Category Archives: Commentary

Our Religious Freedom: North Carolina and Mississippi

Constitution

We are free.

In these United States, we enjoy freedoms that many in a variety of nations and cultures do not. Our Founding Fathers labored arduously to create a system whereby a nation of states could co-exist under the umbrella of a republic, a system that allowed for self-governance through elected representation to ensure that everyone could enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I’m afraid, though, that the fabric of this nation is being torn to shreds, this due to an infantile mind-set of extreme self-gratification. We have become a people who have become so self-righteous and pompous and self-important that I’m afraid we are like the moth circling ever-closer to the flame.

The biggest casualty? Our freedom.

A Free Conscience

The fundamental right that we have – that absolutely no one can diminish – is the right to think. And, from that right to think is the right to express our thoughts. Short of yelling “fire” in a movie theater, we can pretty much say whatever it is we’re thinking.

Alongside our freedom to think and express our thoughts is our conscience, a morality that is planted deep within us and guides our actions and our worldview. Our conscience – our morality – is part and parcel of our freedom to think, to express. I doubt that one could exist without the other, and I’m sure there is a deep-seated relationship between thinking, expression, and conscience. None can exist without the other.

Boycott the States

Recently, North Carolina and Mississippi passed state laws which guaranteed protection to those who object to certain flash point situations regarding LGBT actions. In North Carolina, it’s the “bathroom law”, and in Mississippi, it’s protection for those who, by conscience, do not want to participate in same-sex unions, be they clergy, religious institutions, or government employees. These states have recently recognized that these particular people and institutions cannot be forced to participate, or fined, for following their conscience, a way of thinking they feel compelled to express. They are free to express their conscience without fear of fine or penalty.

Yet, many corporations have called for a boycott of these particular states because of the protection they are providing for those who cannot in good conscience partake in such behavior. Celebrities, too, have taken the high ground and cancelled concerts – Bruce Springsteen in North Carolina, and Bryan Adams in Mississippi.

Oddly enough, they are following their conscience and boycotting people who are, well, following their conscience. Each side of the argument has developed their own line of thinking, and they’ve expressed it – which they are free to do.

One side of the argument is hypocritical, while another side of the argument is being punished, in hopes that their thinking and expression and, ultimately, their conscience will change.

The Transparent Hypocrisy

Much has been said in the public sphere.  In “If Christians Can’t Discriminate, Neither Can Bruce Springsteen,” Matt Walsh states,

The irony here is so thick I might choke on it. These are people and companies choosing not to provide services to a group of people as a means of protesting a law that allows people to deny services to groups of people. They are following their conscience and boycotting to overturn a law that allows people to follow their conscience. They are exercising their First Amendment rights in order to make a statement against First Amendment rights. They are discriminating in response to “discrimination.” What’s next? Will they fly a private jet around the world to lecture people about the dangers of fossil fuel?

In “Liberals’ Double Standard on Bathrooms, Boycotts, and Religious Freedom,” Ryan T. Anderson laments the hypocrisy of it all. He begins by saying,

If it wasn’t for double standards, some liberals would have none at all. That seems to be the lesson from the past few weeks, where liberals have displayed three distinct forms of hypocrisy.

Rod Dreher, in “Religious Liberty in Mississippi,” is trying to make sense of why the new laws are so objectionable to some. He states,

The problem is that gay rights and religious liberty really are a zero-sum phenomenon in most ways. That is, the advance of one comes at the expense of the other. Nobody can have his way completely without causing the other side some loss. The problem for social and religious conservatives is that the other side either doesn’t understand the compromise it demands from the religiously dissenting minority, or it doesn’t care — and with the rare exception of places like Mississippi, the other side holds most of the power.

Andrew T. Walker, in “3 Reasons Why Religious Liberty Laws Don’t Discriminate,” gives clear evidence that these are not cases of discrimination, and he is clear about the end-result if there can be no respect or tolerance. He says,

Supporters of religious freedom laws are not interested in discriminating against persons. What many find objectionable are participating in services that have an overtly sacramental meaning. Once you understand the true face and nature of discrimination, you’ll see that religious freedom laws in no way commit the type of discrimination defined above.

Respect and tolerance are essential qualities of a free society. But they require reciprocation. True diversity requires respecting individuals with a religious belief while also allowing for goods and services to be available for those who seek them. Better yet, a pluralistic civil society ought to allow for peaceable disagreement without resorting to accusations that one side is dehumanizing the other.

