See my Addendum below since there’s more to the story
This is the third Sunday in a row I’ve been able to take my Mom to church. The Pastor’s sermon was based on the passage from 1 John 1:1 to 2:2 and titled “Honest to God.” You can take a moment to click the link and keep that portion of scripture handy.
Actually, it’s not just his sermon I’m writing about but we’ll get to that.
Pastor pointed the dualities listed by John:
Light and Dark
Truth and Lie
Righteousness and Sin
As believers we should solidly embrace the concepts on the left, but being humans we don’t always do that because of our ignorance, weakness, or willfulness.
I won’t go through all of his points, but he did say that forgiveness should be the church’s main message and that the church is or should be a safe haven for everyone in their brokenness.
Now from an outside point of view, is Christianity seen that way? Generally not. Secular and progressive people see Christians are judgmental and hypocrites.
Can Christians actually be judgmental and hypocrites? Certainly. See above about how, while we should be in the light, we many times can walk in the darkness of our own damaged humanity.
Pastor said the focus here is not only should we be humble before God, but before each other. In fact, if we did display such humility in each of our churches, if we had loving and trustworthy fellowship with other believers, the church’s outside appearance would indeed transform into that safe and forgiving place. After all, 1 John 2:2 says that “…and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
As an aside, I feel I should also provide Bible Gateway’s definition of “propitiation” since it’s one of those words I don’t come across very often: “means of reconciliation with God by atoning for sins; or sin-offering.”
That means reconciliation with God isn’t just available to the church, Jesus carried out his propitiation for sins so it is available to everyone.
Those of you who experience me on social media or even this or my other blogs know I’m not always on that side of the light in my opinions and attitudes and I do freely admit that. I also concede that Pastor is right that I, we, all of us should continuously work forward toward presenting Christianity as offering the forgiveness of our Savior and safety for the broken, the lost, and the suffering.
I could offer a number of traditional examples of when we don’t, but here’s something I found in the Campus Reform article Theology prof: ‘Dear God, please help me to hate White people’. Caught me a little off guard.
This article describes seminary professor Chanequa Walker-Barnes, found on twitter at @DrChanequa, and describes her as “an associate professor of practical theology at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, which claims a Baptist identity. Her oration was published in A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal.
Yes, that book is a New York Times best seller and Dr. Walker-Barnes did somewhat qualify what she means by “hate white people.”
Quoting from the article:
“Dear God, Please help me to hate White people,” opens the prayer. “Or at least to want to hate them. At least, I want to stop caring about them, individually and collectively.”
“I want to stop caring about their misguided, racist souls, to stop believing that they can be better, that they can stop being racist,” she continues.
“I am not talking about the White antiracist allies who have taken up this struggle against racism with their whole lives,” Walker-Barnes clarifies for the Creator of the universe. “No, those aren’t the people I want to hate.”
This is a seminary professor. Let’s assume there are some white people who she is justified in hating. But to pray to God for that?
For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him. –John 3:17
[But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”] And they cast lots, dividing His garments among themselves. –Luke 23:24
So which white people does Dr. Walker-Barnes need the Almighty’s assistance in hating?
Walker-Barnes says that she has no interest in hating “strident segregationists who mow down nonviolent antiracist protesters, who open fire on Black churchgoers, or who plot acts of racism terrorism hoping to start a race war,” as such people are “already in hell.” Instead, she desires the strength of God to hate “the nice ones” — specifically, the “Fox News-loving, Trump-supporting voters who ‘don’t see color’ but who make thinly veiled racist comments about ‘those people.’”
She adds that such White people “welcome Black people in their churches and small groups but brand us as heretics if we suggest that Christianity is concerned with the poor and the oppressed” and “politely tell us that we can leave when we call out the racial microaggressions we experience in their ministries.”
Apparently her published prayer as garnered her many new twitter followers and her commentary, an image of which I post here, is her response. People love her.
I get that in the history of at least American slavery, certain portions of the Bible and Christianity as a whole was misused as a tool to continue that heinous institution. On the other hand when I compare her quotes to what Pastor had to say about being Christians, I don’t see that one looks anything like the other.
Christ and especially the Apostle Paul reached out to the whole world and as Pastor said, that’s still the church’s mission. In that sense, I can sort of agree with a few of Dr. Walker-Barnes’ points. We are called to not be Xenophobic, as one of the tweets declares. Also, Paul could also have an attitude in his letters, but he called out other believers, those he had taught, had a relationship with, and established in their communities.
Would he have sounded like this person if social media existed in his time? For both Jesus and Paul, it wasn’t about “I engage when I want and I block when I want.” Especially for Paul, he wasn’t interested in “calling out” the corruption of the Roman Empire as much as speaking truth to anyone who would listen. He wanted to go to Rome not to “chew out” the Emperor, but, if at all possible, to convince him of the good news of forgiveness and reconciliation through Christ.
