It’s Saturday. You know, the day in between Friday and Sunday. It’s the day to go to the park, clean the house/apartment, do laundry, and if you’re like my mom, it’s the day to take care of all the cooking so you can rest tomorrow.
Saturday is also significant for other reasons. For Christians, it is a day of anxious waiting. It is the day, as John Ortberg has remarked, is the day between a Good Friday that was really bad and Easter Sunday when all that was bad was made right (paraphrase). It is the day in which we set out hearts for anticipation for the transforming redemption of the muck and mire that we have experienced this or any other week. It is the day when we prepare to gather as communities of faith to grieve and lament, rejoice and celebrate.
It is also the day in which most pastors write and/or perfect their sermons.
Which means many are deciding right now if and/or what they will say about the #CharlestonShooting. As one three teaching pastors at a multi-ethnic church, I know this burden of Saturday preparation all too well. So, if I may speak to pastors for a moment:
This is an opportunity for the Western, North American Church to turn the page of history. It is the custom and tradition of many of our churches, diverse or not, to not address issues regarding race from the pulpit. We challenge our congregations to take the gospel to other countries, but not across the street. We want missionaries to go overseas, but we don’t speak about what’s happening across the street. Most historians point to the beginnings of racism in our country occurring when the Portuguese gave a tithe of African Slaves to the church in Virginia in exchange for their support for the Slave Trade. When face with the option of speaking up for the truth or choosing what was personally more advantageous, the church chose themselves rather than obedience to Lord. That tradition has sadly continued in most places around the U.S. from 1619 right up until today.
I am asking and praying that this tradition would end tomorrow morning—during the most segregated hours of our country.
Whether your congregation has responded to the racial tensions in the country previously or not—that does not matter now. As Aslan said to Lucy in Prince Caspian, “I cannot tell you what would have happened; I can only tell you what will.” The time is before you now to pastor congregations prophetically like never before. Racism has not only been in the country, it has now—again—reared its ugly head in the church. When Jesus encountered an evil spirit in the Synagogue in Mark 1, He was not silent. He did not ignore it. He addressed it publicly and removed it from His presence.
That is our task Sunday.
We must speak about the Charleston Shooting. For the sake of the gospel, for the sake of our congregations, for the sake of our immortal souls, for the sake of this generation. The world, yet again, is watching and waiting for our response. Whether it is the topic, a point, a sub-point, or a prayer request in your congregation, I urge you to say something. I submit all of our churches are in different places and different degrees of response are warranted. But no response is unacceptable.
Mark Atteberry stated, in The Ten Dumbest Things Christians Do, one of the greatest hindrances to our faith is that we accept the unacceptable. He quotes Ryan Dobson, who said, “Tolerance is the virtue of those who believe in nothing.” If we tolerate some things it is because we truly do not believe, but if we truly believe, then there ought to be some things we simply do not tolerate. Remember, silence destroys cross-cultural trust. Men and women of various ethnic backgrounds will be listening to see we if say anything tomorrow. Our silence will demonstrate to them whether the tragedy in Charleston is important to God, His kingdom, and our churches. Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter-McNeil is right: Silence is violence.
Demonstrate the integrity of the sacred place to which we have been called.
To all Christians reading this:
Go to church tomorrow. Scriptures tell us we can “throw off everything that hinders” and everything that entangles us when we are together with “the cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). We must pray for protection as we go to church and the protection of our spiritual leaders at church. Let’s not let this incident rob of us of the protection and safety we normally feel when entering the house of the Lord.
Tomorrow, I urge you to listen to your spiritual leaders as they address Charleston. Listen like a “Berean” (Acts 17:11) to see what is being said is true. The terrible tragedy of the Charleston Shooting is not a simple matter of mental illness or more gun control legislation.
It is racism in one of its ugliest forms.
Listen for wisdom and instruction from your spiritual leaders as we seek to confess our sin, ask for forgiveness, and seek healing from the Lord for our land.
If pastors tomorrow do not address this tomorrow, I urge you to publicly:
- Ask why silence was chosen over this issue.
- Walk out—after stating your unfulfilled expectations for wanting to hear a response to Charleston.
- Gather friends and family to pray about this issue yourselves.
- Send an encouraging word of prayer to the families of the victims (there are several of social media outlets set up including Facebook and Twitter).
Dr. King said, “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over.” Now is that time.
We can longer assume that the natural ebbs and flows of time will lead to change. Historically, this has never been true. Change, confrontations and the defeat of the Goliaths that threaten our churches and families, have always come from men and women who were willing to take a public stand when others were afraid or silent.
The Goliath of racism has bullied us long enough.
Now is the time.
We must respond together as the church of Jesus.
“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” – Esther 4:14
Speak up tomorrow.
I know I will.
Sean M. Watkins