We’ve Missed the Gospel


Another week, another period of racial tension and outrage in the United States.

As I write these words, this report appears at CBS News:

In cities across the country, protesters pounded the pavement to express their heartbreak, fury and frustration over the murders of two unarmed black men, Alton Sterling and Philander Castile, this week. Video footage of both murders, shared widely on the internet, has helped narrow the emotional distance the American public usually feels in police shootings of black Americans.

CBS goes on to report on protests not only in St. Paul, MN and Baton Rouge, LA, where the deaths occurred, but also in New York, Washington D.C., Dallas, and Chicago. Since George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin in February 2012, followed by a number of other incidents of black people being killed by white police officers, it seems as though the U.S. has regressed in terms of race relations.

When you add to that the anger expressed and the political animosity that has been shown toward various groups of immigrants such as Mexicans and Muslims from any number of countries, it appears that citizens in the U.S. are becoming more and more divided over skin color and ethnic and cultural differences.

I am not qualified to make cultural or political commentary about all of this, and I’m not sure one other voice offering analysis at this roiling moment would make much of a sound.

But I do want to suggest something from the standpoint of a Christian who cares about the teaching of the church and the impact it has upon our neighbors and our world.

I think one thing we are seeing in these intractable racial problems is the failure of the American gospel.

At least since the days of George Whitfield and the First Great Awakening, the evangelical “gospel” has been shrinking into an ever more individualistic, soterian shape. Evangelical churches and Christian ministries continue to proclaim this gospel while at the same time lamenting the decline of our culture.

They fail to make any link between the two. That is an utter failure of Christian theology and practice.

Earlier this year, we did some looking at John M.G. Barclay’s magnificent book, Paul and the Gift. Here’s what Barclay says about the good news of God’s grace that Paul proclaimed:

Paul’s theology of grace is not just about an individual’s self-understanding and status before God. It’s also about communities that crossed ethnic, social, and cultural boundaries. This is what made Paul so controversial in his day.

The sharp knife-edge of the gospel is right here, not only in the message of reconciling people to God, but also in the message of reconciling people who don’t like each other and who have erected all kinds of barriers to keep themselves in a state of separation and enmity.

This is not an optional addition to the gospel, nor is it simply an outcome or extension of the gospel. Rather, it belongs to the nature of the gospel itself.

Anyone who says they hold the gospel while holding on to prejudice has no grasp of the New Testament message of good news in Jesus Christ.

If the U.S. has been so influenced by Christianity, if the gospel has so penetrated and permeated our land, if churches who claim to be preaching it are on every street corner, then how can we look at either our history of racial injustice or the present moment of racial inequality, separation, and conflict, and say that we are actually holding and advancing the genuine article?

We’ve missed it. And our brothers and sisters and neighbors are suffering because of it.

89 thoughts on “We’ve Missed the Gospel

  1. Saner Christian voices are rarely heard. And I’m not even sure they’re the majority anymore.

    “Insanity is part of these times — you must learn to EMBRACE THE MADNESS!”
    — Ambassador Londo Mollari, Babylon-5


  2. No, that is wrong. It is not incumbent for black people to smile and say ‘all lives matter.’ If all lives matter then why don’t theirs seem to?


  3. As an American myself, let me say that both of your perspectives are valuable and quite to the point.


  4. FWIW, our church held a quickly organized prayer service this noon. Didn’t see the announcement, so I didn’t make it, but they did do something. Sunday will be interesting.


  5. The gospel according to the Bible: For God so loved the world.
    The gospel according to American Evangelicalism: Jesus love me, this I know.


  6. Klaise, I agree with your points. I hope I can say what I want to say concisely and clearly. It had been our mantra, in my evangelical days, that we were living in the last days. This was illustrated to us by the “moral decay” of our greater (non-Christian) culture. I now, sincerely, believe the world is getting better and better. I came to this conclusion from; 1) a ten-year personal study of western civilization (seeing how horrible things were in the past) and 2) changing my eschatological perspective.

