Posts Tagged ‘civil rights’

What awaits Christians in a Post-Christian America?

The Stoning of St. Stephen by Bernardo Daddi [1324]

The Stoning of St. Stephen
by Bernardo Daddi (1324)

Over the past several days I’ve heard and read a number of Christians expressing their dismay over the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling making gay marriage the law of the land. The decision should not have come as a shock to anyone. The vote was only the affirmation of a social movement that has been quickly gathering speed for at least a decade.

What the vote did succeed in doing was to remove any remaining doubt that America has entered a post-Christian era of its history. Christians are now a minority with diminishing cultural and political influence. Whether or not we become a hated minority will be determined by our actions.

Gallup conducts a poll on American morals and beliefs each May. Polling data from the last decade indicate a significant shift to the left on a number of controversial social issues, including divorce, abortion, doctor-assisted suicide, gay marriage and human embryonic stem cell research. This shift is, at least in part, a product of the growing wave of moral relativism that has permeated the America media and many American Christian denominations at least since the free love movement of the 1960’s and perhaps earlier.

The term describes a paradigm shift from the completeness of Christian Scripture to so-called progressive revelation. Relativism insists that the Scriptures did not fully provide theological, legal, moral, scientific, medical and other knowledge from the beginning. Rather, God gradually reveals new truths over time whenever humanity is capable of receiving it.

This philosophy is splitting many mainstream Christian denominations today through a continual reinterpretation of the scriptures that increasingly waters down God’s word to the point it becomes socially irrelevant. Moral relativism enables the social justification of anything and everything, from immodest clothing and casual sex to the extremes of abortion, euthanasia and even pagan religions.

I would caution advocates of social change in America, on the left and right, to remember that freedom is not the ability to do whatever you please. That is the definition of anarchy. Freedom is the ability for people to coexist by following a set of rules based upon an accepted moral code. If morals in America are not to be based upon Christian beliefs, then on whose beliefs will they be based? This discussion has barely begun.

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away;
for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.
Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.
                                          Isaiah 59:14-15

The Rev. Franklin Graham has expressed concern that the Supreme Court ruling will lead to Christian persecution. Perhaps he is correct and perhaps not. Christians wishing to know why the table has turned against them so quickly need look no farther than their own houses. It happened, as God says in the first chapter of the book of Haggai, “Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.” Christians should get their own act together before worrying about what the Supreme Court is doing.

We Christians are free to blame anyone we choose for American society’s woes, but we should start by taking a good look in the mirror. We bear a good deal of the blame. Many of today’s social and cultural problems could be reduced and in some cases eliminated if Christians would just start living like Christ taught us.

Once a person accepts God’s gift of salvation by placing faith in Christ as his personal Savior, something important happens. Like it or not, that individual becomes a walking billboard for Christ to all of the unbelievers he knows. What unbelievers see in this Christian’s behavior serves to either honor or dishonor Christ. Does the Christian strive to be more Christ-like, as the Bible teaches, or does he simply fall in and conform to the secular world’s pursuit of wealth, position, power and other forms of self-gratification? A Christian’s behavior should reflect the Gospel to unbelievers—actions speak louder than words.”

The persecution of Christians in America might come someday. To some degree I suppose it has already begun. I’ve spoken with numerous Christians who say they dare not mention their faith at work for fear of losing their jobs. Christians, if we don’t change, could someday become a hated minority, just as the Jews were hated in Nazi Germany. Some will inevitably shrink away in public; hiding their faith and becoming sort of “closet Christians.” Others might ignore Christ’s example and turn militant.

As I wrote last October, Christianity has historically endured its greatest tests and proven strongest and most effective when operating from a position of weakness within society as a whole.  Jesus was the perfect example of this. The son of God allowed Himself to be crucified, and in so doing took all of the sins of mankind upon himself. In all of history there is no greater example of love than this.

What Christians in America have today is an opportunity—not an opportunity to debate or reverse the court’s decision. It is an opportunity to show love. We can follow the recent example of many of the family members of victims of Charleston Emanuel AME Church shootings; they publicly forgave the shooter. It is not a time for erecting barriers. We should be reaching out in love to those who disagree with us. We can do this without sacrificing our beliefs or principles.

