Responding to Evil Today
By Superintendent Mark Adams | August 23, 2017
The events we have seen not only in Charlottesville but in many towns and cities in our country lately have come as a shock to many of us, especially for those of us who are placed in positions of comfort and power by our economic status, our ethnicity, and/or our gender. While some of us knew that violent hate and racism were still alive and well in America, others of us thought that white supremacist rallies were a thing of the past; an evil already conquered with only a few small pockets left. Now we know better.
As Christians, we cannot turn away from these events and truth that they reveal about the state of our country and of our culture. If we have answered Jesus’ call to follow him and let him make us more like himself, then we are going to have to do some uncomfortable things to live up to his example. We must call evil, hate, and injustice what they are no matter what ethnicity or gender the victims are. Whether we are similar in physical appearance to the aggressors or the victims, we must always stand with the victims as Jesus does in prayer, in word, and in action. No matter how disgusted we are by acts of hatred, we must pray and strive for the salvation of those in the wrong. In each of these, we must rely upon the Holy Spirit to give us enough courage, enough wisdom, and enough selfless love to be Christlike in a torn world.
The following article was written by Superintendent Mark Adams as advice to pastors but, after reading it, I think it applies to all Christians. Please read it with a prayerful heart, listening for God’s message to you spoken through one of your Christians brothers – the same way we listen for God through any sermon. I hope that many of you will share with me what God has said to you after you have done so.
Pastor Luke Jones
5 Ways Pastors Might Respond to Evil Today
8/15/2017 by Mark Adams
How shall we react as Free Methodist pastors and spiritual leaders in the Sierra Pacific Conference when we see what appears to be an increase in racially and politically motivated anger, hatred, and division in our time? Here is what I encourage.
I've personally stood toe to toe with Klansmen as they spat on me and others while they invaded my Jewish community on the north side of Chicago, and with Jewish and Palestinians counter-protestors who threw rocks and bottles at and through me toward the Klansmen. I've intervened with like-minded Christians to protect mosques from angry Americans after 9-11, and have been threatened by Muslims for having led Muslims to faith in Jesus Christ. I have had my church torched while advocating for equal and fair education and bussing along racial lines. I have been rejected by African American partners as an oppressor while advocating for improved educational standards for blacks in local schools, and hated by white partners for advocating and helping to implement fair and scattered housing for minorities in my community. And so on.
My thoughts on this topic are forged by seeking to be faithful to the Bible and Jesus during my experiences leading Christian communities through difficult times. They are incomplete, they are full of errors, they are not the only way to do things. But I thought I would share with you the five most important things I believe we can do as Free Methodists in our conference when national and local tragedy strikes.
1. Do acknowledge the pain and loss of tragedy in our communities.
2. Do call for prayer.
3. Do repudiate evil in every form.
4. Do be courageous.
5. Do overcome evil with good.
Do acknowledge the pain and loss of tragedy in our communities.
"My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within; my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed, because children and infants faint in the streets of the city" (Lam.2.11).
Priests, prophets and Christ himself revealed broken hearts over tragedy, natural calamities, violence and sin. Our prophetic and priestly voice shall not be hidden when we see national or local tragedies strike. When terrorists attack, racists kill, greed bankrupts neighborhoods, people are brutalized, children go missing, fires destroy and floods wash away we do not serve our church or community well by being silent.
Be the voice of compassion when people are hurt. It is not as important that you claim to know how or why or what is to blame. In fact, trying to assign blame is often counterproductive if for no other reason than we are generally ignorant of the full picture.
But when, for example, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan gather, and some (or even one) end up lashing out violently or killing a bystander or counter-protestor, and police officers die in a tragic helicopter crash while trying to provide law enforcement to this scene – acknowledge the pain.
