Religion and Race in America

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A.R. Bernard, Easter Sunday, Christian Cultural Center, NYC.

“Megachurch pastor resigns from Trump’s evangelical council” reads the headline in today’s Washington Post about the resignation of A.R. Bernard. Other council members are staying put for now.

The term ‘evangelical‘ is a hot word for folks like me from what were once called America’s ‘mainline churches“. We understand the gospel differently from our Christian sisters and brothers who claim the term and sit on the President’s evangelical advisory council.

Mainline Protestants were a majority of all Christians in the United States until the mid-20th century, but they now constitute a minority among Protestants. Mainline churches include the so-called Seven Sisters of American Protestantism—the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (not to be confused with Confessional Lutheranism), the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, the American Baptist Churches, the United Church of Christ, and the Disciples of Christ—as well as the Quakers, Reformed Church in America, African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) and other churches. – –  “Mainline Protestant” Wikipedia.

Among the differences between the evangelical churches and the mainline churches is the meaning of euangelion (the Greek New Testament word which translates into English as ‘good news’ or ‘gospel’).

From this writer’s perspective, the Good News/Gospel is the conquering of sin by the power of Love, the victory of love over hate, of compassion over cruelty, of oneness over division, of mercy over viciousness, of reconciliation over racism.

Or, as I have more recently come to think of it, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the counter-narrative to every exceptional or superior claim — national exceptionalism, racial exceptionalism, cultural exceptionalism, gender exceptionalism, species exceptionalism, and — yes — religious exceptionalism.

A.R. Bernard’s decision to leave the the President’s evangelical advisory council in the wake of the news in Charlottesville is worthy of national news coverage. A.R. Bernard’s decision bears witness to the gospel’s counter-narrative.

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President Trump and Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr.

While the members of the President’s evangelical advisory council like Jerry Falwell, Jr. have stayed put, mainline church leaders like Herbert Nelson of the Presbyterian Church (USA) have stepped up with statements that fly beneath the attention of national publicity.

Here’s an excerpt from Herbert Nelson’s word to leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the aftermath of President’s remarks following the white nationalist, white supremacist nightmare in Charlelottesville, “Are we complicit in the racism of the alt-right?” (August 14, 2017) .

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Dr. Herbert Nelson, Stated Clerk, Presbyterian Church (USA)

“Jesus reminds us in the gospel of John, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever” (John 14:15–16).This word advocate comes from the Greek word advocare, which means to “stand beside or stand with.” Its connotation is akin to a lawyer standing beside a client. Jesus is preparing them to live a life in faith without his physical presence, while reminding them that the spiritual presence that guided him will still be with them; will stand beside them; will be an advocate for them. We use the words justice advocacy to explain the power of walking beside the victimized in our society. Racism represents a historic ill and victimization of people of color in this nation. It is a cancer in the soul of our country that can be driven out only by love. This love makes both the believer and nonbeliever uncomfortable, because it causes us to recognize that we can do more when we take our eyes off ourselves and place them on the Almighty.

“White supremacy will not be eradicated until faith leaders become willing to risk their very lives (professional and otherwise) for the sake of the gospel. The Scriptures remind us that “Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33). Our denomination must be willing to lose its life for the sake of eradicating more than 400 years of white supremacy in the United States.

Perhaps today I may be forgiven for taking a little comfort — very little — in being part of a non-exceptional dying church that bears witness to the counter-narrative gospel in spite of itself.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 19, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 thoughts on “Religion and Race in America

  1. Gordon, I loved that. I try not to think about the Presbyterian Church and other Mainline churches dying, but I see it all the time.

    I frequently do not respond to posts from friends on FB that are offensive but usually “unfollow” or “unfriend” them. This week I responded to someone from NJ who was a good friend to me and it was not accepted. Today I responded to someone I haven’t seen for 50 years. Haven’t seen a response from her yet.

    Your post made me think more about myself and my place/role in the church. It reminded me that I am not alone, that thru the church I have fellowship with other Christians, and that thru the church we can all act as Christians without being overcome with fear of what people will think or us OR what will happen to the Presbyterian Church (USA).

    Lots of other thoughts have been stimulated by your post, and I thank you for posting it.

    Cynthia

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The “church” may be dying, and people who love and resist hate surely are congregating—in Boston today they outnumber the haters almost 10 to 1. I struggle with the love EVERYONE part. I find it almost impossible to love the haters. Perhaps if I met, one on one (perhaps after they are in jail….) my heart would be touched by what I imagine must be early lives filled with hate or neglect or hurt. Do you believe they have the potential to love?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Loving the haters is counter intuitive, huh! Despise is too soft a word for what I feel watching the KKK, neo-Nazis, and their like. But white supremacy is a sin not so much of choice as by indoctrination – a state of heart and mind before it is an act. Or so I think.

      Are they capable of love? I think they are if by love is meant connection and compassion. The KKK members “love” each other within the tiny circle of its fellowship and mission. It helps to remember George Wallace who made the kind of turn around that can only be called repentance.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hope you don’t mind. I’m running off some copies of this for discussion at Shepherd of the Hill tomorrow. No, we don’t want to introduce politics into the church. Yes, the evangelicals have done that. I believe it is our obligation and passion as followers of Jesus to make our beliefs known and, more than that, do what we can to propagate them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Mona. The theological tradition of the Presbyterian Church has always sought to engage and influence public life. The good news Jesus preached and embodied (the kingdom/society/reign of God) is by its very nature political (i.e., a message about the polis, the people, the public, the community/society).

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Gordon,Susan has just ordered the latest GCS book. I have one to suggest. “Marked From the Beginning,” Kendi.Jim
    Gordon C. Stewart posted:

    “Megachurch pastor resigns from Trump’s evangelical council” reads the headline in today’s Washington Post about the resignation of A.R. Bernard. Other council members are staying put for now.

    The term ‘evangelical’ is a hot word for folks like me from”

    Liked by 1 person

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