I know especially now, it can be hard to separate party politics, identity politics, and faith. I often stir a similar pot myself (and I could be accused of doing that now). But every time I do, I diminish that message of the church as the nucleus of forgiveness and the protective haven, or for that matter, that we’re all broken.
I don’t doubt that Dr. Walker-Barnes’ rather outspoken comments ultimately come from her brokenness. After all, the New York Times “blurb” describes the book that contains her prayer as:
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • For the weary, the angry, the anxious, and the hopeful, this collection of moving, tender prayers offers rest, joyful resistance, and a call to act, written by Barbara Brown Taylor, Amena Brown, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and other artists and thinkers, curated by the author Glennon Doyle calls “my favorite faith writer.”
But from her position of influence and power (I’ve got to wonder about some of these other “artists and thinkers”), I would urge Walker-Barnes to listen to a few sermons from small town preachers whose only motivation is to teach humility by mirroring it such as we find in Micah 6:8.
“This thread isn’t for the critics,” she adds. “They’re so wrapped in white supremacist Christianity that only God and maybe some cult deprogramming can help them.”
While I agree that some portions of Christianity are still very much misused today and do not reflect the Gospel of Jesus, I wonder if it would ever occur to her that she’s doing the same thing in replacing the meaning and intent of scripture with her feelings?
Addendum 4-12-2021: Something wouldn’t let me let go of the issues surrounding Dr. Walker-Barnes prayer. I went back to her twitter account a few times and saw what I thought I’d see. I saw her defending herself, stating both that she has “white friends” and that her prayer is Biblically consistent because many Psalms have been written asking God to “smite enemies.”
Admittedly, those sound pretty lame. Then there were the scores of defenders that said if her critics knew Dr. Walker-Barnes, they would know she doesn’t hate white people. Again, this was really predictable, so I was prepared to set it all aside and move on. Then I saw that she wrote a blog post called Prayer of a Weary Black Woman.
First of all, at the bottom of her blog post, she posted the full text of her prayer as PDF pages, photos of the book the prayer appeared in. Unfortunately, two full pages of the five were distorted and unreadable. Still, it did illustrate that what she was ultimately trying to say to God and then to other people was more than the cherry picked text I saw quoted. She also related her personal history to give context and that she’d written that prayer impulsively in response to a white person she thought was her friend using the “N-word” to her in casual conversation.
Even after writing her blog, many people who read it weren’t really convinced. Yes, she wrote the prayer in haste, and given a good enough reason, we can all (proverbially) go off half-cocked. However, being a published author of both information technology textbooks, and of short stories published in anthologies, I know she had plenty of time to decide if that prayer, as written, should have been shared with the general public. She had plenty of time to decide what it would say about her “witness for Christ.” She has plenty of time to decide if she were a psalmist like King David, or a Biblical prophet of old.
The reason a lot of people are expressing anger toward her, in my opinion, has little or nothing to say about her hating at least some white people. Hate is a personal decision and given her experiences, I have no doubt that she may harbor hate in her heart for some folks. The problem is that she asked God to harden her heart for people she already felt compassion for, i.e. her “enemies.” What does that say to the rest of us when we are wronged by someone, especially someone who we are in fellowship with in Jesus? Yes, dropping an “N-bomb” can and should be called out, but that’s not the issue, is it?
I’ve always asked God to make me a better person, a kinder, more generous person, a person who had a better heart, especially for people who aren’t like me. I’m not saying this because I’m angry at Dr. Walker-Barnes. I was when I first read her words, but that passed rather quickly. Whether we intend to or not, as Christians, the minute we decide to go off the rails and use God and the Bible to invoke hate, even if there’s justification for it, what are we saying to all other Christians everywhere? Worse, what are we saying to an unbelieving world that God is still trying to reach?
Given everything I’ve read up until this moment, I most seriously doubt Dr. Walker-Barnes wants to hear from me, so I won’t attempt to engage her. Earlier today (as I write this) I did “tag” her on twitter when I posted a link to this blog post, but that’s the extent of it. She’s done what she’s done and there’s no taking it back (especially since she’s encouraging people to buy the book in which her prayer is printed). You and I will never know the full consequences of her actions and how it has affected the attitudes of so many toward God.
But if you’re a believer at all, you know that someday we will all face the Almighty and have to give an accounting for everything we’ve done in this life. I’m really glad I don’t have the audience and influence that Dr. Walker-Barnes has, and we know that teachers will be held to a higher standard. If anything, this should be a good lesson for the rest of us. What we say and do matters. Even the least of us will never know if a word or an action on our part will gently push someone to Christ or drive them away.