American Christianity has a number of problems, many of which stem from shallow theology and churches focused on business operations instead of the Great Commission. But the last few weeks have highlighted something more disturbing and sinister.
In California, a well-educated young man from a good Christian family went into a synagogue to kill Jews. The murderer's father is an elder in an orthodox Bible-believing Presbyterian church that is willing to embrace deep theology. The murderer himself in his writings articulates a clear understanding of basic Christian orthodoxy. He believes he receives salvation not by his own works but by a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
He also believes the Jewish people at large are to blame for murdering Jesus on the cross and thinks he should have some hand in vengeance for that. He has interwoven into his faith a whiteness not actually reflected in scripture. If this were one isolated incident, we would take pause, wonder and probably move on. Christians in America should not move on.
In Hoschton, Georgia, 50 miles east of Atlanta, the mayor allegedly decided the mostly white residents were not ready to have a black city administrator. She rejected a potential hire because of his race. Oddly enough, she rejected him not because she herself opposed hiring a black person but because she thought the residents of the town were too bigoted to accept him. The town is outraged at the mayor.
Defending the mayor is one member of the Hoschton City Council who told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "I'm a Christian and my Christian beliefs are you don't do interracial marriage. That's the way I was brought up and that's the way I believe. ... I have black friends, I hired black people. But when it comes to all this stuff you see on TV, when you see blacks and whites together, it makes my blood boil because that's just not the way a Christian is supposed to live."
Here are two men of different generations both professing Christ as their Lord who both have woven into their faith a sinful notion of race. Scripture teaches clearly in Galatians 3:28 that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Despite this, the pernicious beliefs spun out by cross-burning racists persist and continue settling within elements of the Christian church.
We should be thankful this is not a common opinion, let alone a majority opinion. But we should be troubled that someone could go to as good a church as the murderer in California went to and still embrace these ideas. Part of the issue is the nature of sin and evil. We cannot stomp them out, and they will always try to perniciously creep into churches and people of faith.
Another issue, however, has to be doctrine and education. Pastors in the United States have, for a long time, had it easy. While there may have been troubles in the church or around the church, pastors have known the great cultural issues of the day are headed in the same direction, toward secularism. Pastors can designate a Sunday a year to remind congregants that all life is sacred and abortion is a sin. Now, they can also designate a Sunday a year to remind congregants God ordained marriage and the Supreme Court cannot change it for those in the church.
Unfortunately, as some Christians have tried to open the doors too far, others have tried to close the doors too much. Though progressive Christianity would open the gates of Heaven to everyone and deny there really is a hell, a reactionary presence in the church wants to respond in kind. Pastors in pulpits across America need to remember that as much as there are standards for the faith and they must preach the Word, their congregants must remember theirs is a global faith and those in the church are brothers and sisters transcending language, race, and ethnicity. American Christians must not war with truth.