Where I Sit
Now, it doesn't really matter much what I think of the decision. My opinion is one man's. It doesn't carry any weight and it shouldn't. But, I have one, and like so much of the rest of the country, I'm inclined to share it. Here it is, simply: The decision makes me very nervous.
When I say "very nervous," I mean very nervous. It strikes at the "in-betweenness" of being African-American and "evangelical," "Christian," "conservative" and a host of other labels one might apply. It strikes at a certain inescapable identification with a real history with real triumphs and valleys. Both the triumphs and the valleys are real, and so those who've climbed the peaks and tumbled through the lows are reacquainted with both exhilaration and "the agony of defeat."
And let's face it, "the agony of defeat" is real agony. I've not fought against sin until the point of blood, but I tell ya, when I look at those who have gone before me in the fight (physical, psychological, economic and not just academic) I tend to think they've come closer than anyone else to such striving. So, perhaps I'm nervous because this decision not only conjures that history and striving but it may signal a new era... one in which I'll have to ante up and kick in like a man... and strive. Or more frightening still, an era where mine will be "the little brown girl" whose application reads in red letters "DENIED" because of the color of her skin.
None of us have come so far as to safely conclude that racial or ethnic discrimination lies well behind us... or rather, doesn't lurk in us. That makes me very nervous. Simply put, man is too depraved for anyone to rejoice over this decision as though we may safely assume its application and the reality that follows will without striving be an unparalleled success. Some of us may get what we want and find that leanness has entered our own soul and the soul of the country. So, again, I'm made nervous.
And I think in this decision a tremendous challenge is laid before the Church. As has frequently been said, the church is too often a thermometer rather than a thermostat, measuring and reflecting the temperature of society rather than regulating and setting it. I wonder how the church is reacting to this news? Are my Christian brethren who favor the decision rejoicing inside the halls of the church? Are my Christian brethren who oppose this decision planning their counter-insurgence inside the Sunday school rooms of the church? Are the indifferent aware that this has anything to do with the church?
If it's true that the church often mirrors the wider culture, what can the church expect to see in itself following this decision and the attitudes, actions, policies and implications that result from it?
Might there be more segregation? Will "whites only" and now "blacks only" and "Asians only" signs be posted over the doors of churches?
Might there be more room for "preferring our own" that makes tolerable and even desirable the continued, further, or more entrenched ethnic separation in Christianity?
What of a church's desire to pursue ethnic diversity in its membership and staffing? Will that come to be seen by well-meaning but perhaps more cultural than biblical members as a "bad" thing, impermissible by the rules of society?
How will this affect cooperation between churches? Is there more balkanization to come, as certain ethnic churches construe their missions in more ethnically singular ways?
On June 5, 1910, Dr. Francis J. Grimke delivered a sermon called "Christianity and Race Prejudice." It's a clear, categorical denouncement of the coexistence of race prejudice and Christianity. In it, he makes this observation:
Race prejudice is not the monopoly of the infidel, of the atheist, of the man of the world. It is shared equally by so-called professing Christians. The men who have been most active in promoting Jim-crow car legislation, in bringing about all forms of discrimination, in holding the race up to contempt, in saying the bitterest things against it, have not all been outside of the church: no, many of them have not only been in the church, but have held high places in it. The simple fact is, there is no appreciable difference, in the great majority of cases, in the exhibition of race prejudice, in the treatment that is accorded to people of color, between those who profess to be Christians, and those who make no profession. The fact that they are members of Christian churches, that they are professing Christians, exerts no appreciable influence over them. It is a thing entirely apart from their religion, a thing which does not involve, in the least, to them any religious principle. They do not seem to see any inconsistency between the two things. All the high, and holy principles of the Christian religion, they seem to think, have reference only to, or are in force only when they have dealings with members of their own race. It is surprising how little influence the religion of Jesus Christ has had in controlling the prejudice of men, in lifting them above the low plane upon which race prejudice places them.
I don't know how accurate Grimke's words are for churches today. I suspect that it applies in still too many cases, though much (oh, praise God, so much!) has changed. And yet, I'm nervous because there is something too "the more things change, the more they stay the same" about the recent decision and the state of the church.
I love the church. I love the royal priesthood that Christ bought with His own blood. I love that new humanity comprised of every nation, language, etc. I love that she displays to the heavens the manifold wisdom of God. I love that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, etc.
And, so, I'm made nervous for the Bride of Christ who appears to me too easily satisfied with the world's notion of ethnic progress and and the world's ethnic social rules. I'm nervous for her because already among many of my dearest brethren in Christ there is a palpable fatigue when it comes to these issues. I am nervous we'll take the easy road, the wide path, rather than the narrow and high road leading to the heavenly city and the increasing experience of it in this life. I'm nervous that too many of us will continue to mistake the easy familiarity of shared cultural background with the "natural" way things are meant to be rather than long for the supernatural way things are in Christ.
I'm not afraid... for Christ is victorious in all things, and His church will meet Him spotless with all the righteousness of His perfect sacrifice and life. Yet, this may signal (or be a reminder) to the body of Christ that our witness in this area is needed more than ever. We need to live out the accomplishment and victory of Christ in this area so that the power and hope and righteousness of the Gospel would be seen more clearly by all.
What we need now are not public celebrations or demonstrations originating with the church and Christians, but a public living out of the Gospel across the boundaries of ethnicity, gender and class in such a way as to make our unity in Christ undeniable and attractive. It's a good time to inspect our hearts and our churches.
Will the rule of the U.S. Supreme Court be overturned by the rule of Christ in His Church?
How, now, will we really live?