    One of my old friends, now a PCA pastor, made the comment the media doesn’t recognize how such and such (I want to get away from American politics so I won’t use names) is the right man to be president because our culture has drifted so far away from the morality of Biblical Christianity. I made the comment that I think the secular world has drifted in the other—positive—direction; that the millennials are more moral than my generation and even more-so than the general Christian culture now (and that is why they question this politician and the Christians don’t). This created an immediate outrage by those evangelicals who still read my posts.

    However, I pointed out, that I hear the chatter from the 80% of people on my FB, who I know who are considered “liberal,” marginal Christians, or not Christians at all. Then I hear the chatter of the 20% of the evangelicals. It is the 80% that are concerned about social injustices, the planet, fairness and are the humblest (thinking Micah 6:8). It is the 20% that is doing the hate talk and “screw the planet” talk.

    Now, the caveat is the reason the secular culture, in my opinion, has this higher moral ground isn’t because pantheisms (or take your choice) is working but because the Church has been salt, despite its flaws, for the past 2,000 years. They are “collateral benefactors” of the Gospel. Now, the need to help them be full participates and for us to humbly repent.


  7. No, this is not an ‘all sides’ problem. This is something unique to the Right. This is your fault, not ours.


  8. Wow Klaasie, don’t hold back – speak your mind. 🙂 Thank You for your perspective shaped by your circumstances. I’m not American, from outside (Australia), I look at the evangelical church and scratch my head at the symbiotic, perhaps even parasitic relationship with politics, which leaves them unable to take the prophetic stance and call out aberrant behaviour for what it is. Sadly, it would appear they have sold their inheritance for a mess of pottage. We have some church movements here who think the kingdom of God equals having political power, but thankfully they are in the minority and Aussies seem more resistant to this phenomenon. It would seem however, that the church has lost its prophetic voice in the West with a few noble exceptions.


  9. With a Liberty U grad (drone apps degree) on the drone controls and pickle button, “Doing the LOORD’s Work(TM)”.


  10. Ok, here’s my insider-outsider perspective. Insider because I grew up in South Africa. Born in ’74, growing up through the worst years of apartheid, and having my first vote in the first multiracial elections in ’94. But also watching the slow decline of the country from afar (I’m Canadian now).

    Outsider because I am not an American, i have only been in the US thrice (Missouri, Illinois, Utah, Arizona).

    The problem is entrenched racism. Entrenched in culture, entrenched in politics, entrenched in church. I mean, for pete’ sake, You have invented more and more racial categories – “Hispanic” for people whose culture is as much European as your own, and who are largely of European descent already. But no, us and them, us and them. Divide divide divide. Your pastors are too entrenched in culture war shit to call on their political leader to stop the crap.

    The evangelical church has never gone on its knees to beg for forgiveness for segregation and what came before. They have never said Mea Culpa!. We voted for people that oppressed our black brothers, and want to oppress our Hispanic brothers. The church has basically nothing to do with the teachings of one Jesus of Nazareth. It is a stinkin’ club for like minded people where they come to perpetuate their cultural norms. In would be better if 95% of the churches close their doors and encourage their members to abandon their cultural deities.

    Even today, if i look at my Facebook feed, it is pretty good bet that the people who post the most christianese stuff among those who grew up with me in SA, are the same ones to still post racist memes etc. i have to constantly weed out my contact list. Meanwhile the ones most concerned with justice and who do not care about skin colour, are the ones who are barely religious, or who have actively turned their backs on it altogether.

    Yes I am angry. Because even here in Canada, here on the prairies, my kids left the Mennonite dominated school because for one thing, a large amount of the kids continually sprouted hate, even racism. They now go to a city school – with many religions,and atheists, and cultures. And they enjoy the culture of respect, and mutual honour and understanding.

    Christianity in North America is a racial-cultural-political phenomenon ONLY. It has virtually no relation to the ancient origins of the faith. And it is bloody disgusting.


