30 May 2020

So goes the church, so goes America: blunt terms for institutional reform

There is something bigger going on here. Our country is crippled by a growing virus of anger and hate. Not to dismiss the reality of racism, but that is just one vein in which it runs. I'm heartbroken over how it must feel for a segment of our society to be in a constant feeling of loss of justice, of fear.

I've seen a few articles and posts written about the need for institutional reform in order to root out racism. Well, what does that mean in Midwestern white America? We can pray that God changes hearts, or pray for justice. I found myself typing out the words on a post shared that I was done praying for justice and am seeking what it means to pray for judgement. Justice cannot be delivered by an unjust system or institutions occupied by people who themselves are part of the problem. And if we cannot right the ship of justice because of our partisan divide (I don't think we can), then maybe it is time for God to bring judgement.

Proverbs 29:2 says when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn. Proverbs isn't stating prophecy, but wisdom-facts. So I think we must ask ourselves in a democratic society, what responsibility do we have in delivering institutions that provide for justice? And where, in the spectrum of Proverbs 29:2, are we? We can each search our hearts and try to root out racism and hatred. We can "stand up" for those that are suffering because of it....but what does that really look like? The theology that there will always be a "sin problem" must not be an abdication of our responsibility, or guilt.

Let me break it down in the most blunt of terms.

If you vote for people who stoke hate in the hearts of racists, you are guilty of supporting the institution of racism.

If you confirm an elder at your church who you know tells racist jokes, you are guilty of bringing that institutional condition into your church.

If you are dismissive of seeing people hung in effigy because they are of the opposite party, you are guilty because you view the "other" as lesser.

If you see a tweet by Jerry Falwell Jr. about face masks and still support his ministry, you are guilty.

If 100,000+ is an acceptable loss, you are guilty of valuing "rights" over the right to life.

You are guilty if you subscribe to the division being created in this country, and even more so if you are the one tweeting it.

This has also infected all levels of society, and while the political scholar in me finds it fascinating, it is incredibly disheartening. What has happened in national politics with leaders tapping into unrest and anger has happened-is happening-on the state and local level. I should know. The base of support for politicians is what ultimately shapes the institutions we say are in need of reforming (geesh, if we really are saying that at all). Bluntly: corrupted people who vote for corrupt people result in corrupt institutions. I don't care what letter is in front of your name at the ballot box (or what letter your name begins with).

Anger stems from a perceived attack against one's well-being or ideals. The more you are being told that you are a victim of these attacks, the angrier you will become. Conservatives and evangelicals (I am both) are constantly told  by religious and political leaders and media that their values are under attack. They who know exactly how to craft it in a way to garner votes, dollars, or an audience. The remarkable, maybe prophetic aspect is seeing cult-like devotion take precedence over wisdom and Biblical values.

I began posting/commenting over the growing rage in our society about 10 years ago and how it must be addressed in churches. It feels like the fuse to the powder keg is rapidly growing shorter. I accept responsibility for what institutions I can influence with my vote, for what dialogue is had, or should be had, in-person and through social media. But I square the responsibility for real change, from the heart, on our religious leaders. They cannot mince words or scratch itching ears. As I posted earlier, America is in need of a prophet. Religious leaders who are part of the problem, who stoke division, have yielded themselves to political leaders for influence, are leading the flock away from truth and are by definition false prophets. It's time to remove the god of politics from church altars and hearts.

Maybe the institution in need of reformation is the church itself. God help us, but maybe the call for justice must be against the church in America. So goes the church, so goes America, and it's not going so well right now.

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