Converge Responds: injustice, division and violence

By Scott Ridout & Dr. Harold Lewis  |  President of Converge & VP of Biblical Diversity

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8)

Micah’s Time 
In Micah’s time, Israel was in great turmoil. While the people had endured the ups and downs of good and bad leadership, their apathetic approach to present-day circumstances carried God’s indictment for not living as the people he desired them to be. Micah, like a prosecutor in a courtroom, brings charges against the people of Israel: forsaking the priorities of God, ignoring those who cannot defend themselves and ignoring the least, last, lost and less fortunate of their community. 

Micah points them to how God treated them — how he rescued them from slavery in Egypt, provided for their needs in their wandering, protected them from their enemies and stayed faithful in spite of their infidelity. In the final parts of the book, he reminds us that God will establish a new kingdom where righteousness reigns. But until then, he challenges his people to act justly, show mercy and walk humbly (Micah 6:8) as a reflection of his character as a God who is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love (Micah 7:18-20). 

Our Time
Last week’s news was filled with injustice. Saturday’s massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Pittsburgh area left 11 dead and many more wounded. On Friday, it was announced that the suspected pipe-bomber who sent packages to former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, CNN, and other political and thought leaders was arrested. On Wednesday, a man tried to break into a predominantly black church in Kentucky. When he was unsuccessful, he drove to the local Kroger and killed two African-Americans based solely on the color of their skin.

These stories, though seemingly completely disconnected, are not. All were driven by hate and fear fueled by the ever-increasing divisions we see in our country around race, ethnicity, culture, politics, pride and fear. Divisive rifts are growing in our country as more and more people self-identify around what they are against and ignore the commonalities that could draw us together.  
 
Social media is fast becoming a bastion of hate, emboldening negative talk under the banner of free speech and self-expression. With polls soon-to-be open, political campaigns seem to have reached a new low in the all-out strategy of character assassination of opponents. There seems to be little or no conversation about the issues of everyday life. The media has also done its part, adding to the feeding frenzy with perhaps less-than-fully objective angles on stories that our itching ears want to hear (2 Tm. 4:3).

In this time of manipulative messaging and instant gratification, Christians must turn to the timeless wisdom of God’s word and model the character of Christ.

The events in the synagogue, store and sent mail were not political. They were personal. What was at stake in these events was not a loss of preferences, it was a significant loss of lives. As often as these things happen in our country, it would be easy to grow apathetic. The number of events and casualties are growing. Yet every number has a name and every name has a story.

  • A 69-year-old man buying poster-board for his grandson’s school project.  
  • A 67-year-old woman loading groceries into her car. 
  • An elderly couple, a woman nearing 100 and a widow coming together in a house of worship.
  • A 27-year-old police officer and 40-year-old SWAT officer running into harm’s way to rescue others.
  • And many, many, many more. 

Each one of these people was and is incredibly important to God. They should be important to us.

We pride ourselves as a country for coining terminology for what is going on: 

  • “antisemitism” 
  • “racism”
  • “islamophobia” 
  • “white supremacy” 
  • “mental illness” 
  • “political bias”  

We pride ourselves in our ability to diagnose the illness, yet we have failed to find a cure.

While general agreement about such events being evil is common, meaningful action in response to such things is rare. “General agreement” is often the enemy of true change. General agreement is the idea that we all agree that something should be done or could be done. But we do nothing because just agreeing seems to satisfy our souls. 

Divisive leadership will always result in divided culture. Words are worthless to address mortal wounds. Moments of silence will not muffle the screams of those who lost loved ones. Flags at half-mast will not change half-hearted efforts. Political elections are not the answer for personal character flaws. Committees can’t heal our country of this cancer…only Christ can. This present time calls for action from the Church. 

We must lead the way. While I agree that it would be wise for all of us to look at our church security protocols, I pray for a more robust response from the Church that goes beyond taking care of ourselves. We must respond to our communities.

Last month, Dr. Harold Lewis joined our team as the Vice President of Biblical Diversity. Our hope is that we can work together to find solutions that empower our local churches to lead the way in tangible, gospel-centered, God-honoring responses that result in changed hearts and impacted communities.

Here are his thoughts: 

“The reason we hate people we don’t know is because we don’t know them. And the reason we don’t know them is because we hate them.” – Lewology*

As violence continues to increase in our culture, the question we must not only ask ourselves as Christian believers, but must also answer in a way that is both practical and faithful is: “What are some practical action steps each of our local churches can engage in to counter and combat these forces of evil?”

