So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
2 Corinthians 5:17
When I was in seminary, my pastor liked to tell the Presbyterian version of the old light bulb joke: How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb?
Yeah, it doesn’t quite translate in writing. But it’s quite true that the corollary to our reputation as the “Frozen Chosen” has been our approach to change. It seems that our very polity was designed to keep change moving at the speed of a glacier.
But we are in very different times. (Sadly, even the speed of a glacier has changed, due to global warming.) On a regular basis, I often think about how our actions will be recorded in history books 50- 100 years from now (assuming, of course, that “books” would be the primary method of recording history). From climate change, to the rights of sexual minorities, to global political dynamics, to technology, to #MeToo, to the COVID-19 pandemic, and now Black Lives Matter . . . while I usually resist hyperbole about such things, I do believe we are in some kind of pivot point in history.
I have to say that when Mr. George Floyd was killed, and the initial protests began, I was one of those who didn’t think things would change. There have been too many unarmed Black men killed by people who have been given authority by the government, or who assumed they had their own authority, and there was no change. The names are too many to mention, and the few times their deaths were reported in national news, the stories were forgotten with every new news cycle.
But these protests kept happening. And some veteran, respected civil rights leaders said that “this is different.” What made it different this time? Some of the leaders pointed to the leadership of young people, though that didn’t seem all that different to me. Many point to the presence of people of all races participating in the protests. It seems that there’s a light in their eyes when they mention the number of White people, and people of all races, rejecting racist violence against Black people. Their reaction feels to me like they are so relieved that for the first time, other people believe them; for the first time, other people care.
A couple of times people reference the restlessness and attention that came from our state of Coronavirus semi-quarantine. That makes me think this is a God thing, a kairos moment when God puts together several factors that enable us—maybe force us—to experience a breakthrough.
But maybe it’s just another moment, and it’s up to us to respond to God’s call for justice and liberation that come from repentance. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” In any case, let us not shy away from this moment when we can step forward in faith and seek the healing that has eluded this nation for 400 years.
We are gifted with faith, and the promise of grace and salvation that Jesus Christ gives us. In that, we share the same faith that has been so foundational for the Black American community—faith that has
persevered through so many years of persecution, faith that empowers believers to seek and work for justice, faith that enables African-Americans to ask for peace and to offer forgiveness even in the face of hatred and death. Countless times African-Americans have voiced forgiveness, even after the shooting at Emanuel AME in Charleston South Carolina. And even today families of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks appeal for peace, and so many times they do so in the name of Jesus Christ.
In the face of this faithful perseverance, can this nation have the courage and faith to repent of the racism that seems so integrated in the fabric of this society? It’s like the reason John Calvin put the prayers of confession after the sermon, because we are assured through the preaching of God’s word that God’s grace allows us to confess openly of our sin. Are we convinced enough that God can make a way out of no way, God can do what we could never do on our own, God can indeed give us new life that is so compelling that we are able to allow everything old to pass away?
My hope is that we can engage in faithful dialogue and worship that opens our hearts to the healing that Jesus Christ offers us. I am consulting with various people, and hope to have several different options for anyone who wants to take this historic time as an opportunity to go deeper in faith by learning more about God’s children in our midst. We step forward not because we know that this will be easy, or predictable, or pain-free, but we step forward and speak our truth—and more importantly, we listen— that we may hear God’s wisdom speak through the community of believers.
And if you want one more glimpse into what’s possible, see the video of Black Lives Matter protestor Patrick Hutchinson, who saved a White man he believed to be a racist anti-protestor who got isolated from his group and was being attacked by protestors. Mr. Hutchinson mentioned how he thought about the three policemen who failed to take action when George Floyd was being killed. How do we live fully and faithfully, bringing the light of Christ into the moments that God puts into our lives?
Let us take whatever opportunity God gives us to do what’s right, and perhaps we will witness a new creation.
Praying for peace,