One of my favorite parts of the weekly worship service is what is commonly known as the passing of the peace. This is the part of the service where many of us regress inwardly to the spiritual state of a 3-year-old, groaning inside with an attitude of, “Awww, do I have to?” But second to the coming to the Lord’s Table together, this portion of the worship service serves as a deep comfort to my soul. Why? Because it is a physical act which is based on a deeply spiritual reality: Christians have been definitively reconciled to each other through Christ.
Whenever I have the privilege of leading this portion of the worship service, I will often say something along the lines of, “God has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and he has also reconciled us to one another. So, let’s take a moment to greet one another with the peace of Christ…” Some weeks those words feel hollow, and I’m sure they can feel fake to those who hear them. After all, while we might know intellectually that we are supposed to be reconciled to one another, our lived experience is often entirely different. Marriages and friendships within the church are strained; the challenges of the week cause us to distance ourselves from other church members; despite attending a church with others for years, we’ve hardly put forth the effort to get to know them.
Reconciled? Yeah right. How is this bitter, distant, conflicted group of people reconciled? Continue Reading
I sat in his office as a young 24-year-old man, eager to have an opportunity to start full-time ministry. Having worked part-time as a children’s director in this mega church (while still working full-time as a software developer), I was now being offered the chance to interview for a full-time position leading men’s ministry. I was excited that this opportunity had been set before me in the same church where I had come to faith and was now serving on staff. I had also recently been accepted into seminary, so I was sure that this was going to be my path toward ordained pastoral ministry.
The pastor looked me up and down, and then began to silently read over my resume. He stopped almost right away. “You’re going to Reformed Theological Seminary? So you’re telling me you’re a Calvinist?” I had tried to prepare myself in case the conversation went this way. But I’d only been a Christian at this point for 2 years, a Calvinist for not even a full year. I hardly knew what Reformed really meant. I also knew that this church did not view Calvinism and the doctrines of grace positively.
“Yes,” I nervously answered, “I do believe in the doctrines of grace.” What followed after my statement was a nightmare which took me several months to recover from. We never actually got to the interview – for two hours this pastor berated me and tried to engage me in debate over Calvinism. He made accusations against me simply because of his associations with Calvinism.
I had no clue how to respond. He outclassed me in every sense of the word. He had been a pastor for years; I had hardly been a Christian for very long. He was a sharp communicator; I had barely begun to hone my communication skills. He was older; I was younger. He had position; my part-time position was now at stake. He had formal theological training; I’d read maybe a dozen theology books on my own.
When the conversation ended this pastor looked at me and said, “You have no future at this church.” I was crushed. It wasn’t until recently that I was able to look at this experience and call it for what it was: spiritual and theological abuse. Continue Reading
In the late 19th and early 20th century, local governments across the country made explicit attempts to isolate white and black residents in their communities. One of the first cities to do so was Baltimore, MD. In 1910 the city adopted an ordinance which prohibited African Americans from buying homes in neighborhoods with a majority of white residents (and vice versa). The lawyer who drafted this ordinance was named Milton Dashiel, and he explained the intention behind this ordinance:
Ordinarily, the negro loves to gather to himself, for he is very gregarious and sociable in his nature. But those who have risen somewhat above their fellows appear to have an intense desire to leave them behind, to disown them, as it were, and get as close to the company of white people as circumstances will permit them.
The purpose of this segregation ordinance, he said, was to prevent this from happening (Rothstein, 44).
Many cities and local governments across the country adopted similar zoning practices. However, in 1917 the Supreme Court overturned a racial zoning ordinance in Louisville, Kentucky. The case was Buchanan v. Warley, and it was the result of one African American’s attempt to purchase a home that was in a majority white neighborhood. The Court ruled that the racialized zoning practices which prevented this purchase from taking place was unconstitutional. Their decision was based on the Fourteenth Amendment, the purpose of which was to include equal rights for all citizens under the law. Yet the Court was explicit that they did not believe racialized zoning practices violated the rights of African Americans, so much as these practices violated the rights of property owners to sell to whomever they pleased (Rothstein, 45).
Following this ruling, communities and government authorities had to become more creative in enforcing their racialized practices. In other words, racist practices did not go away following the Buchanan ruling, they simply evolved. For example, the government of Richmond, Virginia forbid anyone from moving to a neighborhood where they were ineligible to marry a majority of the citizens in that neighborhood. Since the state of Virginia forbid interracial marriage, Richmond’s new zoning law effectively kept neighborhoods segregated even though this purpose was not explicitly written in the zoning ordinance.
Another city which found clever ways around the Buchanan decision was St. Louis and its suburb of Ferguson in Missouri. Many will remember Ferguson as the place of the tragic death of Michael Brown in 2014 and the many protests which followed. This tragedy brought to national attention the realities of racial tension and divides which are present in communities across the country. But how did Ferguson become so segregated, and how did the tension along racial divides elevate to the heights that it did? Continue Reading
Today is May 6th. If I’m keeping track of time correctly, we are currently in our 7th week in the United States since federal and state authorities began making restrictions for citizens in light of COVID-19. There is no doubt that we are all being affected in deep ways – not just physically or economically, but socially, relationally, and emotionally. It’s hard to fight against emotional fatigue and apathy when you’re not even sure what day it is anymore.
Call me naïve, but I was really hoping that this pandemic would be an enemy that would unite the American people. The divisive rhetoric of our culture, driven almost entirely by political and racial divides, has become too wearisome for me to bear. But as days have become weeks, the pandemic has become another source of contentious divide. I am especially saddened when I see God-fearing Christians using divisive language, promoting politically biased information, or even lashing out at those who disagree with them on what is best for our country.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. These behaviors have become the mold that our culture has made for us. It is far easier to settle into a familiar way of doing things (even if that involves unhelpful or sinful behaviors) than it is to pursue the difficult paths of humility, grace, and kindness.
This cultural mold has given us patterns of convenience. In the history of God’s people, it is not uncommon for us to choose the complacent path of convenience rather than the difficult path of obedience. The Israelites early conquest of the land of Canaan is a great example of this pattern that is worth our time to consider. Continue Reading