  11. I rarely drop by here anymore, you are correct in what you say. There is a large need of repentance, of turning the other cheek, and simply loving your enemy in the US. I hope some of us decide to do those things.


  12. #NotAllChurches? I’ll take it in the same vein as #NotAllMen.

    Yes, some church communities are doing excellent work in social justice and should be recognized. Plenty of churches that engage in racial reconciliation, advocate for social justice for the poor, etc. But we’re talking about “the church”–an institution of about 118 million regular church attendees in America alone, their leadership, and the beliefs and customs they hold which continue to perpetuate oppression.

    I still see pastors who are afraid to identify and condemn racism from the pulpit, either because they haven’t acknowledged or explored how it exists in the world, or because they’re worried about bumming out the members of their community before they go back to their little boxes made of ticky-tacky (I’m watching the third season of Weeds).

    As a Black man, I still have to deal with weird microaggressions in the churches: the nice lady who wanted to set me up on a date, but didn’t know if I’d be okay with a Black woman; the visiting preacher who manages a homeless shelter and still proclaims “All Lives Matter”; the numerous pastors who refuse to acknowledge that slavery in the Bible was just as horrible and common a practice as it was in the United States; the people who want me to sit on their justice committees, but don’t know why I’m there.

    I have yet to see people challenged on their silence, inaction, and unresolved racism on a regular basis. The message of “racism is wrong,” when it is delivered from the pulpit, leaves its listeners comfortable in the fact that they are all good people who treat everyone the same and don’t have to change to live out a just life according to what God commands. The real gospel, which acknowledges Jesus as Lord and destroys our perceptions of our common humanity, would send a lot of churchgoers packing.

    We’re all good, tithe-paying Christians who raise our hands in prayer, and sing the songs, and listen to sermons with our hands in our laps, and we even have our church-approved “Christian” organizations, but we haven’t dealt with racism, and we haven’t really rooted it out of the church. And so, we–the church catholic–have missed the gospel.


  13. As you know as well as anyone, Chaplain Mike, people have always missed the Gospel. We always will. We Christians just keep trying, one day at a time. Sometimes on a single church level, sometimes on a denomination level, but usually on the level of a few people doing the hard work of living their neighbor today. I try to look, in these hideous situations of the past week, for the helpers, the rescuers, the ones no media camera or mike bothers with except in throwaway lines. I can see in the background in some Dallas pictures the gurneys, the first responders, the ambulances, and I’m sure at this moment there is more than one chaplain with those policemen in the hospital. I have to believe that there are far more good people than bad ones out there.


  14. I don’t like it. It’s a portent of bad things to come. I guess it won’t be long before a police drone is used to kill a suspect, with explosives or something else. Then it will only be a matter of time (sooner rather than later) before domestic law enforcement starts to talk about “collateral damage”. And perhaps a President Trump will be presiding over all of it. We are in the express lane to hell.


  15. I come here a lot to read because it makes me think. I’m fairly young, conservative in many ways but open minded. But I like to be challenged and this blog does it. This post certainly does. Thanks Mike.


  16. HUG, I’ve seen tweet images of Trump dressed like George Washington, holding an American flag aloft, with the caption, “Trump Will Save Us”.



  17. Very easily.

    So can viruses.

    Race, it turns out, is not as social a construct as many would like it to be.

    When it comes to programminng a drone or engineering a virus, alelles are everything.


  18. I had almost the same thoughts. I think the quest for worldly power and a profound failure to love our neighbors (or even to realize who they are) is at the heart of the American Christianity that most people now see. Saner Christian voices are rarely heard. And I’m not even sure they’re the majority anymore. So this is what people know, and see and experience, myself included.

    My other thought is that this has been developing for a long time. Just look at what some of the most prominent voices were saying in the 1980s when the AIDS epidemic started. I often wonder how different the LGBTQ community’s perception of Christianity would be today if many Christian leaders and followers had truly loved our neighbors then instead of jumping on the fear and judgement train. Possibly one could even trace this thread back further to the ’60s civil rights movement, though I can’t say for sure because I was too young and growing up half way around the world at that time.

