THE REPENTANCE PROJECT / AN AMERICAN LENT
A Subversive Community of Hope
WEEK II / DAY III
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Scripture / Read Exodus 19:3-6, Matthew 5:14-16
Having rescued His people from slavery, God has in mind to set them apart as His own treasured possession. Israel will be a kingdom of priests and the rest of humanity will be their parish. This calling continues in the New Age. Jesus tells the folks who have gathered around Him in Galilee that they are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. The plan of God is consistent: people, forgiven by Him, represent Him to the world.
Our History and Its Legacy
The people of God, assembled in churches across the United States, mostly dropped the ball. On the whole, Christians did not develop the reputation as representatives of a God who loves with abandon and restores what’s been broken. More often than not, Scripture was quoted to preserve the status quo, even dehumanize humans. Systematic and organized thought went into constructing arguments to prove that Christian Scriptures support slavery. Texts quoted out of context were used to excuse brutality and intense violence. The goal of retaining ownership of baptized Africans presented legal complications. According to Mark Galli’s piece “Defeating the Conspiracy” in Christianity Today, "Many masters in colonial America believed if a slave was baptized, 'according to the laws of the British nation, and the canons of the church,' he must be freed. Colonial legislatures sought to preserve their ability to own Christians, and by 1706 at least six had passed acts denying that baptism altered the condition of a slave 'as to his bondage or freedom.' It wasn't just economics but a twinge of Christian conscience that prompted the legislation. As Virginia's law put it, it was passed so that masters, 'freed from this doubt, may more carefully endeavor the propagation of Christianity.'"
As enslaved Africans began to enter the faith, church buildings remained segregated and denominations split to keep the races apart. The very best construction suggests that White people of God went along grudgingly with the work of God. In reality White Christians often stood in the way of conversion. Yet, God is determined for His Kingdom to endure: people thrown out of church mid-prayer simply started their own church rather than let hatred turn them from faith. Through the miraculous work of God, faith became a cornerstone of the African-American community. Churches became rallying points for community, culture, and eventually Civil Rights. This move of God among enslaved, segregated, and subjugated people happened in spite of most church-goers, not because of them.
Reflection and Response / The Pilgrim’s Prayer of Repentance
Respectable church people don’t have a great track record of being on the right side of God’s work in the world. Israel couldn’t settle into a good rhythm with God in Old Testament days and Jesus fought regularly with the Pharisees. It’s disheartening to see the people of God play small games of power and prestige when there is such opportunity for love in the face of evil and for restoration in the face of subjugation.
You are not exempt from those small games. As a child of God, you can repent for the failings of our people in the past. But also, take the time today to ask God where you’re blind to His working in the world around you. As you do, pray the Pilgrims Prayer over and over for five minutes: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.
Written by Ben Hoyer