Finally, the National Conference of State Legislatures provides a table of religious exemption statutes regarding same-sex unions. Ironically, many of the states that seek to boycott North Carolina and Mississippi provide for religious exemptions.

The hypocrisy of the progressive left is stunning. Using influence and money to coerce individuals and law-making entities stands opposite of what this nation was founded on. We are free. Free to think, free to express, and free to act without fear of penalty. I applaud those those who take a stand for religious freedom.

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The State Flag of Mississippi

 

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My family roots are buried deeply in west Tennessee, in the farming land between Huntingdon and McKenzie. My grandfather was a sharecropper, raising cattle, cotton, and anything else that would sell on the town square. The farm life was tough back then, and it was for that reason my dad got out as soon as the Air Force would take him.

Fast forward 30 or so years, and several air bases later, and my family settled in Mississippi. Columbus, specifically, where my parents had spent much of their time in the military. It was a place of familiarity, friendships, and faith, so it seemed a natural place to return to start a new life, a new career. When we moved back, I was in the middle of fifth grade, and the house we moved into was a short bike-ride to Sale Elementary.

I love Mississippi

While I’m not a Mississippian by birth, I consider myself raised there. And, everything about the South, and Mississippi specifically, is who I am. Yes, I add a few vowels to every syllable, and I’m conservative, well=mannered, and respectful of others. I hunt and fish and consider my dog an important part of the family. I love the smell of plowed dirt, split wood, and a barn. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m Mississippi through and through. And, I’m proud of it.

I love Mississippi, and that’s why I want to see the official state flag replaced with something that more accurately reflects who we are.

It’s time to move on

Flag_of_Mississippi.svgAs a Christian, and a pastor, I feel strongly that it’s time to move on – and away – from a symbol that so clearly implies something we are not. We cannot preach one thing on Sunday, and live another on every other day of the week. Allowing the flag to remain as a symbol of our state, whether passively or actively, says that we condone what it stands for. Or, rather, what it stood for.

I recently read an article by Mississippi College history professor, Otis W. Pickett, in the state’s flagship newspaper, The Clarion-Ledger. You can read the full article here, but Pickett makes his point when he says,  “As a Christian, I am called to love my brothers and sisters more than myself and my preferences. I am called to lay down my life for my brothers and sisters. I am called to lay down any unnecessary offense that would cause division and strife in the church.” He goes on to say, “There is no value in celebrating an image that so deeply hurts my African-American brothers and sisters. I am gladly willing to lay it down so that we can be reconciled to one another in Christ.”

I agree with Pickett. If there is to be reconciliation, if we are to show Christ-like love, if we are to share the gospel, then Mississippi needs to remove the flag, a symbol of offense. Even more, Mississippians who are Christians need to lead the way. Here are four things we, as Christians, need to remember as we look at this issue.

  1. We are made in the image of God. All of us. Because of that, we are to respond to others as God’s created and loved ones. Race, creed, and ethnicity are not conditions of our love. We are all created in the image of God.
  2. A multitude…from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages stand before the throne and before the Lamb. This, from Revelation 7, tells us that everyone – not just people who look like you – will be worshipping in heaven. This gives us a principle that should be the foundation of the relationships we have with others here on earth.
  3. The gospel is for everyone. If we, as Christians, are to share the gospel with our neighbor, consideration must be given to our daily relationship with those around us. Sharing the gospel with someone is an expression of love, and love can’t be expressed if we endorse a symbol of hate.
  4. Actions and words reveal our faith. If we are followers of Christ, our actions and words will result from our love for Him and for others. Darkness can’t exist where there is light.

I’m sure you remember the song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” It’s one most of us learned in church – at Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, or Sunbeams preschool choir. Much theology is packed into this simple song, and we would do well to revisit it.

Jesus loves the little children.
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in his sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

 

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We Must Share the Gospel

Man Praying

Sharing the gospel is a difficult exercise. As Christians, we are commissioned to tell people about Jesus…it’s a mandate of the highest order for those of us who follow Christ. Yet, I dare say that you or I have shared the gospel lately.
Sure, we can justify our silence by saying our actions testify about the gospel and, thus, we demonstrate what the gospel is. People should see it in the way we live in our society and feel compelled to proclaim Jesus as Lord. But, I don’t live like that. My best intentions of obedience to the commands of Jesus are littered by actions that could best be labeled as anti-Jesus. After all, I need the gospel as much as the next fellow.