    It all makes me profoundly sad.


  19. Remember, Liberty U (Jerry Falwell Jr) has a special section and major dealing with Drones.


  20. Actually, the anonimity of the Internet brings out the worst in people.

    It’s called “Net Drunk Syndrome”.

    Or “Instant A-hole, just add Broadband and a pseudonym.”

    Something about being anonymous with a worldwide bully pulpit yet safely out of fist range.


  21. The Drudge Report posting on the subject had over 22,000 comments and counting. All of them were flames with half of them denouncing the other half; I could see a LOT of dancing around the N-word.


  22. The side effect of “Culture War Without End, Amen”?
    (Resemblance to Comrade Trotsky’s Doctrine of Continuous Revolution?)


  23. The events and politics of the last few years, escalating sharply this year, make me wonder whether this is the shape of Michael Spencer’s “coming evangelical collapse.”

    Except I think IMonk envisioned the collapse going down more with a whimper than with a BANG! like this…

    It seems to me that in most people’s minds, “the American church” now = prominent evangelical leaders and what they say and who they support. And that “American Christians” in most people’s minds now = ultra conservative, racist, gay-bashing, immigrant-hating, etc. etc. people.

    Christianity = Hate Group;
    Remember Screwtape’s epistle to Wormwood about redefining words into their “diabolical meanings”?

    I think this was an illustration in “Roaring Lambs” or a similar book, but I remember reading an example of a news item cited in a book about “Christian Leaders Speak Out about Moral Decline” where the “Christian Leaders” in the accompanying photograph were described as “grim-faced older white men in $500 suits”.


  24. An afterthought:

    This Gospel of Personal Salvation and Only Personal Salvation also primes you for the Scriptures of Ayn Rand. For when everything becomes “MY Personal Savior/MY Personal Salvation”, you are already starting down the path to the Utter Selfishness of Rand’s Objectivism. No wonder Ayn Rand became the Fourth Person of the Trinity to a lot of these Christian Right types.


  25. In an age of Extremes, compromise is Treason.

    And the only response is to Double Down and Get More X-Treme.

    It’s an Armageddon response of the Utterly Righteous US against the Utterly Evil THEM, with the rules of Power Struggle in Effect.


  26. I’ve also been seeing Idealized Leader images of Hillary on various media.

    Probably a side effect of Messiah Politics-as-Religion.

    And the flocking of Starry-Eyed Young Idealists marching to the Great Mass Movement Which Will Make Everything Perfect Forevermore (cue unicorns farting rainbows and free ice cream for everybody…)

    Fifty years ago it would have been Marxism-Leninism-Maoism instead of alt-right. And thirty years before that, Fascism. Wartburg Watch has been tracking a similar phenomenon and demographic swing with More-Calvinist-Than-Calvin Calvinism.


  27. “… because we’re so thoroughly contaminated by all the most toxic aspects of American culture.”

    Wasn’t it Huxley who predicted that modern Western civilization would ultimately die of self-loathing. I fear we’re well on our way down that road.


  28. Remember kids, this shooting is just a false flag distracting us from Hillary.

    Says my Facebook timeline.


  29. I’m an offender and needed to “unplug” to keep my sanity. To quote Hal David, what the world needs now is love, sweet love…


  30. Will the police be using robot and drone strikes against suspects from now on? This sets a frightening precedent; I’ve not heard of anything like it before used domestically.


  31. According to an article in the New York Times, the police killed one of the suspects using an explosive delivered by a robot. Can that be right? Robot? Like a drone? Somebody has put us into a very dark dream.


  32. HUG, I’ve seen tweet images of Trump dressed like George Washington, holding an American flag aloft, with the caption, “Trump Will Save Us”. What especially alarms me is how much the alt-right seems to be building and buying into this mythology, because the alt-right is by-and-large composed of very young members.


