Coming Apart at the Seams

Coming Apart at the Seams

We took a real vacation this year – completely disconnecting from most of the rest of the world.  We read no newspapers, watched no television, and listened to no radio.  We did overhear bits and pieces about some fuss in Charlottesville, Virginia, but didn’t pay much attention.

Then as we were crossing the bridge from Lewiston, Maine, to its sister city of Auburn, we saw a good-sized crowd of people marching with signs with messages like “Make America Great – Not Hate” and “Love Trumps Hate.”

Several days later, as we were driving through Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on our way home, we saw an even bigger crowd marching with the same message.

At that point, I decided it was best to reconnect with the world and find out what exactly happened in Charlottesville.  I was very disturbed to see how politicized the story had become, and how I could not trust any news outlet to give me the unvarnished truth.

Which should not have been surprising, since America has been hyper-politicized for the past eight years and ten months – and especially for the past ten months.

So today, I cannot tell you with any certainty who threw the first punch or whether President Trump’s comments made the situation better or worse or whether the counter-protestors should have had a permit or whether the police should have done more or less.  And I’m not going to pass judgment as to whether the statues of Confederate military figures should be moved to cemeteries and museums or left in parks and town squares.

What I can tell you is that three people are dead – a young woman hit when a car plowed into a group of counter-protester and two State Police officers whose helicopter crashed while they were monitoring the situation from the sky.  I can tell you that no one should have died.

I can tell you that a lot of people are worried that America is coming apart at the seams.  And I can also tell you that God is very angry with us right now.

While I was taking Advance Composition my final year of high school, I encountered a quotation from the British writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall, who summed up Voltaire’s beliefs in these words: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Please keep this principle in mind as we work through this together.  But please remember that Voltaire’s words are not Scripture.  For that matter, he took a dim view of the Bible, and of Christianity in general.

Voltaire died while we were still fighting for our independence from England, but his principle was enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right of assembly, and the right to petition the government.

So the Unite the Right protestors had every right to be in Emancipation Park on August 12th and to express their beliefs – as offensive as some of them are.  The collection of counter-protestors also had every right to be there and to express their beliefs – as offensive as some of them are.  These are rights that we have – at least until recently – cherished in America.

But the unrestrained anger and hatred, the demeaning and threatening talk, the presence of weapons, and the violence and bloodshed is abhorrent to God – and should be abhorrent to us as disciples of Jesus Christ.  This is not how we are to relate to one another.

Let’s read again some of what Paul wrote in our passage today from Romans 12:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Live in harmony with one another.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil. … as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge … On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Do the events of August 12th in Charlottesville sound anything like that?

John MacArthur – one of the greatest preachers and pastors of our day – was asked last Sunday evening for his thoughts on Charlottesville.  His reply began with these words:

“The human heart is desperately wicked.  What Charlottesville simply demonstrates is that fallen humanity is corrupt.  All I see in that is the justification of anger.”

Anger on both sides.  Some was clothed in a sense of innate superiority, while some was clothed in a sense of moral superiority.

Princeton Professor Cornel West has stated publicly, on several media outlets, that antifacists and anarchists saved the clergy counter-demonstrators in Charlottesville from attack by Unite the Right.  “They would have crushed us like cockroaches,” Dr. West said.

So many of the people who intended to stage a peaceful counter-protest were very happy that the more radical element was there to protect them.  The bad guys could do the heavy lifting.  The irony is breathtaking.

That said, I believe that most of God’s anger is with Unite the Right – which brought together White Nationalists, White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and the like.

There is no room in God’s kingdom for belief in supremacy of any sort – except the supremacy of Jesus Christ over all.

God created all human beings in His image – so every human being has equal value.  There are no expendable people.  So no one can claim to be more valuable because of their skin color, their heritage, their age, their gender, their sexuality, their appearance, their abilities, their intelligence, their education, their income, their criminal record, their politics, or their faith.  All people matter.  All their lives matter.

Yes, God has laid down the law about certain behaviors that we are to avoid and declared Jesus Christ as the only Way of salvation – and He has chosen for Himself a people – but all people have inherent value as human beings created in God’s image.

So to declare that we are more valuable than others – or that others who are not like us are not even fully human – is nothing short of blasphemy against the God who made us and them.

So we can and should denounce the evil demonstrated in the violence perpetrated by many of the protestors and many of the counter-protestors that day.  God is enraged when people – especially those who claim the Name of Jesus Christ – resort to violence.

But we can and should also denounce the evil beliefs expressed in the protests and counter-protests that day.

At this point, you may be asking how I can say that in light of Voltaire’s philosophy.  There is no inconsistency.  I disapprove of much of what was expressed in Charlottesville – and in reaction to it – but I will defend to the death their right to express it.  At the same time, I have the right and the responsibility as a Christian to call attention to the evil that motivated much of that free expression.

All of us have that right and responsibility.  So what do we do – stage our own protest?  No – we heed the words of Paul at the end of Romans 12: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  We name the evil around us, we call it out, and we overcome it with good.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers …” So that is our role when America seems to be coming apart at the seams.  Jesus left us powerful tools for sewing America back up – for reconciling people to each other.

We have the Holy Spirit, who gives us the strength to stand up to hatred.

We have the love of Jesus in our hearts, which enables us to live out Romans 12.

We have prayer, by which ask our Heavenly Father to knock down the walls that divide us and to give us love and respect for each other, enabling us to communicate with each other.

Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians that “God has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation.”  When we fear that America is coming apart at the seams, we must get intentional about the ministry of reconciliation – in our homes, in our church, in our community, and in our world.

Will you make Romans 12 your guideline for relating to other people – especially the difficult ones and the disagreeable ones, and even the hateful ones?  Will you reject hatred as an option and embrace love instead?

If enough of do so, we can make America whole again.

Amen.