Still, how many people do I meet daily that know that I’m a follower of Christ? Who have I told? What life has been changed by the gospel because I shared – spoke, verbalized, proclaimed – the gospel?

lightstock_73260_small_mark_mooreThe odd thing is, I’m constantly reading about the gospel and how to share it. I’m learning how to be more persuasive in conversations with unbelievers. I listen to podcasts that feature theologians and Christian leaders unravel doctrine. I’ve even committed to learning the best way get across the “bridge” and share the gospel with Muslims. It’s all there…all of the how, what, and who of sharing the gospel is at my disposal, yet, I just can’t seem to get to the who and where part.

Lord knows, I’ve tried.

My neighbor doesn’t go to church, not that I know of. The problem is, when he moved in, and I walked into his yard to introduce myself and welcome him to the neighborhood, part of our conversation led to our own occupations. He knows I’m a “preacher.” Now, he avoids me like the plague. To be fair, there’s not an urgency on my part, either, to force the issue. You know, the conversation where I get into the spiritual, uncomfortable questions.

R.C. Sproul, pastor, speaker, and theologian, preached a sermon at his church, St. Andrews Chapel in Sanford, Florida, on the Transfiguration of Jesus, from Luke 9:28-36. I can’t quote specifically from the sermon, but Sproul began by saying that if he made a list of the top things he could have witnessed as a believer in the 1st century, the resurrection of Jesus would obviously be at the top of the list. But, Sproul places the Transfiguration a close 2nd. His observation was that the obvious courage and boldness the 1st century Christians possessed was because they had seen and witnessed first-hand the glory of God in Jesus. It’s no wonder the early believers and apostles shouted the gospel-message of Jesus, despite persecution and ridicule. They had seen the power, the majesty, the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

St Paul preachingIn this day and age, when our Christian faith is ridiculed, and absolute truth is pushed away, we must yearn for the same passion that those 1st century believers possessed and share the gospel in every opportunity. While we have not witnessed the resurrection, or the Transfiguration, or any of the other events which give us a glimpse of glory, we do have the revelation of God in scripture. That divinely-inspired book should be our passion to fuel the proclamation of the gospel.

Jesus saves!

 

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My Dad

Today, April 1, 2016, I received a call from my mom that my dad had passed away. He had battled declining health for several months and, this week, was hospitalized for several things, mostly old age. I was able to spend several days with him before I needed to leave to get back home. Before I left him, though, I was able to tell him that he was a good man. He overcame much in his life to leave a legacy that will live on in his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Above all, he was a child of God, and there is no doubt he is meeting his Heavenly Father right now. 

I wrote the following post two years ago, and I republish it now in memory of him. 

I love you, dad.



Tomorrow is my dad’s birthday.  Archie Moore will become an 82 year-old husband, father, and grandfather.  He’ll celebrate the way he always does…with family close by and, perhaps, a steak or rack of ribs in front of him.

Fall 2012 019God has blessed me with a father who is and has always been a present part of my life.  Through all of our times together, he has been an anchor, not only for me, but for the entire extended family.  That is the evidence of grace in all our lives.  There are too few words in my vocabulary to express the tremendous effect he has had on my life, but suffice it to say that he has been a model of character and commitment and love.

Above all, he has been a father.  It has been said by some that our perception of our heavenly Father can sometimes be, for good or bad, based on our experience with our earthly father.  My dad has modeled that, for just as my heavenly Father is One of mercy, discipline, justice, and love, so too has my dad demonstrated those same traits.

Through all of that, he taught me…

…how to hunt and fish, and thus, to appreciate the outdoors.

…how to love baseball, and how to win and lose with grace.

…how to tie a tie, and when to wear one.

…how to shake a hand, and look people in the eye.

…how to carry a pocketknife, and to always know where it is.

…how to birth a calf, with wonder and awe at God’s created ones.

…how to drive, and have responsibility.

…how to haul hay and plant a garden, with an appreciation for hard work.

And the list goes on.  As he taught me, he modeled…

…the commitment of being a husband.

…the joy and pain of being a father.

…how to work hard and put in an honest day’s work.

…the importance of being active in church.

…how to be a follower of Christ.

Through it all, my dad was always there.  Always at home.  Always at my games.  And, now, always a phone call away.  He encouraged, supported, disciplined, loved, punished, and listened.  He not only said it, but he lived it.

Through all of the good times and bad, he was a dad and a father.

I hope that my sons experience the same.