  33. I for one, and for what it’s worth, will to the best of my ability not to take sides, except the side of humanity. If that means that I have my back put up against the wall, by those who have sorted themselves out into sides, then so be it. The shit is hitting the fan, and it’s past time for me to stand with Christ, though it means going to the cross. Jesus lived and dies and lives again for all human beings, not for sides. The peace of the Lord be with all.


  34. The lid is rattling on the pressure-cooker.

    I hope that somehow that people are managing to listen to each other.

    What’s that line from The Last Unicorn?

    “Listen. Listen. Don’t listen to me. Listen.”


  35. Social media, along with atomic weapons and selfie sticks, is one of the most hideous inventions ever foisted upon creation by the depraved mind of humanity.


  36. Lord have mercy.

    May He grant your mother a peaceful, holy and painless passing into His presence at the appointed time.

    Will light a candle for you Sunday, dear Mule.



  37. “Nothing at all”. Are you sure about that? Or is it that “most churches” can start doing more?

    Of the churches I have spent significant time in over my lifetime (various denominations), I can’t think of 1 that did “nothing”. They have, at the very least, spoken out from the pulpit, and through various ministries.


  38. I would hope (though maybe I’m pipe dreaming here) that the tragedies of the past few days — including both black civilians being killed by police officers and police officers being killed by a black civilian — would serve to cut down on narrow, one-sided thinking on both sides of the issue. I would hope it might help to bolster sentiments that all lives matter — not just black lives or white lives or the lives of those on your side of the political or ideological fence.
    On the other hand, these might turn out to be the opening shots of an all-out racial war in this country. It all depends on how we choose to think, speak, and act.


  39. > It’s pointless


    Ever tried to use social media to actually organize something? Find people, have conversation, and move toward some action? Yeah. It does not work.

    The ‘entry fee’ of the effort of physically showing up somewhere cannot be undervalued.


  40. > do I defriend them all


    > or keep a steady voice of consistent opposition?

    Those type of statements are not invitations to conversation.

    > If this is typical evangelicalism

    it is.

    >then I pray that their collapse will be hastened.

    Every day.


  41. Agree. I think we are too connected, getting each other stirred up with useless posts on a virtual bulletin board.

    “I think this…..”

    “Oh ya? Well I think this….”

    “Really? You’re crazy….”


    It’s pointless


  42. > But I’ve always wondered if anyone filmed all the clean up the next day,
    > and the chess games outside, and …

    You never need to wonder about that; because the answer is “of course not”.


  43. > Many other churches have been doing right however.

    And most churches have been doing nothing at all.


  44. PS Facebook brings out the worst in people.

    Actually, the anonimity of the Internet brings out the worst in people. I can be exhibit ‘A’ at times myself.


  45. There is plenty of that kind of thinking in my neighborhood, among what I have come to to tthink of as the Elvis Acres/Back Forty of the Evangelical Plantation, but the big pulpiteers around here aren’t lining up behind either Trump or Clinton.

    One megachurch pastor had to fend off a divestiture movement because he defended Muslims from the pulpit, another because he prayed for the families of the Pulse Club victims during the services. Both men were retained in their pastorates and the steadier heads prevailed.

    Jesus is in charge of His Church. He’ll clean it up in due time.


  46. I am grateful that right now I attend a church, while has a broad spectrum perspectives of view, is generally gracious, thinking and hopeful. However, via the magic of Facebook, I have re-entered my old evangelical world. I didn’t mean to. I went there to only see photos of my grandsons. But somehow, in the vortex of Zuckerberg’s algorithms, I was found by decades of old, Christian friends. I mostly sit and listen to the chatter, but fall into temptation now and then of speaking out and even “defriending” some. But there something wrong here, within the American evangelical church, and they don’t seem to have the ability to connect the dots, to understand the big picture.

    Here is the chatter I’m hearing, when you read between the lines:

    We are living in the last days, America is going to hell because of the “humanists,” which is a code word for Democrats, gays, anti-gun people, Muslims. (These people have no clue what humanism really means but are only reciting what they are hearing from their pastors, who hear it from Fox News.)

