A Day Late and Dollar Short
to Social Activism
Why has Christianity never undertaken the work of social reconstruction? Walter Rauschenbusch
Theologically, the Social Gospellers sought to operationalize the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:10): "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Wikipedia
Postmillennialists want to see God answer another prayer: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done ON earth, as It IS in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Gary North
As soon as we get this right we destroy at a stroke the disastrous dichotomy that has existed in people’s minds between ‘preaching the gospel’ on the one hand and what used to be called loosely ‘social action’ or ‘social justice’ on the other. Preaching the gospel means announcing Jesus as Lord of the world... N.T. Wright
Rather than waiting passively for the new heavens and the new earth, Christians can pray and work for God's will be to done on earth as it is in heaven; together, today. Orthodox Activism BrochureThe Leadership Development Resource Conference will present "Orthodox Activism: The Church in Pursuit of Social Justice" September 4-6 in St. Louis. The keynote speakers are Dr. Carl Ellis, Mrs. Karen Ellis, Dr. Sean Lucas, and Dr. Thurman Williams.
One of the presenters will be Dr. Mike Higgins, Pastor of South City Church, a multi-racial PCA church in St. Louis. Last week Dr. Higgins published an Open Letter to his congregation and to any other interested persons. I read it at the Reformed African American website. Among the things Dr. Higgins reported to his congregation was his commitment to civil disobedience:
On Monday, August 10th, I participated in a Saint Louis Clergy civil disobedience that involved a march from Christ Church Cathedral downtown to the Tom Eagleton Federal Building. The purpose of this action was to go forward as a show of unity and solidarity, to pray, sing hymns on the steps of the Federal Building and demand that the United States Attorney for Eastern Missouri move forward on the changes that must be made to ensure that all who are sworn to serve and protect will be better equipped to serve and protect people, not systems.
When the federal marshals and STLPD threatened the peaceful crowd with chemical agents, some of us decided on the spot to be dragged, tazed and/or cuffed as a way of distracting (or at least slowing down) that type of dispersal tactic, hoping to prevent many (including children) from being harmed.
This action was announced last Friday night at the conclusion of our First Friday Prayer meeting. Obviously, though the possibility of arrest was discussed at the meeting, my arrest could not have been announced. My hope, along with those of everyone who participated, was that we would not be arrested, but engaged. I believe we were heard, in some small way, but I believe we must keep speaking, keep confronting.
And I will do it all again if the circumstances are ever the same. I would do it again because I am not just doing this for myself. I was out there for my family, for our family. And I was there for everyone else. I hope that something I do keeps the next generation from being raised to become racists without even knowing it.
|Dr. Higgins in Ball Cap|
Brothers and Sisters, this world is broken. Justice in America – and so many places on earth – is not blind. If she were blind, she would not be blindfolded. She can see very clearly. She can see which ethnic group you belong to, how old or young you are, which side of the tracks you live on.
Justice, without the blindfold, can be manipulated by those who claim to exact it; to make you afraid of black people or Hispanic people; to make you dismiss addicts and ex-cons; to prevent us all from embracing equality or extending grace; to prevent us from affirming that we are all made in God’s image.
I think the blindfold was pulled off in this country when, not long ago, white men constructed a phenomenon called Race to make sure that people of color would never be considered equal, based solely on skin tone. Justice needs someone to help her with her blindfold, and we marched this Monday to demand that she retie it.
The Constitution says US citizens are innocent until proven guilty, but as a black man I am treated as if I am guilty and have to prove my innocence. The Church knows this tension -more than anyone. We are a community of people called to love and trust one another, but we remain suspicious, cynical, and judgmental of people who do not fit into the categories we have deemed proper.
Let’s be first to admit this hypocrisy, and turn from it. Let’s run to testify to our communities, and let’s demand that the authorities search themselves for this hypocrisy as well.
We march on, pray on, sing on – because we know The God of righteousness and justice; true justice.
