There is always that one pundit on cable news who will inevitably draw comparisons between the policies of whatever party he/she doesn’t like… and the Nazis. As if the Third Reich is the inevitable trajectory of anyone who disagrees with him/her. This historical hyperbole can be drowned out and dismissed easily enough but the recent events in Charlottesville, VA has knocked our country on its heels – because this isn’t dramatic rhetoric anymore, these are actual, swastika waving Nazis! We’re reeling, not only because innocent people are being killed but because we seem to be experiencing (or probably more accurately re-experiencing) a cultural moment where multiple environmental factors are colliding together to allow Alt Right/White Supremacist/Neo Nazi violence to occur… right in front of our eyes!
I believe this perfect storm is made up of at least five elements:
- There seems to be a traumatic realization that racism is not a historical problem that America has already legislatively solved but, in fact, is a brutally present reality that is alive and well. This seems to have annoyed the Right and confused the Left.
- There seems to be a political climate that openly encourages polarization, extremism and fear mongering, thus discouraging any form of cooperation and compromise.
- There seems to be a digital climate and a cultural attention span that prefers soundbites and headlines in 140 characters or less – making reasonable, thoughtful, nuanced debate virtually impossible.
- There seems to be an administration (I’m trying to be as charitable as I can) that won an election, in large part, due to the support of disgruntled, white voters. Therefore, this administration is, at best, slow, vague and mild in addressing the concerns of minorities – in an effort to maintain that original bloc of support.
- There seems to be a significant portion of the American church, for whom political power and stability is simply a higher priority than racial reconciliation and social justice. We’ve seen this movie before (Israel in the time of the prophet Amos, Pharisees in the time of Pontius Pilate, German Lutherans in the 1930s, American Evangelicals in the 1960s…). Rather than being the prophetic advocate she is called to be, the Church has once again looked for comfort in political parties and court nominees rather than the character of our sovereign God…
This is the reality that we live in. The American church, as she is presently built, for better or worse, led us here, and Dr. King already warned us about it…
“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice… I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other Southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: ‘What kind of people worship here? Who is their God?” (Excerpt from A Letter from a Birmingham Jail)
The Evangelical Left has compromised theologically to appease the broader culture and the Evangelical Right has compromised politically to hold on to whatever structural power is left. Either way, the unbelieving world sees absolutely nothing unique about the way we live and we’ve sold out our minority brothers and sisters in the process.
But what if out of this dumpster-fire of a moment came a tribe of people that believed the gospel was good enough – and required no alterations to make it palatable for liberal ears – and was strong enough that it didn’t need the structure and systems of the conservatives? What if these people planted new churches – uncompromised by theological drift or political pressure? What if they strategically planted these churches in places like Berkley, CA, Auburn, AL and Charlottesville, VA?
The University of Virginia in Charlottesville has 20,000+ students – from all 50 states and 148 countries. Its faculty and alumni have significant influence across a number of industries all over the world, particularly in the political arena of nearby Washington D.C. What if there were dozens of churches planted there to reach that particular people group? What if there were dozens of multi-ethnic congregations where black and white believers worshipped together? What if you were a student at UVA and were forced to deal with the reality of those faith communities? Would that shatter your preconceived ideas about religion? Would that affect how Jesus plays into the way you view politics, money, sexuality, race, ethics?
Luther, in the first of the 95 Theses said, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance…” Centuries later, Karl Barth, channeling St. Augustine, said that “the church is always reforming…” The American Church should repent and reform and as far as I am concerned, the most effective way of doing that is to plant new churches in college towns… because the Nazis are already there.