    Donald Trump is our savior

    Black Lives Matters is simply the black community wanting to make themselves as more important than everyone else . . . it has no substance. (The killing of the police officers will prove this to them.)

    All Muslims are evil terrorists and the best way we can deal with them it to not allow them here, keep them in their own countries and then kill them one by one by remote control (drones) so we can keep our godly hands pure.

    When the humanistic, Obama, government tells me that I can’t discriminate against the bad people through my business (those who are not exactly like godly-me, gays, women wearing the hijab, transgenders, people of the African-American culture), then we are becoming less of a Christian country.

    We need more guns in the hands of Americans. This is what Jesus wanted (and I am sure it is why he armed his disciples).

    I constantly ask myself do I defriend them all, or keep a steady voice of consistent opposition? If this is typical evangelicalism, then I pray that their collapse will be hastened.


  47. I see our “Us vs. Them” mentality in America as something akin to an audio feedback loop – where a microphone is a bit too close to a speaker, and a tiny hum gets amplified and echoed back until it’s an ear-splitting shriek. Each of us, individually, can choose whether we’re going to amplify and echo back the hatred, division, and prejudice around us. Our churches can do the same. If enough will people *stop* amplifying it and echoing it back, the feedback will stop growing.

    But, I don’t think that can happen without a lot of soul-searching and gut level renovation of American Christianity, because we’re so thoroughly contaminated by all the most toxic aspects of American culture. We need to look at how our theology and worldviews predispose us toward dividing our worlds into insiders and outsiders and toward distrusting and hating those outsiders. And that means challenging attitudes and assumptions we have that are so deeply seated that we don’t even realize that they’re assumptions and not Gospel truth.


  48. Life is surreal. I went to see the band Garbage play last night, they were a high school favorite and I’d lost touch with them. Between the opening act and the headliner, I checked Twitter: sniper in Dallas. When I left the show, my phone was blowing up with messages from people talking about it.


    Did anyone see the ex-politician’s tweet about “real America” finally standing up and coming after Obama and the liberals?



  49. I’m wondering the same.

    Outside the bubble where “evangelical” and “Christian” are insider words, it’s beginning to feel like invoking the terms only confuses people. I have to begin trying to explain myself, and I’m not sure anyone believes me.

    I’m not sure if I’ve just moved that far off the path [I have changed a lot in the last 10 years], or if it’s all just gotten so hijacked by our tense cultural conversation that there’s no getting the words back.


  50. “My most common question these days is “Did we go B**s**t Crazy or did everybody else?”

    (C) All of the above.


  51. The events and politics of the last few years, escalating sharply this year, make me wonder whether this is the shape of Michael Spencer’s “coming evangelical collapse.”

    It seems to me that in most people’s minds, “the American church” now = prominent evangelical leaders and what they say and who they support. And that “American Christians” in most people’s minds now = ultra conservative, racist, gay-bashing, immigrant-hating, etc. etc. people.

    Yes, many churches and many Christians are not like this. But they are not being heard, for the most part. The image of American Christians and the American church now equals the image of fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals.

    Jesus, his messages, and the way he asks people to live are still out there somewhere, but growing increasingly faint. Maybe this is what the evangelical collapse looks like. I wonder.


  52. *It’s problematic to me that we have a robust conversation about “sin” and “salvation” in many American churches that looks primarily at the individual and doesn’t recognize or articulate well the degree to which we are caught up in systems.

    (sorry: that was going to bug me all day if I didn’t correct it)


  53. P.S. Make that “chapter-and-verse like those who came out of the woodwork after the 2008 elections quoting Atlas Shrugged as Prophecy being Fulfilled”.

    My most common question these days is “Did we go B**s**t Crazy or did everybody else?”


  54. Unfortunately, whoever shot up the Dallas police has just erased the image of that sobbing boy from the awareness of many, who wanted to forget it anyway.

    Does anyone remember a White Supremacist buzzword called “RaHoWa (Race Holy War)”?
    This is starting to sound like a low-grade tit-for-tat version of it.

