Hello everyone, my name is Charles, the lead pastor here. Welcome to the Zoom Sunday service at The River! Last week, I talked about how divided America is today with the culture war between the conservative Christians on the right and the secular liberals on the left. I am following up today with another issue that brings sharp division, and that’s Black Lives Matter.
I sometimes read about famous people who say things like, “I don’t support Black Lives Matter, because my church says it’s Marxist. I cannot support godless organizations.” That makes me sad because it’s not true God works only through godly people. I’m sure there are bad actors within that movement, but God works through ALL people.
God works through ALL people, and in fact, it’s the church that has stood AGAINST God throughout history, often. We have this Romanticized view that the Church always stands for God, because the church is supposed to listen to the Spirit of God. But, the Bible itself says, “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.” Acts 7:51
This charge was NOT made against godless non-believers, this was made against church and it’s leaders. It’s a shocker, isn’t it? Church is ALWAYS resisting the Holy Spirit? This verse is relevant for us today, because these days, I talk to many Christians who are surprised and disappointed by church. We should NOT be so surprised because after all, church is made up of fallible human beings. Jesus Himself warned us.
“Woe to you, Bible preachers and conservative church, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
Bracing, isn’t it? Now, you may not be familiar with this passage because first off, most Bible translations say, “Woe to you, teachers of the Law and the Pharisees.” Teachers of the Law? What is that? Law professors? Why is Jesus so against Law professors? It seems a bit mysterious, so we usually just glide over this passage. But of course, He is not talking about law professors. The Law here means the Bible. So when translated properly, it’s Woe to you, teachers of the Bible. Not a pleasant verse for Bible translators or Bible preachers like me, is it?
So then, what about the Pharisees? They were the mainstream conservative church at the time. All they wanted was, “let’s honor God by following the Bible as best as we can.” What’s wrong with that? But traditionally, Pharisees have been made out to be evil fanatics, monsters who have nothing to do with us today, because they killed Jesus. We need to face the fact that they were good, decent, God-honoring people who just wanted people of God to follow the Bible better. That’s uncomfortable for church though because we are just like that.
So, we come to the second reason why churches avoid this passage, me included. I must confess, I have NEVER preached on this passage in TWENTY years of preaching, even though it’s one of the longest sermons by Jesus. Why? Because I am in the business of teaching the Bible! My job and my salary depend on it. So today, I apologize to you. I am sorry I have avoided this passage for so long, because it’s such an important passage for church, especially today.
We MUST take Jesus’ warning to heart about how the church ‘whitewashed’ in order to APPEAR to be on the side of God. In every human brain, there is a strong psychological Need to be ‘right.’ So much so that our brains become literally incapable of processing facts when the facts contradict our already existing beliefs about Reality. So, we tend to DISTORT the facts to fit them INTO our already existing belief systems. This is called Cognitive Dissonance. It is part of the Original Sin that compels us to be “right.” This is a fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong. And, it’s everywhere. There’s ‘whitewashing’ going on everywhere in America, especially when it comes to race relations.
On one hand, we believe America is a fair country. America was founded on the principle that all men are created equal. But, the reality has not matched this great principle. It’s not just three centuries of slavery in the distant past. Did you know that the most popular form of postcards in 1920’s had pictures of lynching on them? Postcards have pictures like the Hallmark cards. You have mother’s cards, birthday cards, and the most popular item back then was the cards depicting scenes of lynching of black people. Can you imagine? How could that have happened unless black people were seen as “less than.”
The “godly Christian America of the past” had some VERY dark flaws. Black people could not live in the same towns as white people, even now, there are systematic discriminations. Did you know there were over Ten Thousand Sundown towns and counties in America just a few decades ago? What is a Sundown county? If a black person was found inside the county line when the sun went down, it was the sheriff’s sworn duty to jail them, or lynch them or even hang them. These laws were designed to make sure black people didn’t get to live with white people. This kind of history leaves a mental and cultural footprint that does not get erased just because these practices have become illegal. India had outlawed every discrimination based on Caste for 75 years now, especially against the Untouchables. But as I described in a sermon a few weeks ago, everyday discriminations against the Untouchables is SO fierce, it affects every aspect of life in India. In America, we see Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbury, Treyvon Martin, Eric Garner, and on and on and on. These unjust deaths we see on a regular basis is not happening in a vacuum. So now. Let me ask you, WHO recognizes this as a problem, and wants to do something about it? It’s the secular world. But the majority church in America is either ignoring it OR actively resisting, for example speaking against Black Lives Matter, which given the checkered history of the church is just shameless. This may be hard to hear. I know today’s sermon is different from my usual uplifting sermons. But, we MUST understand our history, particularly the role of the church in these inhuman practices, because white washing leads to hell.
Did you know that the Southern Baptist denomination was FOUNDED to defend and fight for slavery? This fact is not well known because it’s been white-washed. I have conservative Christian friends who say the Civil War was NOT about slavery, it was about Northern aggression against state rights. But, listen to Stephen Alexander, Vice President of the Confederacy, who gave a speech upon the founding of the Confederacy, called the “Cornerstone Speech” to define the PURPOSE of the southern confederacy.
The old Constitution rested upon assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite. Its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. It is the first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the decree of God, in furnishing the materials of human society.
Then, he went on to claim blessings of God, with full support from Southern Baptists. Now. Doesn’t this sound like it was ALL about slavery? Here is a description of Stephen Alexander.