"Our eyes fail from weeping, 32-year-old Heather Heyer was murdered, Lieutenant Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Bates died when their helicopter crashed, 19 peacefully gathered people were injured by the act of terror, and 35 people were injured throughout a rally designed to inflame white supremacy and Nazi pride. People of color, Americans who bled and died fighting fascism, survivors of the holocaust, Ku Klux Klan terror victims and their descendants, Christ followers who understand the value of every human life regardless of color or creed and every decent American citizen is hurt, stunned, and deeply grieved at the terrible incidents which have taken place over this past weekend. We feel tormented, our hearts are poured out on the ground because our people are destroyed in the streets of the city." Acknowledge the pain and loss, and give voice in particular to communities who have likely been most deeply grieved by the tragedy.
Do cry out in prayer.
"Hear us, Lord, and answer us, for we are poor and needy... Lord, listen to our cry for mercy, when we are distressed and call to you ... Arrogant foes are attacking us, O God; ruthless people are trying to kill us, they have no regard for you... Give us a sign of your goodness, that our enemies may see it and be put to shame..." Psalm 86
In the wake of the Charlottesville "Unite the Right" debacle I have heard many Christians ask – "What shall we do?" and quickly follow up with something like, "and it seems prayer circles and singing 'kumbaya' doesn't cut it!"
While prayer alone and communities gathered to acknowledge pain are not sufficiently robust to express all that can be done, action without acknowledgement and prayer is usually rash, ungodly and liable to bring about further tragedy. It is in slowing down long enough to be with those who suffer, to gather as community and recognize a wrong has taken place, justice should be done, victims must find healing, and the path of spirit-infused godliness is the best path forward that real change in our hearts and our communities begin to take root.
The great power of prayer is in the change it brings to the heart of one who prays. We believe that in prayer, as we humble ourselves before God as individuals and communities, seeking out God's voice, truth, compassion, justice and mercy in the face of local and national tragedy, we discover that, if nothing else, our own hearts change. Our perspective changes. Our unrighteous indignation that fanned into raging flame as the result of social media hysteria can be transformed into godly sorrow. Our complicit attitudes and lack of care when a tragedy strikes a people we think in our own heart of hearts maybe even "had it coming" is transformed into compassion. In prayer and meditation on God's Word we begin to see through the eyes of Christ rather than CNN, FOX or Twitter feeds.
Lead in prayer, pastor. Do call prayer circles together, and do sing hymns of triumph and hope in the face of darkness and despair. It is no small thing. Lift before God's mercy the victims. Pray for justice and redemption among perpetrators. Seek strength and courage for first responders, civic and community leaders. Own repentance for your part in the problem. Seek God's mercy in your distress. If not every corner of the world is changed through God's hand as you plead, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done," perhaps change will at least visit your heart and the corner of the world in which you have influence as an ambassador of Jesus Christ.
Actually, changing the world almost always starts in some small corner of it – for ill or good. What, Lord help us, would happen if the only 'prayer circles' were those of inflammatory racist hate and activist flash mobs with pepper spray and swastikas so moved by their cause that they gather to chant to their own false notions of god and despicable things?
Do repudiate evil in every form.
"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?" Matthew 23:33
Name calling and blamecasting are rarely productive venues for anyone, and often unbecoming of a spirit leader. Usually, in fact. I among those who believe it is truly better to be understood for what you for than who you are against. Sometimes, though, things are so clearly vile and wicked that not to say so may lead to a silent affirmation of that very evil. This is particularly true when a vile or wicked thing is normalized or on the verge of such in our community or culture.
"Unite the Right" for example is a phrase that seems innocuous, even friendly. Who doesn't want to be "right" – it sure beats being wrong! And isn't unity a good thing? It should be a no brainer for Christians who embrace the biblical truth that there is, "no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or feel, but Christ is all and is in all" – all people are made by God, should be cherished as such, and certainly in Christ are united as such. Therefore, when public figures gather to marginalized others who breath the same air, and worse – call for brutal use of force, murder and genocide – how can modern followers of Jesus not cry out – "You brood of vipers!"