    No doubt Trump will point to the atrocity in Dallas as another reason why he, with his dictator aspirations, would be the best President, and many will happily believe him

    Remember Trump’s base constituency — disenfranchised, unemployed/underemployed blue-collar white folk who’ve been behind the 8-ball for some time:
    Trump is the Man on the White Horse who WILL Protect Us from Them. Who WILL Keep Us Safe.

    And stuff like Dallas (and this tit-for-tat) is fueling what I call “Self-Defense White Supremacy”, i.e. White Supremacy without the exotic race theory mythology, just a simple “If We don’t Stomp on Them, They’ll Be Stomping on Us” tribalism like Tutsi & Hutu in Rwanda.


  55. I’m wondering when I’m going to run into someone quoting The Turner Diaries chapter-and-verse.

    Because it’s becoming “Them or Us”.


  56. Mule, I’m sorry you are carrying all this, and in my skewed way of seeing things most sorry about your dog. Adding you to the daily list of blessings. Take care, my friend.


  57. At least since the days of George Whitfield and the First Great Awakening, the evangelical “gospel” has been shrinking into an ever more individualistic, soterian shape.

    A Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation.
    Say The Magic Words and get your Individual Fire Insurance Policy (with complementary Rapture Boarding Pass), nothing more. “It’s All Gonna Burn” and “Sell That Fire Insurance!”

    “This World is Not mah home; Ah’m jes’ passin’ thru…”
    <blockquote Evangelical churches and Christian ministries continue to proclaim this gospel while at the same time lamenting the decline of our culture.
    Because in Christianese “decline of our culture” = HOMOSEXUALITY! (and nothing more)


  58. Chaplain Mike, thank you for writing this. It’s problematic to me that we have a robust conversation about “sin” and “salvation” in many American churches that look primarily at the individual and don’t recognize or articulate well the degree to which we are caught up in systems. Who we are and how we “connect to each other” – these are such *large* questions. These are individual and corporate questions, ones that implicate everyone; they are questions of what we do on purpose but just as much about what we do without even thinking or seeing. About who we are – in the sense of ‘who do I actually sit at a table with.’ The degree to which social boundaries – racial lines, economic lines, among others — are consequential and ought to “matter” to the gospel.

    If our religious worlds don’t include all this, they don’t matter to the real world where people work and shop for groceries. If it’s about me and how I feel with my door closed and locked and barricaded, should anyone else care?

    Now I don’t mean that prayer or private things do not matter. But if it *can’t* matter to anything beyond itself, if it is self-enclosed, if nothing can be said from that place, if I don’t emerge more open and more troubled and somewhat more willing to step beyond who I think “I am” and what my interests are, there’s a problem. One would hope that private growth would provide a stable center out of which to be generous and put one’s self aside. One would hope that even being able to think about the world that was is a marker or advantage, proof that there were leftover resources for retreat. I think many agree, yet this hasn’t always been articulated clearly or well. Evangelicalism and a lot of other American Christianities struggle to find appropriate language, especially where the dominant mental image is “personal purity”. And yet important activism as emerged, too. So, it needs to be said more clearly. If it doesn’t, spirituality risks becoming a tool for those who want to prevent important questions and keep people from doing things those who benefit from systems of power find inconvenient.
    I’m struggling with what, specifically, to say in the wake of the news this week. I’m troubled. It feels like a year ago, when Baltimore was writhing.

