I’m still learning the many ways I think I’m doing fine when I’m not fine, and the many ways I think I’m seeing straight when I’m actually blind. I’ve had a sense of this for a few years now, but God continues to show me my own blindness as well as show me more of what He’s all about. You see I’ve thought for a long time that my main focus as a pastor needed to be ministering to individuals and to let go of any “false hope” of making any impact on systemic evils in the world. My thinking was basically this; “I’ll share the Good News with individuals, let the individuals work out the ramifications of their faith in their life. The more individuals are transformed the more it might impact society – maybe it will, maybe it won’t – but whether it will or won’t impact society, I won’t worry about it cuz I know Jesus will come and take care of all that at His Second Coming.”
I’ve been slapped upside the head, as I’ve read “Divided By Faith,” and their extensive research on evangelical church thinking. They diagnosed my thinking as a thing they called “The Miracle Motif.” Read their diagnosis:“The miracle motif is the theologically rooted idea that as more individuals become Christians, social and personal problems will be solved automatically. What is the solution to violent crime? Convert people to Christianity, because Christians do not commit violent crimes. What is the solution to divorce? Convert people to Christianity, because Christians are less likely to get divorced. What is the solution to the problems of race? Our grassroots evangelicals told us. According to a nondenominational woman from the Midwest, ‘Christianity has the answers to everything if individuals become Christians’ . . . A woman from the Northeast who is a member of a Congregational church said, ‘If you’re a Christian, you’re going to accept other people. Never mind what color or race, you’re going to accept them as equal.’ And this Church of Christ member from the Midwest responded, ‘If everybody was a Christian, there wouldn’t be a race problem. We’d all be the same.'”
I remember sitting in a seminary class 27 years ago, and listening to a lecture from a guy who worked through a ministry called CityTeam that reached out to the poor and marginalized in San Jose. He presented a sweeping view of God’s heart for the poor and the oppressed, and I’m sad to admit I sort of shrugged and thought, “I’m not sure what this has to do with me.” He carefully described systemic racism and injustice so that we could minister with eyes to see such issues, and I not only didn’t quite understand what he was talking about, but I was kind of bored.
But I’m starting to wake up to the fact that while Christ does indeed save individuals, the fullness of the kingdom’s presence also means thinking critically about my role, and the churches role, in systemic evil. I am called by God to see the truth of my own privilege, my blindness that flows out of that privilege, and the reality of systems that hurt people and do not reflect the kingdom of God in this world. The authors of “Divided By Faith” soberly observe: “Two factors are most striking about evangelical solutions to racial problems. First, they are profoundly individualistic and interpersonal: become a Christian, love your individual neighbors, establish a cross-race friendship, give individuals the right to pursue jobs and individual justice without discrimination by other individuals and ask forgiveness of individuals one has wronged. Second, although several evangelicals discuss the personal sacrifice necessary to form friendships across race, their solutions do not require financial or cultural sacrifice. They do not advocate or support changes that might cause extensive discomfort or change their economic and cultural lives. In short, they maintain what is for them the noncostly status quo.”
Dear God – help me, help the church where I serve, and the churches in my city to move beyond the “noncostly status quo”