Let’s talk about some history.
On December 31, 1862, New Year’s Eve, thousands of free and escaped slaves gathered in churches across the North (and some in the South) to anxiously await January 1. On Freedom’s Eve, they waited for freedom to come. Then-President Lincoln’s the Emancipation Proclamation was set to go in to effect the next day. On January 1, 1863, freedom came calling. But it was not complete.
Now history tells us it was more than goodwill and benevolence that led to the Emancipation Proclamation. The edict did not take effect in the areas that had not ceded from the Union. However, that is no reason to not celebrate the fusion of hope and freedom that existed that night.
Fast forward 155 years, the American Church has a new reason to wait with hope for tomorrow’s freedom. America’s history is not just about one group or two coming to a new land. It is about many people who found themselves at a crossroads; to come to this continent, some by choice, many by the choices of others, all forced to survive, dream, or perish.
Here and now, the Church, too, has found itself at a crossroads. A reckoning is upon the American Church. Over the last several years, the American Church has been confronted with her hypocrisy and idolatry. Those outside the Church accuse her of betraying her core values and beliefs and the lover of her soul. And they’re not wrong. Pastor Mark Batterson, Lead Pastor at National Community Church has said, “A revival is for the Church. A reformation is for the culture.” A time of revival, for us, and reformation, for the culture, is here.
The American Church, at best, has profited from power and progress at the expense of the poor and downtrodden. The American Church, at worst, has participated in heinous acts of bigotry, callousness, racism, and deceit.
However, the true Church, has an opportunity to rise up now. We have the opportunity to show we actually stand on the side of justice. When we look at the words of the prophets, we see what God says about justice to his people. He says in Amos, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Moses tells the people to not pervert justice for the poor. Isaiah tells us to “seek justice, correct oppression.” Ezekiel tells the people that because they have “oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice,” the Lord poured out his indignation upon the people.
In the Church, we often ask ourselves what these portions of Scripture can teach us in the present day. How do we apply them to our everyday lives? How does our faith translate from the Great Commission, Azusa Street, and beyond? We’re repeating history. We’re doing the same things and allowing the same things to occur as the nations of Israel and Judah did to each other and the nations around it.
In a sermon entitled, “A Knock at Midnight,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause men everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will. But if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace. Men far and near will know the church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travelers at midnight.”
Dr. King did not shy away from speaking to the Church on our history; neither should we on issues of our history and justice.
We see the systemic barriers to justice in our society. Many feel helpless. But we’re not helpless–or hopeless– in this. God would not have held the people responsible for injustice if they were powerless to change it. They, like us, were not incapable of change. We, like them, can make the change every day to strive for reconciliation.
Reconciliation isn’t just a pipe dream. It’s a calling. It’s a calling of the Church. For we have been reconciled to Christ; as Christ reconciled humankind to God, Christ followers are reconcilers of humankind to humankind. This mission we’ve set out on didn’t start last year. Being reconciled is the calling of the Church, just as much as a “men’s ministry” or “children’s ministry.” Standing in the gap is what we’ve been called to do in this broken world, a world that is not our home, but a place that paves the way for the hope that is within us.
From poverty to war to inequality to favoritism and bias, the Church has been distracted from keeping Jesus and his example at the center of all we are, all we do, and all we speak. Is it hard? Yes, but there is no growth without discomfort. There is no freedom without Christ.
As we engage with the contributions of African-American History Month, may we be reminded to exalt all that we are and all that we do to the glory of God above, for nothing that we are and nothing that we do is possible without Him. We speak–and move–and breathe into spaces that can only be changed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. As we grapple with the reckoning upon us, may we be ever mindful of what has happened before us, what is happening now, and what the future itself may hold for reconciliation.
Danielle Blevins is the Strategist at Mission Reconcile. She uses her talents as an attorney and U.S. Supreme Court media analyst. Danielle has been featured on NewsOne Now with Roland Martin on TVOne. Above all, she is a Reconciler. You can find and follow Danielle on Twitter.
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