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A Study In Situational Total Depravity

In this season may we find hope in the traumatic birth Jesus experienced. This year has been a difficult year for most. I lost my eldest sister, two nephews and close friends. I am not alone. Many of you have felt pain in some way. Yet even during these painful times too many of us have felt a need to stake our socio-political positions. The election you might say is the reason, but the root runs much deeper. The problem is a divide Christ removed. May we have courage to trust in the gift and promise of Christ our Savior.

The promise itself was violent[1]. Because the threat was deadly. The war between Satan's rebellion entered mankind. It drove Cain to kill Abel.[2] He then had to live with fear. Satan the author of the threat knew the power of God’s promise. He countered the promise with a knock-off offer.[3]  As Christ restored the divide; the enemy persisted. That counter offer will one day go away. Until Jesus returns the Christian call is in the backdrop of the evil empire.

I remember the first time I heard someone talk about the Kingdom and the Empire. My mind went to Star Wars and did not get past that. Now however, I see a connection. Christ’s promise is alongside the reality of an evil empire. Paul sounds the alarm.[4]  The evil drive for dominance and financial gain persist in the church in opposition to Christ. Paul’s commitment to the Kingdom lands him in jail and eventually death. Yet he believed. He saw the reality of tearing down the wall of hostility between Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male and female.

We are experiencing great racial tension. For too many of us it is a new experience. For some of us it is choosing between living or dying. In Reformed churches, no one dares question the doctrine of total depravity. Yet when it comes to racism we shrink back. Examining aspects of Kingdom and Empire in the church is unthinkable. From the arrival of the first Christians in the US to recent missionary efforts, critical reflection became threatening to most Reformed congregants. They feel attacked and label their critics as heretical or Marxist. We have accommodated confessing the Kingdom yet caving into the social pressures of the Empire. This is nothing new. In the New Testament, Ananias and Sapphira did the same.[5] And Peter struggled [6] and had to be reminded of the difference.[7]

To disagree on aspects of justice is understandable but to refuse to even examine church history, ministries or ministry leaders, is to maintain a Christian witness of the Empire and the Kingdom under one identity.

God is for the oppressed[8]. Derrick Bell, widely considered the founder of critical race theory,[9] said his faith and worldview were central to his activism. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was a Marxist and a troublemaker in the eyes of many contemporary Christian leaders. However, Black Christians and some bold white Christian leaders like Herman Bavink, the Dutch Reformed theologian, critiqued the dehumanization and marginalizing of racial injustice. Scripture was their solid ground.

As a staff member of the Office of Race Relations, I advocate for the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Being against racism or being antiracist is striving for the identity in Christ.  Racism is sin.  It has its roots in the Cain and Abel story, and its fruit is in the invention of the theory of race.  This theory was put into law and forced onto the North American people. It has marred all our identities.

Racism has been a great harm against humanity through the dehumanization and genocide of black and native Americans. It might have happened centuries ago, but the harm continued in the lynchings of black people through the civil rights era. And it continues through the stigmatization of black people today. The result is felt in greater prosecution and harsher punishment of Black people. In addition to substandard education, segregation and social acceptance of poverty among Black people.

Now that we have greater awareness, how many more humans have to die before we repent. The evil empire continues to shape our view of ourselves and others. It stands against Christ and insists on marring the identity for people created in the image of God.

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