Certain political events which have, fortunately or unfortunately, crossed over into the religious area lead to make that declaration and to write the following, which is in two parts. Note that I have written some of this before.
I am proud to say, without hesitation, that I am a Southern-born evangelical Christian. But that does not mean what you might think it means.
And when it is all said and done, I would, politely, ask “What are you?”
I am, as the saying goes, Southern-born and Southern-bred, and when I die, I will be Southern dead. But this doesn’t mean that I automatically adhere to all Southern traditions.
As the son of an Air Force officer, I moved around the country and it became very evident, especially when I was in junior high and high school that there were barriers in place that separated people in society. These barriers, no matter how they were phrased, were designed to separate people by race, creed, sex, and economic status. They were kept in place by the rich and powerful who were able to convince many affected by the barriers that those barriers were for their own good.
And because they didn’t have any way of knowing otherwise, they accepted the wisdom of the rich and powerful and kept the barriers in place. Only when they saw what was happening did they realize that the barriers kept them “in their place” as much as it did “the others”.
I see that today – the rich and powerful have convinced a group of people that there are “others” who will steal what they have unless they allow the rich and powerful to do the stealing for them (For more on this topic, see “It’s Not About A Piece Of Cloth”). But pretty soon, it is going to be evident that the freedoms we cling to so dearly have been taken away and the majority of the people in this country will be once again the chattel of a few rich (and white) old men.
I am also born to say, and without hesitation, that I am an evangelical Christian. I was baptized as an Evangelical Christian, I was confirmed as an Evangelical Christian, and I have tried to live my life as an Evangelical Christian.
But it is quite clear that my definition and the current popular definition of what it means to be an evangelical Christian are entirely different.
I do not know or understand what those who loudly profess to be evangelical Christians believe, other than perhaps to say that “I have been saved from sin and you have not and you are going to live the rest of your life in Sheol.”
That, to me, is not evangelism and, to be honest, it is the very attitude that almost drove me from the church and which is probably driving many people away today.
For me, evangelism is about declaring the good news about what God is doing in the world today. Evangelism should challenge individuals to yield to Jesus, to let Jesus into their lives, and to allow the power of the Holy Spirit transform them into new creations. But it is more than that.
It involves proclaiming what God is doing in society right now to bring justice, liberation, and economic well-being for the oppressed. It means to call people to participate (nasty word there, don’t you think) in the revolutionary transformation of the world. Evangelism is what Jesus said it was: broadcasting the good news that the Kingdom of God is breaking loose in human history, that a new social order is being created, and that we are all invited to share in what is happening. God is changing the world that is into the world that should be and we are invited to live this good news by breaking down the barriers of racism, sexism, and social class.
Evangelism requires that we declare the Gospel not just by word but also by deed and we show God’s presence in this world by working to eliminate poverty, present unjust discrimination and stand against political tyranny. Evangelism call us to create a church through which God’s will is done, here on earth, as it is in Heaven. (borrowed and adapted from Tony Campolo’s foreword to Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel: Luke and Acts; for more see “Who Are You Following?” or “What Do We Do Now?” where I consider how to apply the thoughts of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as well as those of Clarence Jordan).
What Are You?
At the end of his television series, Cosmos, Carl Sagan suggested that this society, this country and the whole planet were at a crossroads. One road lead to the destruction of the planet and the other lead to undiscovered worlds. Those words echo the words of the prophet Jeremiah when he (Jeremiah) wrote:
God’s Message yet again:
“Go stand at the crossroads and look around. Ask for directions to the old road,
The tried-and-true road. Then take it. Discover the right route for your souls.
But they said, ‘Nothing doing. We aren’t going that way.’
I even provided watchmen for them to warn them, to set off the alarm.
But the people said, ‘It’s a false alarm. It doesn’t concern us.’
And so I’m calling in the nations as witnesses: ‘Watch, witnesses, what happens to them!’
And, ‘Pay attention, Earth! Don’t miss these bulletins.’
I’m visiting catastrophe on this people, the end result of the games they’ve been playing with me.
They’ve ignored everything I’ve said, had nothing but contempt for my teaching.
What would I want with incense brought in from Sheba, rare spices from exotic places?
Your burnt sacrifices in worship give me no pleasure. Your religious rituals mean nothing to me.” (Jeremiah 6: 16 – 20, The Message)
There is nothing wrong with holding onto the traditions that define you. But when the traditions become more important that your self, there is a problem. No one can live in a world where yesterday was better than today for that prevents us from moving into the future.
I cannot help but think that many people today hold onto their faith as if it were a tradition and not a real part of their lives. Their acts, their words, their deeds all reflect a time past. Throughout his entire ministry, Jesus looked to the future and He moved to the future, even though He knew what that future held for Him. But He also knew that our future would be insured because He moved in that direction.
Can you say that you are moving in the same direction as Jesus, towards a better future, a future free from sin and death, a future where no one is hungry, sick, homeless, or oppressed?
We stand at the crossroads and we have to decide which road we will take.
And we have to say to God at some point in our life who we are.
Who are you?