Monday, April 27, 2015
A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO THE BALTIMORE PROTESTS
I just finished reading an excellent book called Moral Dilemmas by the late Kerby Anderson. The last chapter dealt with the topic of civil disobedience as it applies to the believer. As I read through that chapter, I saw much wisdom in Mr. Anderson's handling of the topic. Upon finishing the book Sunday morning, I discovered that there had been a riot in Baltimore MD the previous night. I began to ponder the situations and tensions that led to Saturday night's disturbance in the light of the Word of God.
The riot Saturday night in Baltimore was undoubtedly fed by racial tension and strife. Black protesters erupted into violence and mayhem, with much of the angst directed toward the police. One reporter detailed how a group of young, angry black men surrounded a car occupied by a white family and began pounding on the car and screaming at the occupants. As the driver of the car attempted to flee, the car was driven, in reverse, into a one way alley and trapped. At this point, the car doors were pulled open and the attackers began reaching into the vehicle, to the abject terror of it's occupants. The way this event was reported, there was no doubt that the journalist, who was an eyewitness to the event, believed it was racially motivated.
The death of Freddie Gray, last Sunday, which while Gray was in police custody, sparked a protest that quickly escalated into to violence. Police cars and private businesses were destroyed and one protester threw a garbage can full of fire at Police officers who had been dispatched to quell the uprising.
Though time and space, in this forum, would not allow for an in depth analysis into the root cause of this violent outbreak, (that topic could fill volumes of academic tomes) what is evident is social, economic and spiritual conditions in the inner city are deplorable and the blame for those conditions can be spread around in numerous directions. Bad social policy which has eroded the family structure in the poorest demographics, spineless politicians who have discovered a way to ensure reelection by creating fear and distrust, and community leaders who are more interested in power and wealth than actually lifting people of poverty and setting them on a path towards success. Worst of all is the church's failure to integrate and welcome those who look differently into fellowship. It has been estimated that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America. This is by choice. People choose to worship with those who look the same and have the same socio-economic situation. If the rich worship with the rich, it allows the rich to continue to look at the poor as unworthy. We have an unofficial caste system in the American church where we view some as "untouchable". Likewise, if the poor separate into their own congregations, it reinforces stereotypes such as "1 percenters" which leads to distrust and resentment.
Clearly, social engineering has led to the marginalization of certain segments of society, that this social engineering is the direct result of liberal policies that are emotion driven, rather than fact based. In fact, listening to NPR this week, I heard about a university study in California that is attempting to change voters minds on Gay Marriage. When the canvassers realized that dealing with fact and logic had little or no effect in changing the minds of voters, they resorted to emotional appeals, even using the word "manipulation" in the report. Emotions are powerful and can easily cloud good sense and judgment. As a society, we have been conditioned to "follow your heart" and "do what you feel is right." The only problem with this tactic is that the Bible tells us that the "heart is desperately wicked above all things" and that "there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end leads to destruction". Obviously, our hearts and emotions cannot be trusted, however, a reliance on God and the truth of scripture must dictate our thoughts and behavior.
Can the church make a difference, and is social disobedience ever the answer? Obviously, rioting, such as occurred in Baltimore this weekend, is never acceptable. Is there a time and place for demonstrations, for protests and for disobeying the law? God's word clearly tells us to obey the government authority that is over us, as it is ultimately established by God Himself, for our good. The Bible also demonstrates that when the law of man directly violates God's Law, the Law of God is to be obeyed, as evidenced in the story of Daniel and the lions den, for instance.
There needs to be clear guidelines and establishment of pure motives when engaging in civil disobedience. Scenes like the one that took place in Baltimore escalated out of control because the objective of justice and change was overcome by repressed anger and resentment and a desire to destroy and steal. There is no train of logic on earth that could possibly justify the destruction of a privately owned business in a protest against police procedures. When arson and looting enter the equation, the goal is no longer one of affecting social change, it is simply a matter of taking advantage of a situation to satisfy base human desires. How can stealing a television lead to better relations between the police and the private citizenry? This behavior cannot be tolerated nor excused, however, understanding the conditions that lead to this behavior is necessary to bring real change.
The first thing we must understand is that man is fallen. People do not naturally behave well. If man were basically good, we would have no need of a justice system as everyone would mostly behave properly and treat each other well. This is certainly not the case. The role of the church to shine the light of God on people, one life at at time, so each person can see for themselves how fallen they are. We cannot legislate morality, but we have an obligation to make laws that protect people from the sin of others. We also have an obligation to share the truth with people that they may have the opportunity to repent and embrace Christ.
It is not the obligation or job of the local church to evangelize the lost or meet the needs of a desperate society, it is the obligation and job of each member of the church to exercise his or her God given gift, that the work of evangelism, discipleship and provision is not neglected. Not all of us are called to the inner city, not all of us are gifted or equipped for evangelism, not all of us are called to give over and above what is outlined in scripture, but some of us are. If each of us is operating in our gifting, we function properly and the work is done. When the giver does not give, the missionary cannot go, when the administrator does not administrate, the organization fails to manifest and work is ineffectual or non existent. Each of us has a specific role to fulfill and a specific place in the body of Christ, each of us relies on the other to do it's part. It is time we stop worrying about our personal wants and comforts and focus on what God has for us to do.
The problems that led to Baltimore and did not manifest overnight, nor can they be fixed in a day, but the focus of the believer in Christ must be on fulfilling his role in the church and in society so change can begin and that change must begin today. NPR demonstrated that facts and logic will lead people to a more conservative and godly view of issues, we have that as a great advantage. We know that the Spirit of God transforms lives through the blood of Christ and we know that people without hope behave desperately. We have fact, logic and hope to offer. We have the hope of Christ and the truth of His word. Find your place in the Body, turn off your TV, put down your video game controller, get rid of the sin that hinders your relationship with God and get busy. I promise you will find fulfillment and peace like you never have before.