This Justice is neither blind nor blindfolded, it need not be. While justice in America is blindfolded to ensure some artificial security from bias, true Justice sees all our differences, discerns all distinctions, and judges fairly still. This is our future: we will all see, and finally see rightly.The Presbyterian Church in America will be 42 in December of this year. It's interesting to go back and read some of the things that were said to justify the establishment of a new denomination. In their newsletter "Contact" Concerned Presbyterians published a criticism of both the social gospel and civil disobedience:
When Paul came to Corinth, in the early fifties of the first century, he found a city reeking with slavery, oppression, crime, prostitution, social inequities, and poverty. Burdened as he was with this situation, he might have organized demonstrations and sit-in protests. He might even have engineered a program of civil disobedience against the Roman authorities in an effort to remedy the appalling conditions. But he did not. He later said concerning his coming that he was determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. In time, Paul and the other Christian Apostles altered the face of the Roman Empire not by riots, demonstrations, civil disobedience, and the like, but by the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ which alone could free men from the shackles of sin and make them holy and good. (Emphasis added.)In preparation for the founding of the church they published "Reaffirmations of 1973." Confusion about the mission of the church was one indication the PCUS had departed from the faith:
CONCERNING THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH The Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), when first established, declared its mission to be the proclamation of the Gospel throughout the world. Further defining this mission, the Constitution of the PCUS declares that "Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints ... ," "the functions of the Church are to proclaim, to administer and to enforce the law of Christ revealed in Scripture." Today the Assembly, through its boards, agencies and committees has replaced the Church's mandate to be first-of-all missionary and evangelistic, with a primary emphasis on social, economic and political mission. We reaffirm the doctrine of our founding fathers that the primary mission of His Church is given us in the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ. We rededicate ourselves to the task of proclaiming the Gospel throughout all the world and nurturing His chosen ones in the faith. (Emphasis added.)One of the topics to be addressed at the St. Louis Conference is the doctrine of the spirituality of the church:
CONCERNING THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE CHURCH The Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) was organized as a distinctively spiritual communion and our founding fathers emphasized that it was to be kept separate from the State. The Constitution of the PCUS calls upon us as citizens to be obedient to the laws of civil government for Christ's sake, refraining from meddling with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth unless by humble petition in cases extraordinary. Nevertheless. agencies of the General Assembly have deviated from this basic doctrine of the Church, and the Assembly itself has supported civil disobedience. Moreover, said agencies and the Assembly have supported the violation of civil law, have unfairly criticized the foreign policies of the United States, and have endorsed programs designed to incite rebellion against constituted authority. We reaffirm our devotion to the Church as a spiritual institution knowing that the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ is not of this world. We acknowledge our obligation as citizens to obey duly constituted civil authorities, limiting our relationship as a Church to the area of "humble petition'" according to the Scriptures. We rejoice in the religious freedom guaranteed us under the Constitution of the United States of America, and we would support those in lawful authority by our prayers and sympathy. (Emphasis added.)Three comments:
(1) When the PCA next year in Mobile adopts the successor to Dr Ligon Duncan's and Dr. Sean Lucas' resolution calling for repentance because of the PCA's generational and covenantal sins, part of which involve failure to support the Civil Rights Movement, should the statements of the founders (the Reaffirmations were adopted unanimously in February of 1973) be repudiated? Should a statement be made that the founders of the PCA should have joined the Mike Higginses of their day in acts of civil disobedience?
(2) I have said before, and it becomes ever more clear, that the pressure on the PCA regarding matters of social/racial justice comes not primarily from the Bible or the Bible's theological and ethical teaching. The pressure comes from sociological and political progressivism. Now it's just fine to be a progressive if you wish. Political views are like psychology. They're best not dressed with a Biblical suit of proof texts. Just let them be what they are. I am a political conservative. (Actually, I am a political "conservative" acccording to former MS Senatorial candidate Chris McDaniel.) I will discuss why I hold my postions, but I will not try to coerce you to agree by telling you my position is Biblical and yours is not. I'd appreciate it if you'd not say such things to me. You're a Christian who happens to be a progressive. I'm a Christian who's not.
(3) The only Biblical issue I'd raise with Mike Higgins is his civil disobedience. I wonder if his Presbytery will.