In this last month, a formerly quiet community has taken the headlines after the shooting of Michael Brown. While the largest of racial unrests in America in years has largely died down to normal protesting, I still would like to explore a bit about how I think Ferguson relates to the gospel for us as Christians.
A theme of race and identity has shaped how America has always seen itself. For many people, America is the land of the free, a land that is, perhaps, under God as the motto of the country and according to an extreme but not uncommon view America is God’s chosen nation. (as an aside, it absolutely astounds me that a former governor advocates american exceptionalism). However, a Christian nation is not one of these identities and it never has been. James H. Cone, one of the major developers of Black liberation theology wrote,
“It is ironic that America, with its history of injustice to the poor, especially the black man and the Indian, prides itself on being a Christian nation.”
And it is ironic indeed because as Christians we have to recognize that the majority church has been among the largest perpetrators of actions against racial reconciliation in America. Perhaps no fact highlights this as much as the fact that the second largest denomination in America, the Southern Baptist Convention, was founded over the issue of slavery. Cone argues that the whole church is anti-Christian in that it aligns with the oppressors and that true Christians become “black” in that they affiliate with the dispossessed and oppressed. And though I disagree with how much the message of Cone extends, a desire for liberation, for true freedom for the oppressed is not something that I think is antithetical to the gospel.
The Gospel, to some extent is about liberation, it is about freedom. The gospel that Jesus proclaimed was the answer to this prophesy:
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
Jesus came to institute the Kingdom of God. And even though the church as a whole has done much harm to the cause of racial reconciliation, in Ferguson there was a light as united clergy of many denominations walked with the protesters to act as a true light of the gospel. However, even though we as Christians work to make a just society, we also know that perfect reconciliation is not possible until the return of Christ. It is the most beautiful image to imagine a society where the message of the gospel has come to a true and final fruition and the Kingdom of God has been instituted on this world.
America is not the kingdom of God, it is not special. However, we as Christians are citizens of this Kingdom. Let us work towards a realization of this kingdom in what we do and what we say for we are today his ambassadors on earth. Let us strive for racial reconciliation and Let us pray that our king may come quickly. Maranatha.
I would like to leave off with this image from Revelation because this is what we as Christians long for in a true reconciliation for those who have submitted to the sovereignty of the Lord our God.
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” […] Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
For this reason they are before the throne of God,
and worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”