It is not courageous or difficult in American today or in any of our churches (at least not any of our Free Methodist Churches) to repudiate the Ku Klux Klan or the Nation of Islam for their extremist, racist views. That's "low hanging justice fruit." But make no mistake, you should call out these extremist views as absolutely unacceptable in any of our churches. Make clear the bright line between just and unjust.
It is an American right under the constitution to protect free speech and give dissenting voices access to public spaces. Even "hate speech" is protected under the constitution because the constitution will not violate the right of anyone to hold their personal beliefs and ideologies. Actions and ideology do not share the same constitutional protections. That is to say, I can advocate in a public park that purple people are superior to green people and green people should be rounded up and beaten for believing what they believe – that's protected speech. I cannot however beat green people up, that's assault and a criminal offense. Nor can I incite a riot and arm friends who share my anti-green point of view – that is the original constitutional intent behind the phrase 'clear and present danger' and merits immediate police action to apprehend the instigators.
However, the church (while protected by the US Constitution to hold its beliefs and share them with others) is not required to give equal voice to dissenting points of view among its leaders. That is to say, it is the expectation that Free Methodist leaders in the Sierra Pacific Conference will not tolerate calls to violence, open racism, demeaning of other human beings, promotion of discrimination by anyone anywhere. It is not who we are. We have the responsibility under God to share the good news of Christ and the extraordinary point of view of "malice towards none, charity towards all" (a phrase coined by Abraham Lincoln harkening to 1 Corinthians 13).
Preach against racism and injustice, excesses and greed, lies and deceitfulness, misogyny and infidelity, gluttony and sloth. Call evil, evil. Point to its remedy, the cross of Jesus and a life full of the Spirit of God. Live that remedy out. When you see a national evil rear its ugly head, don't be afraid to call it what it is, lest we run the risk of normalizing that evil and accepting greed, divorce, gluttony, racism and lying. Of course, this also proves we ought to most fervently preach Christ as it becomes quickly evident that there is much we the church must repent from, and much we the church need God's forgiveness to cover and Spirit to change.
Do be courageous.
"Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Do everything in love." 1 Corinthians 16:13,14
The divides in our national psyche seem to be growing. Politics are ugly, left hates right, right hates left, and the multicultural stew which comprises the USA is increasingly segmented into subgroups of victimized self-interest. Almost anything a preacher can say will be taken the wrong way and misunderstood, possibly then shared on Facebook and Twitter-fed to friends of friends as evidence of lack of love, lack of tolerance, lack of understanding, lack of compassion or too much of all the above for the 'wrong' groups and the 'wrong' people. Most spiritual leaders I know are feeling a bit gun-shy not knowing how their spoken Christ-centered convictions might come across, possibly dividing their own leadership teams or churches.
But really, don't fear people. Fear God. Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Jesus, Paul – all treated terribly for preaching and living out the truth of godly conviction, and all changed the world for it. Saint Francis, Martin Luther, John Wycliff, John Wesley, Martin Luther King, Jr. – you? The call, the consequences and the courage required haven't changed.
Reflect deeply, pray as if your life depends upon it, do your homework and then make known the Word of God as it must speak to the realities of today. Unequivocally denounce racism in your church, support the intentional inclusion of and aid to immigrants in your church, and advocate for fair and just laws and you may force a few people who have silently held in their heart animosity toward Hispanics (for example) to get mad and accuse you of being a "leftist" or being politically motivated. It is a small price to pay – an angry faction of immature Christians in your midst – to have biblical integrity on a matter of great importance in our time.
Courage and being a jerk of course are not the same thing. Spouting opinions grounded in party politics is not the same thing as a reflective, biblical world-view challenging the reactive, 24-hour news-cycle-infused mindsets that tend to populate our pews (and everywhere). In fact, and I stress this, refuse to be 'courageous' if you are merely speaking out of emotional indignation flowing from a current stressor without having sifted your thoughts through the law, prophets and gospel first. That would in all likelihood merely add fuel to Satan's fire of outrage being perpetrated upon an unsuspecting population that hasn't yet learned that we fight not against flesh and blood but principalities and powers.