Here is a simple matrix that can be easily engaged in to connect and communicate with our communities in crisis:

1. Listening 
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19).  Whenever there is violence and unrest in any community, flaring tempers and the spirit of anger and fear tend to take over. They only exasperate the climate. People not only look for answers but, in their pain and frustrations, they want to be heard.

What can the local church do?

  • Facilitate a town hall meeting that provides a safe space for people to convene to share and listen to each other’s hearts and concerns.
  • Invite local officials such as law enforcement and political figures to come and hear the pain and concerns of the constituents.
  • Allow victims or their family members to share their stories. 

Become a listening ear for those who are hurting and seeking help. Keep this thought in mind: Speaking to people does not carry the same personal passion as listening to them.

2. Learning

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly (2 Timothy 2:15-16).

“Ignorance is a seed that, when planted in the soil of misunderstanding, produces a fruit called hate.” – Lewology*

The passage in 2 Timothy challenges us to know the word of God and the world we live in. Every local pastor should be a leader that reads and studies the issues in their local church’s mission field.

From the tribe of Issachar, there were 200 leaders of the tribe with their relatives. All these men understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take (1 Chronicles 12:32).

The culture we are living in has begun to squeeze all the godly sense and morals out of people. Local church leaders must be observant and informed enough to help their congregations interpret what their churches are up against and how to get involved.

What can the local church do?

  • Start by educating yourself on the various cultures within your community. 
  • Attend city council meetings and town hall meetings to stay abreast of what’s happening in your community.
  • Attend different community events to learn about different heritages and cultures.
  • Partner with a different ethnic congregation to build cross-cultural relationships.

3. Lamenting

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15).

A working definition of lamenting is simply extending the journey of the soul with someone else’s pain, sorrow, grief, fear and suffering.

When praise is the only thing the church does, it implicitly silences those who are living in a perpetual cycle of pain or lament. This could unintentionally signify that they are not welcome in our space of praising.

When the local church creates space for lamenting and begins to mourn with those who mourn, it opens up a more authentic dimension of community that represents a fuller expression of God’s grace and mercy. However, when the church fails to detach itself from the habitual act of praising long enough to engage in communal lamenting, the church ends up in a space as problematic as the systemic oppression for which it should be lamenting.

What can the local church do?

  • Open your doors to provide space for authentic lamenting and suffering.  
  • Recognize that drive-by prayers are not effective. The church must be willing to connect and sit in lamenting as long as our hurting brothers and sisters are in it.
  • Regardless of the distance from the pain and suffering, be no less responsible for sharing in the pain and standing in solidarity with those who are lamenting.

4. Leading 

And I will give you leaders after my own heart, who will guide you with wisdom and understanding (Jeremiah 3:15).

For if you keep quiet at this time, help will come to the Jews from another place. But you and your father’s house will be destroyed. Who knows if you have not become queen for such a time as this (Esther 4:14)?”

In the book of Esther, Mordecai tells Esther that God has put her in a position of influence “for such a time as this.”

God has appointed and anointed local pastors in this season for such a time as this. As we are in the midst of cultural conflicts and violence, God is calling upon his local pastors and church leaders to stand up and speak out against social injustices, political violence, disparities and discriminatory practices.

God expects his churches and pastors to assume the forefront of the battle against every evil in the community. Whether that evil is a lie spoken and spun out of context by the media, a hate organization, an adulterous culture or the devil himself, God’s leaders must not hesitate to take up the full armor of God, equip the saints for ministry and confront the enemy head-on.

What can the local church do?

  • Preach authentic and prophetic messages. 
  • Challenge unjust and unfair policies and laws. 
  • Attend prayer vigils and pray for the victims and their families. 
  • Collaborate with other churches, civic groups and agencies to create a diverse coalition against hate and injustices.
  • Become an advocate for the poor, the disenfranchised and the marginalized. 

Remember the words of John Maxwell: “When the leader lacks courage, the people will lack confidence.”

Conclusion

It is human to fear things we don’t understand. We often fear people who don’t look like us, act like us, speak like us or think like us. God has called us out of fear into faith.  We must choose to be a people of faith, not fear; love, not hate; and action, not apathy. We must choose to speak out — not shrink back — in this time of need. God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline (2 Tm. 1:7).

We can’t wait for the government to figure out how to fix this. Politics polarize, but the gospel can galvanize us for God’s glory and our neighbors’ good.

So, let’s listen to the words of Micah and go old school.

Act justly. Show mercy. Walk humbly.

Let’s be the church.

 

Better together,

Scott Ridout,
President

 

Dr. Harold Lewis,
Vice President of Biblical Diversity


*From The Book of Lewology: 180 proverbial principles I learned from my grandmother by Dr. Harold Lewis.