look out not only for their own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4) If the church did this well, the oppressed and marginalised would feel no need to rise up.
It saddens me the way that some have politicised the protests. Both sides demonize the opposition and cater to the hopes and fears of their constituents, losing sight of the people and the real issues. For the church though, we have another Hope that does not come through a political party. We have a God who holds all things in His hands and will judge rightly. We can extend grace and mercy because our God will be merciful to us.
I realize I haven’t given any answers or step by step “how to’s”. But, this is what I wish every church knew. If my words stir your heart in some way, please pay attention to that! God has given you His Spirit to lead you into truth and to guide you into obedience. Seek Him in prayer and through His Word. What is God inviting you to, individually and as a church? What does it look like for you to walk as Jesus walked in this present day? I believe He has placed you here, to be His body, the church, for such a time as this.
Mark, this is sooooooo on point. Thank you for your prayerful wisdom and courage for speaking the truth. I was quite heartbroken by the silence of the American Caucasian Christian Church Body. I felt deeply wounded by people whose ministries I supported, financially, prayerfully, and otherwise. It still hurts and bewilders me, but also, it is an affront to God’s word and His ways. We must speak against wrong and speak up for right in all directions. Thank you for doing so with grace.