Do you know who confessed that, “Pure Americanism can only be secured by confidence in the fact that the Cross of Jesus Christ is the wisest and strongest force in existence.”? Does that sentiment sound right and good to you? It comes straight from a Ku Klux Klan Newspaper. Have we wrestled with the fact that the KKK professed the gospel of Jesus WHILE intimidating, terrorizing, and lynching Black people? Have we considered that we could be “just preaching the gospel” while also causing and perpetuating harm, whether that’s our intent or not?
My point is not that we should no longer believe or proclaim that Jesus is the way because His gospel of love, inclusion, grace, inherent dignity, and remade humanity has been co-opted by sinful men and women. My point is that we can “just preach the gospel,” AND ENTIRELY MISS AND EVEN STAND IN OPPOSITION TO THE HEART OF GOD. Not only can we, the white evangelical church HAS, all throughout our history. We “just preach the gospel,” and convince ourselves that nothing matters besides people’s souls. Friends, that is not all that matters to God. – Kathryn Mouchette on Facebook
My friend Kathryn Mouchette raises an excellent point I think. I have heard similar points put in a less nuanced way by others – that we can’t just proclaim Christ crucified while simultaneously burying our proverbial head in the sand while historic events and sweeping injustices are washing over us. In a way I am in complete agreement.
White Privilege Negates the Gospel?
I attended a small study group recently organized by me friend Father Nathaniel Kidd, where we are going through a book called “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” by James Cohn. One of the members of the group said something to this effect, that if our understanding of the gospel means that prejudice and white privilege are perpetuated, then it isn’t the gospel at all. I take very great issue with this perspective. Racial prejudices are going to perpetuate no matter what, and the only remedy is the gospel of Christ. You can’t pit societal problems against the cross and so refuse grace to the people who badly need it as the solution to the problem.
I am a Racist
All of us are sinners, and this includes an inbred propensity towards prejudice and racism. We’re each going to favor people in our own group and look with a jaundiced eye towards people outside of our own group. And these groups are going to be defined by very arbitrary and poorly defined criteria that are terribly hurtful in the end. It’s part of being human and fallen and sinful. I think if we come to the public table of discourse saying “I’m not racist, I hate racism, I hate white privilege. People ought not be that way. I’m better than those people,” then we come with lies and hidden evil. That is the mindset of the people in 1 John 1:6-10 who walk in the darkness and pretend at holiness. Everyone knows it is all lies and darkness.
6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and [yet] walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1Jo 1:6-10 NASB)
One might say that we are still making insider and outsider groups here. However, based on scripture, I maintain that it is better to come confessing the truth: I may hate it about myself, but I am a mess of sin and lies and prejudice and racism and I don’t know how to escape it. I am the wretched man in Romans 7:24! But the way to forgiveness and fellowship and cleansing doesn’t come through the proclamation of the law that racism is evil alone. This law must become a tutor that leads us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). The righteous law which says racism and prejudice are horrible serves rightly to condemn and shuts down any hope of the approach of fellowship. And so, not only does our prejudice and racism isolate us, but the correct and righteous judgment for our prejudice and racism expands the divide even more. I agree with the law I can’t perform, Romans 7:22-23. Any honest person will see the danger and shy away from the slightest attempt at fellowship. That leaves only liars to come and pretend to dialog based on a public veneer of “woke” anti-racism, which ends up being even more racist than before.
Marginalizing the Cross
So this tendency to marginalize the cross, since there is public evil afoot, is the wrong impulse. Besides the gospel, the only thing left to us is judgment and division. We have no answer for evil and suffering except for the cross. The cross says that God Himself has suffered injustice and racial prejudice. The cross says that God condemns my sin while simultaneously proclaiming love for me. The cross says that God also condemns YOUR sin while simultaneously proclaiming love for you! The cross of Christ proclaims compassion for the guilty and the suffering that the guilty have harmed. The cross of Christ is the only healing balm that can bring two groups back together.
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both [groups into] one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, [which is] the Law of commandments [contained] in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, [thus] establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. (Eph 2:13-16 NASB)
The Holy Catholic Church
This is why there is no “white church” or “black church”. There is only the one holy catholic church, the gathering of all believers under the simple rubric that Christ has died for our sins. There is no Christian response to anything, and certainly not the current racial tension, except for the cross of Christ. It is not ivory tower theology, divorced from the present reality of suffering and evil in the world. This is the message that says God came down and grappled with humanity in its sin and prejudice and evil, and suffered the same things experientially. My belief says that I agree with God’s hot wrath against this evil. We have no other response as Christians than the cross of Christ. It must never be marginalized or set aside as if there are other more relevant answers.
The reason this is so important, is that if I am going to come and attempt fellowship with someone, I must come confessing. And I need to know that there is going to be a believing ear on the other side of that confession – that there will be someone there who can receive my confession with faith that the evil is judged while the sinner is forgiven in Christ. Then I will know we can have fellowship. And I need to be able to listen with the ears of faith as well.
KKK and the Cross
I want to answer Kathryn’s point now about the KKK’s preaching of the cross. She’s absolutely right about how evil this is. Suppose someone uses money to hire a prostitute or a hit man. Does this make all money evil? I use money to buy Bibles and gardening tools. If something is wielded wrongly, it does not mean the thing is evil. It means the wielder is evil. I think this is Kathryn’s ultimate point as well. One wonders what the KKK means when they say “the Cross of Jesus Christ is the wisest and strongest force in existence.” The cross is not about ‘Americanism’ in a white privilege sense. The cross proclaims the wrath of God against evil AND the sacrificial love of God for all of sinful mankind. I will never let the KKK steal the message of the cross from me to use for their own twisted ends. The love and mercy and lavish grace of God is too big for the KKK to control. The gospel is for all of us, it is the crown jewel of the Church. We must maintain Christ’s supremacy above all else.