It is easy to adopt a religion of opposition, and Southern Baptists made it an art form for decades. Jesus comes to ask a different question. Who and what are we FOR?
Do you remember the good old days of Christian faith, when all you needed to be a Christian was to tell people what you were against?
I once pastored a church that was founded in 1790. Monthly church records show members regularly disciplined for dancing, card-playing, and—my personal favorite—spitting tobacco juice on the church floor!
If you grew up in a Southern Baptist church or youth group, you know this drill all too well.Stay away from rock and roll (KISS was the forbidden fruit in my house), watch out for deceptive dark forces creeping into your heart (Dungeons & Dragons, see “rock and roll” above), do not let the forces of the Devil prevail (child-sacrificing Satan worshippers, out and about on Halloween).
And of course, alcohol/sex/drugs remained standard taboos.
Christianity in the last 50 years has made an art form of being “anti.” We are masterful at defining ourselves by what we are against. And Southern Baptists certainly make significant contributions to this art. Their latest target: Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Intersectionality.
Let me begin by stating that I have an extremely limited understanding of CRT, Critical Theory, and Intersectionality. I am still reading, still listening, still learning on these topics.
Yes, plenty of people are willing to tell me what these are and why they are “wrong” or “contrary to scripture” or, well, whatever. I prefer to do my own research before deciding on that.
Here is the problem: a religion of opposition always requires a new enemy to keep stirring up the base (sound familiar?). The creation of a new “boogeyman”—quite often formed out of straw—becomes the standard. SBC fundamentalists took aim at those who refused to affirm the “inerrant, infallible” Word of God, as they defined it, including ordination of women.
The Convention went on to create a long list of demons over the years: abortion, political liberalism, freemasonry, Disney Corporation, Muslims, homosexuality, socialism.
Now, CRT and Intersectionality get the “privilege” of being the boogeyman to rally the base. Not surprisingly, this culture of opposition keeps alive the Ghost of Racism Past, Present, and Future.
“We stand together on historic Southern Baptist condemnations of racism in any form and we also declare that affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message,” the statement reads.
Translation: “We apologized for this in the 1990s. What more do you want?”
What many black pastors and congregations are rightly pointing out is that a proactive faith is required in order to address deeply rooted issues of sin and reconciliation. Finding the right thing to oppose to appease the “base” is not going to move us closer to a fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Empty apologies without constructive reflection as Christian community imitate the shallow faith of a religion of opposition. Defining faith by which “boogeyman” you can knock down is simple and easy; and much more of a crowd-pleaser than the gut-wrenching, costly grace to which we are called.
In opting for a religion of opposition, we lose the challenging ability to reflect, repent, and reform our actions. And we are left with half-hearted apologies and empty words.
It is symptomatic of a Convention that spent the last 40 years defining itself by what it is against¸ much more than who or what it is for. African American congregations are confronting in the SBC what many of us discovered long ago. When you are always looking for something to oppose, for the force that is causing all the evil in the world, then you do not have a lot of time to look at yourself in the mirror.
The heart of the issue is that Jesus was constantly in trouble for not being “anti” enough for those around Him. He refused to hate the people or things that everyone wanted Him to hate. He chose to be FOR something, to challenge us to a deep cleansing of heart and mind, rather than justifying our shallow finger-pointing and posturing.
Southern Baptists are facing yet another tragic split on the issue of race, a tradition that dates back to 1845. Yet it does not have to be this way. This Advent season, as we prepare for the arrival of the Living Christ, we can choose a faith the is FOR something—a faith of affirmation.
We can be for a Jesus comes as an advocate for people and not as an opponent of those that we do not like or who make us uncomfortable.
We can affirm that the arrival of a savior who shows us the truth about OURSELVES rather than created enemies; and then gives us overwhelming grace to deal with that truth.
We can be for those who are poor—in spirit, in status, in circumstances–.
We can affirm a Jesus that comes to life upthose who have been oppressed.
We can affirm that Jesus did not come to join those who exercised power and control over others. He came to stand with those whose spirits were bewildered by the exercise of power and control.
We can affirm that Jesus came to HEAR the voices of those who were traditionally ignored.
We can affirm that Jesus loved human beings more than he did religious regulations and platitudes.
We can affirm that Jesus spent his time lifting the hearts of those crushed by the letter of the law, rather than allowing the lawmakers to ignore the needs of people.
We can affirm that Jesus came to walk with us, for as long and as far as necessary, to find a path to hope and reconciliation. There is no point where Christ says, “That’s as far as I am willing to go for you.” Nor should there be such a point for us.
The problems in the SBC are emblematic of an issue that prevails within the nooks and crannies of American Christianity. We cannot justly claim to love the people that Jesus loves if we cannot listen to what they are telling us that they need. We cannot claim moral high ground by simply opposing the “right” things.
The Advent of the Christ child calls on us to move beyond a religion of opposition to a Jesus of affirmation. We love the language of peace, unity, and joy that Christmastime brings to us, and we need that language in a powerful way as we cling to the hope that 2020 is mercifully going to come to an end (and not a moment too soon).
But the lessons of 2020 will linger, and language is not enough to address them. Christmas has always beckoned us to recognize the needs of others and stand with the vulnerable. It always calls us to be for Christ-centered action on their behalf.
Christmas is not merely about our comfort. It is about the challenge to see the world in a completely new and different light. The Living Christ opens our hearts to hear how we need to learn from and love one another. It is time that we listen to our African American community rather than covering our ears when we do not want to hear.
Let us worship the child in a manger this Christmas with a faith that affirms one another and listens to the cry of our sisters and brothers—no matter how much disruption or discomfort it may cause.