You know what happened. We all do.
We can’t overwrite the memory of a young woman being killed on the streets of Charlottesville, Va.
We can’t delete the mental file of pastors being beaten.
We can’t turn off the audio of people shouting hate, carrying torches, and relishing a nighttime march that resurrected the horrors of Hitler’s concentration camps, saluting Nazis, and Klansmen who lynched and burned their way through the South.
We can choose to overlook what happened in Charlottesville, not far from the Monticello plantation owned by President Thomas Jefferson. But a decision to keep silent about events this weekend, and every day this week, doesn’t halt the precarious direction our nation has taken.
We also may try to explain away the anger seething in the country, but that won’t stop its corrosive effect. Fractures run deep within “We the People.” Studies and polls back that up. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that a staggering 917 hate groups are active in the United States. (Check out a map of these groups.) The Anti-Defamation League reviewed more than 2.6 million tweets last year that depicted a rising level of anti-Semitism. When joined with anti-Israel movements on college campuses here and around the world, one national leader said that anti-Semitism is reaching "pandemic" levels.
Even more disturbing, a poll of experts told Foreign Policy in March that the United States could be poised for another civil war. The experts based their observations on trends in this country that mirror similar movements around the world.
The Civil War devastated the nation and may have claimed the lives of up to 850,000. Church groups split over the issue of slavery. Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians. Religious leaders even contorted theology to justify racial superiority.
For example, R.L. Dabney, a Presbyterian, Calvinist, and Confederate, defended the “biblical righteousness” of slavery. He served briefly under Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. After the war, Dabney's racism didn't end. He called blacks “a sordid, alien taint.” He also wrote in the 1870s that it was “unjust to tax ‘oppressed’ white people to provide ‘pretended education to the brats of black paupers.’ ”
During the height of the war, the Union Army upheld anti-Semitism through the infamous General Orders No. 11 issued by General Ulysses Grant. The infamous order expelled Jews as a "class" of people from Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee for smuggling cotton in war zones. (Read detailed stories about what happened here and here.) Jews weren't the only ones illegally selling cotton in the underground market. They weren't the majority. But the order singled them out. In fact, Gen. Grant said that "the Israelites" were an "intolerable nuisance." (He later apologized for his anti-Semitic position.)
President Lincoln rescinded the order shortly afterward, but the directive had a chilling effect on Jews who worried about their place in America even after the war's end.
As the nation wades into turbulent waters, Jesus followers should pause and remember the pivotal roles the church has played in the past. Too often, we were on the devilish side of history. It's imperative that we implore God to help us see what He sees and align ourselves with that. His perspective transcends ours. His kingdom will outlast our country.
We can seek God’s heart about what shoe-leather, one-on-one ministry looks like today. Not yesterday. Not 100 years ago. Today. The words of Dabney and the racist acts of Grant during the war are reflected in our discourse today. The church can't participate in darkness. Through the power of the Lord, we overcome the darkness. We pursue authentic ministry that disciples individuals and challenges them to repent of repugnant attitudes. We sort out true faith versus counterfeit beliefs that hide hate. We hold onto the Bible, which says that righteous men and women recognize the roots of evil:
"Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand all things" (Prov. 28:5).
The only Person who can eternally transform anyone or anything is Jesus, not a ballot or a political party. And a heart gripped by the love of Jesus always is the first line of just defense against the firestorms of hate.
Published on Tuesday, August 15, 2017 @ 11:28 PM CDT