After a weekend watching in dismay and confusion as the events unfolded in Charlottesville, Va… and feeling the fuller weight of what transpired over the last few days, I found myself asking the question over and over again, How did we get here? How did we get to a place where extremism is so radically on display? Where people are proud to be called extremists, racists, bigots, Nazis, white supremacists? Where violent protests are part of our ethos? Where politically or racially or ideologically motivated shootings are the norm? Where communication is lost in a sea of digital (and actual) shouting?
I know the Bible has a simple answer: sin. Racism is sin. Radical violence is sin. And when sin is celebrated it reigns in hearts and minds… in families and states… in governments and churches.
The problem, as I see it, is that for far too long sin has been celebrated in various corners of our culture in various forms. What we saw this weekend was a celebration of the sins of racism and bigotry boiling over. The celebration of those sins has been ever-present in our country, though at times it has been quieter, and yet in our current political climate when only extreme views are given voice – the celebration went to the streets. Political rhetoric was used as an excuse for hate-mongering, and it was ugly. It IS ugly. Sin always is…
And this has nothing to do with passion, because the moment when passion becomes extremism it is wrong. That is the moment we make a god out of our race. That is the moment we make a god out of our position and authority. That is the moment we make a god out of OUR unique identity to the exclusion of others. The neo-Nazis and klansmen in Charlottesville (or any where else for that matter) are not passionate – they are violent extremists, and extremism is sin.
So, what is our proper response? We can and should condemn such acts, but that is not enough. We can and should be anxious about such moments in our history, but we should use those moments to prompt us to act. Rather than allowing a celebration of sin be an excuse to continue the cycle of rhetoric, let us do something else.
Condemn racism, and then celebrate moments of diversity. Condemn hate-mongering, and then celebrate dialogue especially between diametrically-opposed parties. Celebrate communication. Celebrate those who, for the sake of peace, seek middle ground. Celebrate kindness. Celebrate encouragement. Celebrate cross-racial, cross-generational, cross-ideological learning. Condemn the sin, and celebrate the good.
On Sunday, my own congregation – a largely white, mainline church in central Florida – prayed for peace and healing and then welcomed people of a variety of races and backgrounds to our front lawn for a celebration. It was party to encourage kids as they went back to school. We prayed for the community, we played with each other. It wasn’t miraculous, but it was beautiful… and it was a celebration of the good. I saw other churches across social media doing the same, and it was beautiful.
We can celebrate in the face of sin, because we know that sin – in all its forms – will not have the final word. The blood of Jesus Christ saves without the merit of the recipient and regardless of the color of his/her skin. In the final eschatological celebration, there will be representatives saved by grace through the blood of Jesus Christ from ALL tribes and EVERY nation… we ought to start the celebration now.
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” – Revelation 7:9-17 (ESV)