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Six Observations: Christianity in a Same-Sex Society

This past Friday, the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, a decision which flies in the face of orthodox religious belief, namely Christianity.  There has been much response to the decision, and many, on both sides of the decision, have commented.  Some have celebrated the decision, while others have voiced disapproval.  Still, others have looked past the decision and attempt to predict the impact on other facets of society.

I am a Christian.  I attempt to live my life according to the Scriptures.  I believe the Scriptures are the inerrant, authoritative, sufficient Word of God.  The Bible is, very clearly, God speaking to his creation and created ones.  And, throughout the Bible is the gospel, God’s plan to redeem sinful man.

Over the past few days, I’ve read, observed, listened, and tried to understand public response to the Supreme Court’s decision.  Here are six conclusions I’ve reached regarding the public response to the Supreme Court decision.

1.  If you are a Christian, and you celebrate or support the U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage, you stand in direct opposition to the teachings of Scripture.

The Bible is the inerrant, authoritative, sufficient Word of God.  It is how God reveals himself and speaks to mankind.  The Apostle Paul tells us that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV)  Wayne Grudem, in Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, states that “to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God himself.” (39)  He goes on to say that “…the Bible is necessary for knowledge of the gospel…but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral laws.” (54)  In other words, we all know the difference between good and bad.

Christians can, in no way, rationalize or justify the legitimacy of same-sex marriage based upon the teachings found in Scripture.

2.  Both the Old and New Testaments affirm the one man/one woman institution of marriage.

From the beginning, God created and ordained the institution of marriage as a one man/one woman relationship that is both complementary and purposeful.  In the early chapters of Genesis, scripture tells us that

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28 ESV)

and

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24 ESV)

In the New Testament, Jesus affirms this when he responds to the Jewish leaders, saying

Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. (Matthew 19:4-6 ESV)

Scripture is clear regarding the definition of marriage.  As Christians, this is the principle we must cling to as right and good.

3.  The New Testament condemns homosexuality as a sin.

The general response from our culture regarding homosexuality is that the Old Testament’s prohibition of homosexuality is for another social era and that the New Testament never condemns homosexuality.  If we remember that “All scripture is God-breathed…”, we read in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman church this warning:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth…For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:18; 26-27 ESV)

Paul goes on to say in his first letter to the church in Corinth that,

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 ESV)

And, to Timothy, Paul writes,

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (1 Timothy 1:8-11 ESV)

The New Testament is clear regarding disobedience to God.

4.  Religious freedom is in peril.

Many Christians gloss over the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision, thinking that a lifestyle contrary to God’s teachings is all that is at stake.  There is more…much more.

When our founding father, Thomas Jefferson, wrote his now-famous letter to the Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut, in 1802, he assured the Baptists that “a wall a separation between church and state” had been established and that the Protestants were free to worship as they saw fit.  This “separation” though, only prohibits the establishment of a state church and does not prohibit the free exercise of religion, meaning that religion is free to influence its citizens and, yes, its government.

In the recent decision regarding same-sex marriage, our government has imposed on many of its citizens a law which cuts against the very grain of its religious faith and conscience.  While Christians cannot, in good faith, participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies, or in licensing same-sex couple to wed, the recent court decision has implications that citizens are required to under the threat of penalty.

And, what of Christian ministers?  While the Supreme Court allowed for a dissenting conscience among religious leaders, and there is protection in the 1st Amendment, some in the media have already asked questions about church facilities, religiously-affiliated universities, hospitals and such.  In his article, “Now Is the Time to End Tax Exemptions for Religious Institutions,” Mark Oppenheimer states, “…the logic of gay-marriage rights could lead to a reexamination of conservative churches’ tax exemptions…” And, the Pew Research Center says “…it’s possible that institutions will be pressured to give ground on gay marriage by federal authorities.”

5.  The role of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court has changed.

Since when do a group of unelected lawyers create law for the citizens of its nation?  The 14th Amendment, which was used to argue for marriage equality, never addresses marriage.  It’s a stretch to say that it does.  It is clearly the responsibility of states to determine marriage laws, yet our Supreme Court justices, who are appointed and who are not representative of the nation at-large, have overstepped the bounds of responsibility and taken it upon themselves to decide what marriage is and is not.

The court has opened Pandora’s Box in regard to all sorts of equality issues, all based on their convenient interpretation of the 14th Amendment.  What of polygamy, or any other sort of contrived relationship?  The equality in the 14th Amendment is pointless unless applied to all, or it ceases to be equality.  That, too, is the danger of this decision.

