The white supremacists’ shout of “You will not replace us” in Charlottesville, Va., has been heard around the world. Alt-right and white hate groups have been emboldened by the president’s words and actions. Swastikas, racist and anti-Semitic graffiti are on the rise. The hatemongers have even raised their heads again in Germany. Our communities’ moral compass seems to point toward destruction of society’s moral fabric.
A biblical story gives us a hint about our current state of affairs. Israel was a nation in crisis. It had lost its identity, hope and purpose. It had been strong but fell prey to its surroundings. The Israelites turned away from God, and their homeland was destroyed. The survivors were taken into captivity. They were the living dead (Ezek. 37:1-14).
God called Ezekiel to give hope to the people. Seeing the living dead, Ezekiel was asked if the people could be awakened from their stupor. God instructed Ezekiel to tell the people they would live, and they must have hope. Having hope meant listening and changing.
This is a familiar picture. Culturally, spiritually, religiously and morally, we are in a valley of dry bones today. Many are walking among us as the living dead, empty and spiritless.
Today is a defining moment for the Christian church. The business community, being financially motivated, has demonstrated a moral compass. It has denounced racism, bigotry and violence. But many evangelical leaders are mum or visibly supportive of racial attitudes and bigotry.
God’s query to Ezekiel remains the same for us. Can life be breathed back into lifeless, dry, spiritless and non-caring bodies?
Yes, it can!
Some Christian leaders are confronting racism and violence. They are setting an example of what God has commanded us to do. Pastors and teachers in white congregations hold the key to undoing racism, bigotry and violence. Some of their members are living in ways that make racism, bigotry and violence the norm. They may hide their true feelings with phrases like, “I don’t have bad feelings about blacks (or Hispanics or Muslims), but . . .” The hidden message is “. . . don’t ask me to live next to them.”
We are commissioned to preach and teach the radical gospel of Jesus. The gospel, the good news, is found in the acts of Jesus as he dealt with the political and social climate of his day. He taught a radical way of witnessing to the Beloved Community. We must have clarity and conviction about who Jesus is, or our words are voided by our inaction.
I ask you to read and faithfully teach about the Jesus found in the four Gospels. Help your members reach deep internally and live into God’s preferred future. Help them engage in self-discovery by becoming involved with the dispossessed. You might be surprised at the difference it makes.
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump asked, “What do you have to lose?” The business community can see that if it does not distance itself from bigotry, it will lose money. What about Christians? Jesus asks, “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Mark 8:36-37). We have our souls to lose.
We are the Ezekiels who can speak and teach the Word and take action that will bring restoration to our death valley. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., has worked as a pastor, preacher and teacher in Mennonite churches and institutions.