    I don’t know what the news said about Baltimore, during the aftermath of the Freddy Gray incident. I was living here, in fact I was home that week recovering from surgery, so why go to the national news when I could go down the street? By the time the National News has the information on a volatile situation, it’s old. Twitter was more useful. I could walk to North Avenue. Also, I didn’t want to know what the national news said: I’m guessing the narrative showed lots of people throwing objects and the narrative was, ‘Baltimore is full of thugs.’ I didn’t want to have to listen to it. But I’ve always wondered if anyone filmed all the clean up the next day, and the chess games outside, and …

    But I will say that the weirdest thing about living here was seeing how close we were to all that happened, close enough to see and hear it, and we’d moved to the city expecting to be close – and yet, we both were and were not. My usual paths to work were blocked. And yet, there we were standing, watching the police helicopters, and there was nothing – nothing – happening on my street. The immediate neighborhood, which is mostly white and has recently developed economically and is now regarded as “safe,” and which enjoys having Druid Hill Park as a buffer, was untouched. We were standing on the other side of an invisible line, and it was almost like being in a parallel universe.

    People were calling me to find out if we’re OK, and I’m standing there saying, “Well, actually, my street has birds and crickets on it.”

    We love this place and we’re going to stay (short of some necessity forcing our hand), and yet – how much of that willingness is the personal assurance I have that my neighborhood includes lots of similar people? That if I needed to, that I can ‘cut and run’? If I tried to answer, would I be honest – even with myself?

    I wonder a lot of things.


  59. I said some churches could (and should) change some things about themselves.

    Many other churches have been doing right however.


  60. You can’t really know the way forward until you know how you got off the right path in the first place…


  61. I don’t think this can be pinned on the church, and certainly not as a whole. Some churches are doing a terrific job on these issues.

    Is this an opportunity for the church to take the lead, and perhaps change some things about itself? Certainly. But the current situation is much more complex than that.

    But we live in a broken world, and in a nation that is not as impacted by Christianity as many think it is (at least not in full measure). We can only live out the implications of the gospel. We cannot make people change on our own.

    Let’s not do a blame-game as Christians. Let’s look how to give hope, help, and a way forward.


  62. I have no soft or weak words for you Mule…but I can, and will, join you in prayer and sadness. You are a better man than me in your honesty….you won’t get a ribbon for that, tho..


  63. “This kind cometh not out but by prayer and fasting”

    Is there any ecclesiastical authority calling for a season of prayer, repentance, and fasting? There are brutal, man-killing spirits stalking our land, indeed, the world. It would be so much better if there were a corporate response to this, but I will personally push myself away from the table until Holy Communion on Sunday to beseech mercy on the souls and families of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas policemen as well as their killers.

    Also to pray for the absolute collapse of leadership in the State and the Church.

    Please pray for my family. My mother is dying, I lost my job, my daughter has impacted wisdom teeth, my country has gone crazy, and my dog died,

    But there are 1300 people in intensive care wards throughout this city that would be glad to trade places with me.


  64. Unfortunately, whoever shot up the Dallas police has just erased the image of that sobbing boy from the awareness of many, who wanted to forget it anyway. No doubt Trump will point to the atrocity in Dallas as another reason why he, with his dictator aspirations, would be the best President, and many will happily believe him.

    God have mercy on all the dead and wounded, all the grief-stricken and afflicted, in our never-ending domestic nightmare…


  65. We can continue to pray for the best… but I think we all know that we are facing long-entrenched racial, social and theological prejudices and biases. And all sides have shown a marked tendency to keep doubling down on them.

    We should continue to pray for the best… but we should also read the signs of the times, and prepare for the worst.


  66. the boy’s sobbing ‘I want my Daddy’ will affect this nation, much in the way that the sight of police dogs attacking protestors during the civil rights marches brought our nation to a new awareness of our shared humanity

    I contrast this with the racism of Trump, and I know we will be in a great crisis as a nation if Trump becomes our leader.

    We can’t go back into overt racism under Trump’s leadership..
    We can’t not see today’s images and not respond. And we can not hear that boy’s cries for his dead father without understanding the depth of what is happening to people.
    I think we know this. I hope we know this.


  67. Watching this broke my heart and brought me to tears:

    the grief of the 15 year old son is so painful to witness . . . . . may God have mercy on us all.


  68. And now there are reports of at least three police officers killed in Dallas during a protest Thursday evening, with at least seven other officers wounded. The American church, and the country as a whole, needs to do some serious soul-searching.


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