That's just a word for preaching truth.
When you begin to act on just convictions, your spine must grow stiffer yet.
I disagree with many of my fellow Christ-followers that public gatherings and protests are meaningless and fan the flames of dissention. Most who say such things are relatively comfortable and in places of some privilege or power. Other than troubling news cycles, life is just fine. But if you are a person of color, with a long history of being physically detained, refused access to basic public amenities much less jobs, brutalized by authority, or have grandparents that saw their parents and siblings hauled away as garbage to be incinerated in concentration camps and are the butt of jokes on the basis of your current skin color, gender, etc., the causes have a greater sense of urgency. The powerful and privileged rarely voluntarily give up power and privilege to grant others access to the same power and privilege.
Personally, I have found several incidents in which by my being at a "justice" demonstration, along with other like-minded Christians who are in fact motivated out of love not anger, have literally been the difference between a "peaceful" event and an all-out brawl. But it takes a few deep breaths to hear racial anger, feel the spit, get pelted, and pushed, and respond with a calm smile, simple song, an outward prayer and to allow the peace of Christ which transcends understanding to be a "peacemaker" taking a stand in a peaceful manner to oppose injustice or even calm a crowd. Likewise, I have seen that lawmakers, particularly local lawmakers, really do pay attention and really do respond when city hall has a sufficient number of voices pointing out a clear injustice.
I have also found that in the midst of people behaving badly, sometimes all that it takes to turn the tide is for one calm but confident voice to challenge the misbehavior. Granted, I am a white male, and I have never feared the retribution of the KKK or being lynched while advocating for fair housing, fair education, and fair immigration. Regardless, stepping into harms way, potential danger, for the sake of the gospel is actually the heart of the gospel, is it not? "Pick up the cross!"
But again, your courage must always be motivated and tempered by love.
Do overcome evil with good.
"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:21
Responding to the evil and chaos of the day with more evil and chaos is, well, evil and chaotic. Instead, focus on simply living out Jesus wherever you go, insist on this with the congregations you lead. When you acknowledge pain and loss during times of tragedy, reflect through Scripture and prayer individually and corporately on a godly response to a particular threat, call out and challenge evil, and act courageously to stem the tide of encroaching wrong, you will find that you grow in your faith significantly, as will the respect of others for you and the cause of Christ.
Yet, with the world and its troubling issues in mind, the bulk of our call will always to be simply to live daily live a life of love, respect, doing good, helping others, sharing God's forgiveness and hope.
When you find a "racist", for example, or anyone that vexes you (you vex that person too, no doubt!) in a one-on-one situation, take the opportunity to listen and explore what areas of pain and hurt they may be experiencing, and acknowledge that pain, offering real grace and hope in Jesus. Jesus transforms. Live on less so you can help more people in need. Invest your life on mission with a group of like-minded Christians to spend time with confused, hurting people who may have lost hope in government (which is not our great hope as Christ followers) or even the church (which has become irrelevant or even hurtful to many people). You can bridge the gap of despair by simply and intentionally being a caring individual who, as a Christ follower, goes out of your way to engage positively in the lives of other people.
You might discover that a life full of love for Jesus, helping people, pointing the lost toward salvation, and practicing respect and love for everyone, refusing to buy into an 'us versus them' mentality leaves very little time to feel grumpy, out-of-touch, angry, sad, and apathetic with not much more to do than grouse about being treated unfairly, being misunderstood, or being ignored. You will find that you have been caught up in seeking to please an audience of one – Jesus Christ. And in this, you will find a joyful heart regardless of the challenges that cross-carrying may bring.
And along the way, you and millions of other Christians around the world who have put Jesus first and live love as a priority, are in fact, slowly but surely, and in the face of great opposition, overcoming evil with good.