Yale law professor Stephen Carter once wrote, “Along with many African-American theologians, I believe in the tremendous importance of preserving religious communities not only as centers of difference—that is, places where one grasps the meaning of the world as different from what you find in the dominant culture—but even more so as centers of resistance.”
According to Carter, “These centers of resistance do not simply proclaim, ‘We don’t believe what the rest of you believe,’ but say, ‘We are willing and ready to sacrifice, to lose something material for the sake of that difference in which we believe.’” Yet Prof. Carter was not naive. “Indeed,” he explained, “radical transformation will demand a sacrifice. But a fundamental demand for sacrifice will not arise in politics. It will have to arise from the church, which is really the only contemporary, genuine source of resistance to the existing order.”
The church? But of course. That has always been a place for radical commitment to good, as Carter continued, “It is only religion that still has the power, at its best, to encourage sacrifice and resistance.” (I write this as a follower of Jesus. Those of other faiths can stake their claims about being forces of resistance to evil.) But, Carter cautioned, “one should have no illusions. All too many pastors today, black and white, are so worried about filling the seats. Clergy deliver brilliant sermons that preach up to the edge of asking people to do something, and then they will pull back. Some pastors display prophetic leadership and call for sacrifice, but their numbers are small.” Sad but true!
Yes, contemporary American Christianity does a better job of entertaining than inspiring, of promising a happy life rather than calling for a sacrificial life. But it’s not too late to change. In our day, we have seen the tremendous power of total and complete consecration to evil. Isn’t it time to discover the even greater power of total and complete consecration to good?
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.
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