6.  Civil disobedience is biblically permissible.

In Romans 13, the Apostle Paul affirms the role of government in the lives of Christians.  In essence, government is created by God to provide protection and welfare for the good of its citizens.

Yet, when the government imposes a law upon its citizens that requires disobedience of God’s laws, and then forces obedience to that law under threat of penalty, it is biblically permissible to disobey civil authorities.

Grudem states, “God does not hold people responsible for obeying the civil government, however, when obedience would mean directly disobeying a command of God himself.” (88)

We see an example of this in The Acts of the Apostles when some of the apostles are arrested and then commanded “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.”  Their response? “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”  Later, they proclaimed that “We must obey God rather than men.”  If disobedience to God is demanded, Grudem states that “God requires his people to disobey civil government…” (88)

From this, we see clearly that we are called, as Christians, to stand firmly on the beliefs we have based on the Word of God found in the scriptures.

Following the Supreme Court decision, many on social media included the hashtag #LoveWins.  I don’t doubt that at all.  Love does win, and in the future, love will win out.  But, it will be the love of Christ through his Church that shows the ultimate love…despite sin, any sin, the love of Christ overcomes and gives grace to all of us sinners…gay, straight, or otherwise.  It is because of this love, though, that we are called to proclaim the commands of God and, by the power of the Spirit, walk in those commands.

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A Southern Solution to Racial Violence

I was born in Texas.  I was raised in Mississippi.  I live in Tennessee.  I am not racist.

If, by that criteria, you think I am, well…bless your heart.

ema2The recent event in Charleston, South Carolina, at Emmanuel A.M.E. Church, has caused the debate, discussion, and accusations of racism in America to heat up.  It’s being bantered about at great length in the media, and talking heads are stopping just short of reaching across the desk to strangle their opponent.  The media, and even some of our national and state leaders, see a problem.  It seems as though they’ll not stop until tension has escalated and we’re all staring at our TV screens, wringing our hands and hoping someone will save us.

History is a Teacher

The popular solution, it seems, is to rid the public square of all things Confederate.  Dixie, the Rebel Flag, and bronze busts of Confederate Army generals are being blamed.  Apparently, if these things aren’t displayed and revered, then people like Dylann Roof won’t walk in shoot black people because…well…they’re black.

For the record, I am against the public display of the Confederate flag on public property and at national and state facilities.  I am not, however, in favor of erasing our history. By that, I mean . our collective history as a nation.  We need to know our history, if for no other reason that we won’t repeat it.  Forgetting our history and wiping it from public view will not benefit us.  It can only hurt us, and may doom us to go down that road again.

The Cesspool known as the South

The other popular solution seems to be to cast an permanent pall onto the South and its people, writing the region off as permanently cast into the mold of racism.  The usual mode of those who stereotype Southerners is to portray us as ultraconservative, non-progressive,  dim-witted folks who can’t catch up to the rest of the nation.  We’re portrayed as backwards, uneducated types who just don’t get it.  We have a Southern drawl and eat everything fried.  We are the problem, it seems, with the rest of the nation.

Jonah Goldberg, writing in the National Review, calls it “anti-South bigotry.”  In his article, he states, “There are few subjects that ignite more casual, uninformed bigotry and condescension from elites in this nation than Dixie.”  Phrases like “cesspool of hate” and “the enemy of all that is decent and good” are quoted in his article as observations about the South.  While Goldberg does redeem the South in his article, it is apparent that a less than favorable attitude towards the South exists in those Northern elitists.

Racism, or Racist

Regardless of what the media and others would have us do, I’ll go out on the proverbial limb and say that there is no institutional, endemic, or pandemic racism in America.  This nation has worked hard to make racial equality part of its laws, policies, procedures, and public life.  We have come a long way.  Regardless, racists are plenty.  There are those who hate a man because of the color of his skin, who think their race is superior to those who look different.  Removing war relics and changing history will not stop these people and their ilk.

As I said earlier, I’m not a racist.  I worship with African-Americans and Hispanics. I have friends who are Muslim.  My son lives with an Asian.  I don’t base anything on ethnicity or the color of skin.  On the flip side of the coin, I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to fear for my life, or to be treated differently, or to be refused service.  Regardless, I will not be part of treating someone differently because of who they are or what they look like.

The Ultimate Solution

The ultimate solution – the one which supersedes the ones mentioned earlier – is the gospel.  We are – all of us – created in the image of God and we are called to love each other as Christ loved us.  You and I, as unholy and wretched as we are, receive the love of Christ without condition.  To love Christ means we’re to love others – even a racist like Dylann Roof.

