Protesters & Protestants

I wish every breathing American would go read the Letter From A Birmingham Jail again. The relevance is uncanny.

As I keep reading the arguments about all the looting and marching, I remind myself that I am a Protestant. I come from a tribe of protesters. I have always looked back on the 1950s and wanted to believe that I would have marched. I read about the Underground Railroad and want to believe that I would have joined. That I would have used my voice, and leveraged my influence, and led my church to follow the ministry direction of Jesus himself in Luke 4:18:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the POOR; He has sent me to heal the BROKENHEARTED, to proclaim liberty to the CAPTIVES and recovery of sight to the BLIND, to set at liberty those who are OPPRESSED.

I remember listening to Jack Hayford when I first became a Christian. He was preaching about racism and commented on how slow he was to repent of his prejudice. He just could not see it. He regretted the fact that, although he was following Jesus in the 1950s and 60s, he did not recognize the Civil Rights Movement for what it was: a move of God. If he could go back to his younger self, he would have told him to open his ears and listen to what the Spirit of God was saying to the Church. Of course there were obscenities shouted in the marches. Of course a disciple of Jesus should never participate in stealing or violence. Of course the lives of the law enforcement at the rallies were valued by God. But he was so distracted by the constructs of his world that he missed the move of God when it was happening before his eyes. I’ll never forget the tone in his voice as he repented to the black brothers and sisters in the audience.

And here we are in 2020.

I have fielded more than a few questions about why people are marching. Here’s why: I know there are many in law enforcement who see problems, want justice, and are putting their lives at risk every day to bring needed change. But the truth is there’s little they can do. I’ve heard from some insisting that there is no systemic issue to address. I have also heard from others – from chiefs to detectives – who have expressed the desire to reform their departments, but they’re prevented by the structures in place. I’ve heard cops themselves describe the system as immovable, as something many inside the institution want to change, but can’t. The system doesn’t need minor tweaks at local levels. It needs reform at the national level.

Most cops are heroes; don’t judge the entire profession by the few bad apples. And most protesters are peaceful; don’t dismiss their cries because of the fringe lawless criminals. Be wiser than that. Recognize the complexity of the moment in which we live, and respond in the love and kindness of Christ.

If ever we needed a people who knew how to make peace, it’s now. I cannot expect CNN or Fox News to make peace; they are in the business of making a profit. And their profit goes up as our peace goes down – that’s how they sell more cars during commercial breaks.

Yet Jesus speaks to our age. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”

We really must stop telling the oppressed, abused, and afflicted that they are disrupting the peace. Don’t tell the whistle-blowing abuse victim that they are ruining the peace for the rest of the family. I am begging us to stop rebuking the brokenhearted when they don’t protest as we would like, and start healing the brokenhearted in the meekness of Jesus. Listen, Jesus can handle our imperfect protests. Jesus is patient with my slowness in responding to the evils of this world. Jesus has already dealt with the humiliating stain of my sin. But will we weep with those who weep, lift our voice for those who can’t, and work for the freedom of the oppressed? Don’t settle for a false peace. It dishonors the Prince of Peace.

I am begging us not to miss what the Spirit is saying to the Church right now.

This is the worst moment ever to be a pastor and a people pleaser. I promise you I am not looking for a fight and I am not just trying to stir a pot. My email inbox is currently loaded with disgruntled people on the right (who feel like I’m just trying to please the left) and people on the left (who feel like I’m trying to cater to the power brokers on the right). I cry out for justice for one reason: Jesus is Lord.

He is the King. He calls the shots. He makes the rules. He has the throne. And He is on the move. I’m asking you to stop channeling your inner Rush Limbaugh, Chrissy Tiegen, Donald Trump, Shaun King, Malcolm X, Ronald Reagan or whoever else you follow, and go channel your inner Jesus. Not white Jesus. Not tame Jesus. Not American Jesus. Not predictable Jesus. Not liberal Jesus. Not conservative Jesus. The real Jesus.

If you’re conservative, I’m begging you, please go read the Letter From a Birmingham Jail. Talk about it in a small group or microchurch or at the dinner table. When football season starts and players take a knee, determine to be a peacemaker, listen for their hearts, and act exactly like Jesus. Please give people grace. If you’re a liberal, I’m begging you to put Jesus back in your activism. He is the greatest revolutionary there ever was. Don’t be ashamed of His name. And I’m humbly requesting your patience. I know it’s exhausting. But our superpower is our unity, because it attracts the presence of our King. Please give people grace, it’s one of the only things our world cannot explain. And for all of us, please join me in praying.

May Your kingdom come and Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

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