So last week I put it to you that before you start talking about race and the Gospel, you better first start talking in ways that humanize this issue or else (to be blunt), shut up. The reasons seems pretty self-evident to me, but I'm sure there are some who are still wondering why I would come back from hiatus in order to say such an inflammatory and unkind thing.
This next part should also be part of the "easy part" of this topic and discussion, but it's not at all. In fact, I think that after the problem of being insensitive to the people involved is at least admitted into the discussion, the next impossible error to overcome is the problem of creating enemies. That is: the ability to take a tragedy and to leverage it to make innocent people into contemptible villains is big business in our nation, and we love it.
Here's how I know that's true: both John Stewart and Bill O'Reilly make a lot of money doing it every day. Glenn Beck and Al Sharpton would be utterly unknown and penniless if this were not true. Ann Coulter and Rachael Maddow need each other in a way which borders on criminal conspiracy. But the only reason it's not actually criminal is simple: we pay them to do it for us.
Look: this one doesn't require a lot of unpacking here. It doesn't require you to review the tapes or read the weekly columns -- because you are already doing that. These people are famous because they are polarizing figures who visibly flourish when they are taking their best shots at the other side, and they make tons of money by identifying classes of enemies and calling them out by name. And we love it - we can't get enough of this opportunistic and execrable form of entertainment.
Last week I reminded you that MLK thought that there were 3 barriers to the political freedom of black in America in 1963, and that we ought to consider that today he would likely add a fourth (desensitizing to violence). Today I am saying that if MLK is the gold standard of political thinking here, this sort of villianization of people we disagree with actually violates the final objective of MLK's great dream for America, and it's time we started thinking in terms of the strategic end of this conflict rather than in terms of the tactical and economically-profitable short game which allegedly moves the ball along for our side. Moving the ball out of bounds rather than to the actual goal line isn't strategic: it's sloppy and weak.
But there's a deeper problem with this for those of us who say we are Christians, and that's why I called your attention to W.E.B. DuBois in this space a few weeks ago. The problem is not that we oppose what we perceive to be evil or unjust and say that something is evil or unjust: it is failing to remember that the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. It is failing to remember that our goal is not to destroy our enemies with the weapons of this world, but to destroy their sin and the power of death over them with the Gospel. DuBois, of course, did not really express this the way a white Reformed guy would, but his point is clear: somehow, Black people have a self-perception problem due to the fact that they have a double consciousness -- one which they aspire to, and one which they see as the way the world sees them and treats them. If DuBois were alive today, I wonder which consciousness he would say is winning out?
If you are a Christian, and you do not come to the table with this in mind when discussing this question, maybe you don't really understand what it means to be an ambassador of reconciliation. An ambassador is one who comes with the primary concern of making friends and allies out of people, not enemies. In fact: an ambassador will come to Enemies with the express goal of making peace with them -- even if it turns out that the terms of peace are non-negotiable.
Whatever advice it is you think you have to give here, if you really want it to somehow have the Gospel in it, it has to reproach the power of sin and death in the lives of the people you are speaking to -- but not out of a sense of partisan righteousness, or a belief that somehow we are defending civilization. Reproaching the power of sin and death will certainly make some people see us as enemies. But we need to not see them as our enemies - because they are not our enemies. And we must be certain we are treating others in a way which seeks to defeat the power and effects of sin which they have experienced.
You know: when Stephen the deacon declared the Gospel in Jerusalem, and those men there were offended by the Gospel, his final words to them were not, "I knew you filthy haters would do this eventually. I can't wait to see God take his wrath out on you because you definitely deserve it." He last words were this: "Lord, do not hold their sins against them!"
A few weeks ago, when I posted MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech, you didn't hear him say that anyone who was his enemy deserved death or even infamy: he said specifically that even the worst of his enemies ought to repent for their own good, and that they could be part of a future which was greater than the oppression they carried out in that day.
You had better humanize this issue before you think you want to talk about it, and you had better decide whether or not you're thinking about this the way God does -- because God is not trying to make anyone his enemy.
With that said, next week we will start getting to the items which are not as rudimentary and crude as these have been. It will not be for the faint of heart.