The people in Charleston are doing just that.  Instead of accusations and riots and more hate, they cling to unity and forgiveness and love, the very thing the Apostle Paul calls us to do in 1 Corinthians.  For the folks who want to blame history, or the character of Southerners, it is difficult to comprehend the one change that will solve the problem of senseless acts of racial violence.  It’s a deep-seated, transparent, life-altering change of the heart.

 

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Have We Forgotten Martin Luther King, Jr.?

hateI cannot fathom hate.

To say it differently, I cannot comprehend the loathsome, abhorrent and detestable dislike of a person – or group of people – simply for their race, creed, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

Multiply that by a million for those who are followers of Christ.

If you are a Christian, and you pursue obedience to the Scripture out of love for God, then you cannot – no, you must not – hate simply because someone looks or believes differently than you do.  We love because we are loved by God, in spite of our unholy ways.

The Sins of Ferguson

In Ferguson, Missouri, we are found wanting in our love for each other.  And, much of the blame can rest squarely onal-sharpton1 the shoulders of the Reverend Al Sharpton.  In his efforts to pursue justice, he has, yet again, ridden in with guns blazing on the horse of racism to capitalize on tragedy and lynch any and every person who does not pursue the Sharpton brand of “social justice.” His message is not intended for peace, but more violence.  In his eyes, change comes, not because we hope in the gospel, but in fear and distrust.

Sharpton is a licensed minister.  To my knowledge, he has never pastored a church or preached the gospel day-in and day-out.  His critics have noticed, too.  Joseph Farah writes, “The man is an utter disgrace and shame to his professed religion of Christianity…He is a professional race hustler and shakedown artist, not someone to be revered.”

I am intensely saddened by the events in Ferguson.  The death of a young man, the behavior of all involved, and the culture that has created it and allowed it to happen.  Yet, I’m not sure Sharpton sees the real tragedy.  Sharpton wants to lead out in the process of justice.  He wants change.  The problem is, Sharpton’s need for self-promotion is greater than his love for the gospel and social justice.  Instead of preaching the words of hope, comfort, and love found in the gospel, as a minister should, he spews blame and injustice on everyone involved.

Leading from the Gospel

In March, 1965, in Selma, Alabama, African Americans were seeking the right to vote and organized a non-violent protest march from Selma to Montgomery.  The result that day, seen on national TV, is now known as “Bloody Sunday.”

The marchers made their way through Selma across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where they faced a blockade of state troopers and local lawmen…who ordered the marchers to disperse. When they did not, Cloud ordered his men to advance. Cheered on by white onlookers, the troopers attacked the crowd with clubs and tear gas. Mounted police chased retreating marchers and continued to beat them.

Sound familiar?  It should.  In Ferguson, police have been criticized for the level of their response to the initial violence and protests.  And Sharpton has capitalized on it, leading a march in New York City to protest the actions of police in the deaths of Eric Garner (NYC) and Michael Brown (Ferguson).  Martin Luther King, Jr., though, responded much differently to the events of “Bloody Sunday.”  Even though a federal district court judge had issued a restraining order prohibiting the march…

King proceeded to the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the afternoon of 9 March. He led more than 2,000 marchers, including hundreds of clergy who had answered King’s call on short notice, to the site of Sunday’s attack, then stopped and asked them to kneel and pray. After prayers they rose and turned the march back to Selma, avoiding another confrontation with state troopers and skirting the issue of whether to obey Judge Johnson’s court order.

In his wisdom, Rev. King obeyed the authorities and incited not defiance, but prayer.  Here, a man of the Word sought to call attention to injustice by appealing not to the fear and anger and emotions, but to the highest power – the Almighty God.

A Model for Protests

mlk_identity-300This was not unusual for King.  Though he was criticized for his belief in non-violent protests, King’s faith in God grounded him well as he led the nation for social justice and civil rights.  In Letter from Birmingham Jail, King said:

I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

King goes on to lay out the methodology to help the nation focus on injustice.  He says,

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying of the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of the gospel.  It showed in his leadership.  He was also a man of peace, and the world recognized that when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.  He will be remembered for all of time as a man who ushered in Civil Rights for African Americans, who ultimately gave the “final full measure of devotion” to a principle that was promised, not only in the Constitution of his nation, but in the gospel of his Savior, as well.

Al Sharpton would do well to remember Martin Luther King, Jr.  If he can.

 

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