By Dick Barrett
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. — 2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)
Over the past several months we have witnessed several African American people die at the hands of mostly white police officers. As a former police officer, I must say that the videos of the incidents, especially the death of George Floyd, both sicken and greatly sadden me. The incidents are evidence of little progress in race and police-community relations in America over the past 100 years. In many places the response has been almost as tragic with protests in several cities that started as peaceful but predictably turned violent. We witnessed a collective mentality of people of all colors destroying property, stealing, committing arson, attacking police officers, and some officers responding in a like manner.
These events come on the heels of more than a decade of people in America becoming more and more divided, divisive and polarized on just about every issue one can think of. We are even fighting over whether or not one should wear a mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. More important than the issues themselves, whether large or small, all the divisiveness has caused us to turn against other human beings, other human beings who also have been created in the image of God. I have heard people ask this question (or something similar): “Shouldn’t America be better than this?”
Unfortunately, much of the division, divisiveness and polarities have seeped into the Church. All of this has made me ask, “Are we fighting the wrong battles with the wrong weapons?” The apostle Paul said, “Our battle is not against other human beings. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world” (Ephesians 6:12). As the Church we need to be careful that we are not being drawn into the battles and fighting with the same weapons that the world is using.
Recently in my daily devotional reading I came across a quote from Howard Snyder from his book The Community of the King, which I think captures well the role of the Church in relation to the nation of America, and/or any other earthly nation: “The church is not to be understood primarily as a means to the end of transforming society. This would be to trample over the uniqueness and infinite worth to God of the Christian community. Besides, the amazing and profound fact is that the Church most transforms society when it is itself growing and being perfected in the love of Christ. In fact when the Church is taken merely as a means to transform society, very little is accomplished. For in that case the uniqueness of the Church is denied and we enter the battle on the same terms as secular and godless forces. We assume the battle for right and justice can be won by force, by technique, by doing. It can’t! These very clearly are not the weapons of Christian warfare (Ephesians 6:10-20). Truly Christian transformation of culture comes through Christlike sacrificial love, community and being.”
Regarding the question, “Shouldn’t America be better than this?” my answer is, “I’m not sure.” What I am sure of is that God expects the Church to be better than any secular nation and to fight our battles with different weapons — with the love, grace, mercy and peace of God the Father and Jesus Christ our King.