He was through and through religious, in his belief, in his feelings, and in his life, and in everything he said and did his Christian faith shone out, an earnest and active member and officer of the church to which he belonged—always prominent in its work and counsels.
This top leader of confederacy says the entire purpose of rebellion and war was to defend ‘the great truth’ that black people should be slaves forever, by commands of God AND by natural law. Do you think these Christian leaders were standing with God or resisting God? He refers to the “Old Constitution.” That’s the constitution of the U.S. founded upon the great principle that ‘all men are created equal.” He calls that an error, when THAT is the essence of the Gospel, that ALL human beings are worth the life of Jesus, God incarnate, no matter who they are. It is the greatest gift given by God. And, these devout Christians fought tooth and nail to DENY this gift of God by claiming black people are ‘lesser than’ forever and ever. BECAUSE, there are several passages in the Bible that speaks in support of slavery, like ‘slaves must obey their masters even when they’re cruel.’
That’s why even the Northern Baptist theologians agreed with the Southern Baptists that the Bible supports slavery. BUT the disagreement was about “well, could you just be nicer because Jesus is kind, right?” So disappointing, isn’t it? All those Bible teachers got it SO wrong, because their entire approach to Christian faith was misguided. There’s a great book called Civil War as a Theological Crisis that describes this debate in great detail, if you’re interested.
And, instead of repenting or disbanding for such an atrocious decision to stand against God SO completely, instead, Southern Baptists became the largest Christian denomination in the United States next to Catholics. Southern Baptists are BY FAR the most dominant and influential force within the Evangelical and conservative Christian world today. And even now, they PROUDLY defend the confederate flags and Robert E. Lee statues, openly. The Southern Baptist Seminary in 2018 tried to reflect on their heritage, put out a report on their long history of support for slavery, confederacy, Jim Crow laws, segregation, discrimination against the black brothers and sisters. That’s a good thing to do, don’t you think? This came under such fierce backlash, some say the president of the seminary flip flopped on his position of condemning Trump to giving support fully in order to blunt the criticisms.
THIS is Cognitive Dissonance.
Romanticizing the South, Confederate soldiers as proud heritage, for example, my former colleagues in the Evangelical world are outraged by criticisms of Robert E. Lee memorials. There are thousands of Robert E. Lee statues in America, with numerous memorials to honor him like high schools named after him, colleges named after him. Granted Robert E. Lee was the perfect Southern Gentleman by all accounts. Great manners, decent, kind, a “righteous Christian.” But, those qualities are NOT what puts you on the side of God. Pharisees were exactly that, they strived to be good servants of God, but when God appeared to them in Jesus, they killed him. Their NEED to be in the right, their long history of white washing was a huge reason for that MOMENTOUS mistake.
Likewise, the church is white washing it’s history today, and it’s so dangerous. There are myths out there saying Robert E. Lee didn’t own slaves, and opposed slavery personally. This is ‘white washing.’ He owned a couple hundred slaves, and he fought in courts to get more for longer. And, he did horrible things to his slaves. He sold off children of his slaves to other masters, forever breaking up families. Can you imagine being forced to watch your children get sold off to distant parts of the country never to see them again? He ordered punishments on his slaves that are so cruel that his own overseer refused to carry them out. So, he got the local sheriff to do it. AND, he used ALL his skills as a great general to fight tooth and nail to defend the right to continue to do horrible things to fellow human beings for generations to come.
WHY do we honor such a man so much in this country? Are the Germans proud of Nazi flags? Do they build thousands of statues of Nazi generals? Slavery in America is on par with Holocaust in terms of number of souls involved, actually it lasted far longer and had bigger impact. And the church had a huge role in that. We need to stop white washing our past, heed the warnings of Jesus, for the Kingdom of God is at stake, as Jesus said,
Woe to you, Bible teachers and conservative church, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Matthew 23:13
How do Bible preachers like me shut the kingdom of heaven? By insisting that the key to the Kingdom is in knowing and obeying the right Biblical commands, so listen to me your guru. Like ‘slaves must obey their masters. Women must submit to men.’ Etc. etc. We must NOT be deceived by such outward righteousness. The Gospel is ALL about Unconditional Love.
- “What marks you as Christian is Agape Love.” John 13:35
- Anyone who loves unconditionally is born of God and knows God, for unconditional love is from God. Anyone who does not love unconditionally does not know God, for God is unconditional love. If we love unconditionally, God abides in us, and God’s love is perfected in us. God is unconditional love. 1 John 4:7,8, 12
You are NEVER alone, Your soul is so precious to God, God loves you SO much whether you’re black or white, straight or gay, successful or not. You are accepted, welcomed, and beloved in the Kingdom of God. Amen!
THIS is the Gospel. So, let’s build our life on Unconditional Love, let’s try to root out all traces of ‘cognitive dissonance’, for it is a fruit of knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong, worthy and unworthy. Our country is in desperate need of people who will not white wash, who are free to see the facts as they are, because we’re so secure in the love of God. Let’s be the first seeds of such a church. Let’s stand together for the Gospel, and though we are few in number, we can be the change the world needs! Amen!
Now, I hope you can join us for our Zoom live service at 11:45.
Let me pray for us. God we repent of whitewashing, we repent of our compulsive need to be in the right. Help us oh gracious God, give us the power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, so that in our inner being, we become so secure as to resist the power of knowledge of good and evil. Amen!