No!

WeaponsIn his song “Lay your Weapons Down,” local Portland artist Craig Caruthers wrote a love song pleading for reconciliation from his lover. The chorus went….

Lay your weapons down.
C’mon lay your weapons down
I will not put up any fight
I am not good at playing games,
I want to have you in my life.
And I believe you feel the same.
Lay your weapons down 

It is an appeal to return to what is important and to put away the anger and the accusations and the desire for retribution. It is the words we speak when we have tired of the warfare and its consequence and refocus on what is important – in this case, the love they had for one another.

I just returned from Solomon Islands where there were race riots only a decade and a half ago.  Many Guadalcanal and Malaitan people were killed in clashes with one another and the businesses of Honiara were burned to the ground. It was so destructive that common ground seemed impossible. But wise leaders stepped in from both sides and determined to make things right. It has taken a long time and there are still tensions between the two groups, but they laid their weapons down in order to build a community. Today they work together and have friendships among them. There is peace. There is community.

I couldn’t help but relate to the racial tensions that continue in America — a nation of tremendous diversity where immigrants have been welcomed and have built the greatest nation in the world. What is the reason for violence in this tension between the races in America, particularly black and white? Where and when is it appropriate to resort to violence? I think it is time we say no to the rhetoric that is defining the conflict. The Civil Rights Movement under Martin Luther King and his compatriots was a Christian movement after all.  It was significantly about love. Here is a quote from Dr. Paul Metzger’s “Unfinished Business,”

“King was a true prophet. He called people back to God’s Word and to our nation’s highest ideals, and he laid down his life to make it happen.”

One of the challenges of studying cross-cultural engagement at my Christian university is that the conversation is dominated by secular concepts — blame, victimization, reduced responsibility, white privilege (I am still looking for my allotment of this supposed benefit). These are naturalist’s concepts that leave no room for the work of the Holy Spirit in transforming lives. I don’t want to get along with my black brothers within a construct of political correctness. I want to love them because we are made in the image of God and we love Jesus.

I write this blog to Christians. I am thankful for any non-Christians who read and participate but I am primarily calling my brothers in Christ to live within the Kingdom values prescribed by Jesus.  The words I see written and lobbed from one side to another do not sound anything like Jesus. I cannot imagine him saying the pejorative “white privilege” phrase when He was in fact asking everyone to lay down their rights and live in dependence to their Father in Heaven. The privilege, after all, is akin to that of the rich young ruler who walked away when Jesus asked him to follow Him. Jesus rightly saw the privilege from the perspective of what is lost, not of competing claims for a fixed pie.

The words we use are like weapons. Let’s lay some weapons down. Let’s lay down phrases like white privilege, systemic racism, microaggression (this is a new one)…  each of these is a shot not at majority culture (which is a very dynamic and vibrant culture, by the way, that is not defined by skin color but by what prevails as common values) but at dominant culture (another pejorative that sees white culture as intractable and in control).  These recent concepts are not based on history.  If anything, American history is a testimony to the opposite. Martin Luther King understood that. He was the one who championed the measuring of a man or a woman based on the content of their character.

Of course, we cannot ignore the unique history of the descendants of slaves in America. Unlike the scores of immigrants who came here by choice, it demands a different responses. That is why it is not an issue of people of color versus people of non-color (another inflammatory concept). It is about dealing with legacy justice issues that resulted from the subjugation of one group of people by another. We have a long way to go to address inequalities that still exist or there will remain a subculture in America that will indeed be defined by race – and at times self-defined that way.

In Metzger’s article he he also says,

The irony is that we in the white Evangelical Christian community have only recently begun engaging in significant ways on matters of injustice that concern us all. And yet, we often think and operate as if we are the ones leading the charge. Please forgive us for our arrogance. Please keep modeling for us how to run this marathon race of justice and lead us forward to build the beloved community.

I fundamentally disagree. Throngs of white evangelicals stood with King and the black descendants of slaves to demand equal rights for all.   I suppose there are always going to be those who rush to the front to claim credit and try to make a name for themselves — that is true of opportunistic men and women of every race. It was a sad epilogue to Black Like Me that many of those same white people who stood with King and the Civil Rights movement were disinvited from the table after the right was won.  A new era of separatism followed the death of King under leaders who did not share King’s vision of beloved community. That kind of separatism must be challenged!

But I do see partnerships springing up that are invisible and effective within the Christian community, the only community that can actually do this — that is unless we let the secularists define the problem.  It is time for the church to say no to the dominant media discussion of persistent racism in America and begin to embrace a Christian beloved community that will lead the way in demonstrating what true racial reconciliation can look like. And especially within the church, it is time to lay the weapons down.

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.  (Micah 4:1-4)

About marknicklas

Mark Nicklas is a husband, father, son and follower of Jesus Christ. He is a pastor at Beaverton Foursquare Church and an adjunct professor at Multnomah University, where he earned his doctorate in Cultural Engagement. Like Jacob wrestled with God at Jabbok, this site is a place for talking about the identity of the church with respect to the cultures we live in. You are invited to share the journey.
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