Around 312 A.D, during the reign of Emperor Constantine, Rome recognized Christianity as a legal religion.   This remarkable feat, going from persecuted underground church to a legal religion recognized by the Empire, was accomplished not through violent revolution, but by years of adhering to the tenets of the faith while suffering terrible persecution.

“Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne—
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.”
                         ―James Russell Lowell

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. – 1964 at the Jasper city pool

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I grew up in Louisville, a beautiful city situated along the Ohio River in north-central Kentucky.  Kentucky was a border state during the Civil War.  As such, it shares characteristics of both the north and the south.  Louisville is more Midwestern than southern and has much in common with the Ohio River cities of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.  From Louisville, traveling only 80 miles eastward to the city of Lexington, where I attended the University of Kentucky, transports one into the Deep South.   The contrast is remarkable.

My parents divorced when I was five.  Shortly afterwards, my older brother went to live with mom’s parents in southeastern Kentucky.  I stayed with mom, whose earnings as a nurse’s aide barely kept us afloat.  During the summer, when school was out, I was shipped off to spend several weeks with family. My summers were split between visiting my grandparents in southeastern Kentucky and staying with family in northern Alabama.

In the little town of Jasper, Alabama, I could enjoy time with my cousins under the loving eye of my mom’s older sister, Aunt Bette.  I have many fond memories of the warm summer days there, fishing, digging in the large vegetable garden, playing ball and frolicking with my cousin Philip.  Philip and I spent  many a day at Jasper’s city swimming pool, only a few blocks from Aunt Bette’s house.  To me, life in Jasper was something akin to living in television’s fanciful town of Mayberry.  The image will resonate for those who remember the Andy Griffith Show.

Traveling to Alabama was a fascinating experience for a young boy.  I usually went by train on the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad.  My maternal grandmother Myrtle would accompany me back and forth.  My granddad Jim was a locomotive engineer for the L&N, so he and granny enjoyed free travel by rail.

Union Station in Louisville was a behemoth mixture of wrought iron,  granite, polished marble and stained glass—a magnificent structure. There we boarded the Pan American express for our journey.  The ride to Alabama took us through Nashville to our final stop in Birmingham.  Aunt Bette’s husband, my dear Uncle John, would meet us at the Birmingham station.  From there it was a short drive to Jasper and my summer residence.

The contrast between Midwest and Deep South was remarkable, even for a young lad.  It was immediately evident upon entering the train station in Birmingham.  Unlike the station in Louisville, Birmingham’s was filled with the signs of a racially segregated south.  There were separate drinking fountains, restrooms and waiting areas marked “whites only” and “colored only.”  The first time I walked into the Birmingham station, my Midwestern mind didn’t get it. Granny tried to explain to me what segregation was all about, but the cruelty of what I was seeing didn’t register with my young brain.

Outside the station was more evidence.  There were cabs for “coloreds” along with movie theaters, restaurants, bars, barber shops, benches at the bus stops, and dozens of other examples.  As I would later find out, there were also schools and yes—even swimming pools designated for “colored only.”

Unbeknownst to me, the city pool in Jasper was for white people only.  At least that’s how it was during my first two summers there.  This changed on July 2, 1964, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became the law of the land.  I was much too young to understand the full impact of what was going on, but I was fortunate to witness firsthand a piece of history in the making. I still remember it clearly.

I was at the city pool when the first test of the new Civil Rights Act occurred.   On a sunny afternoon in August, a lone young black man wearing a t-shirt and swimming trunks entered the pool area.  With many of the whites staring in various states of confusion and disbelief, the man walked to the grassy area at the deep end of the pool where he spread out his towel on the ground

No one knew it at the time, but the brave man who dared venture into the formerly whites only swimming pool was handpicked for the task.  After removing his shirt and sandals, he headed straight for the high dive.  He climbed the ladder, confidently walked towards the end of the diving board and proceeded to perform a perfect one and one-half somersault into the water.  Swimming to the ladder, he exited the water and made another beeline for the diving board.

Over the next few minutes, the young man put on a mesmerizing display of diving, with each twisting and turning dive seeming more difficult than the preceding one.  While the young man was performing, everyone watching (myself included) seemed unaware of the dozen or more young blacks entering the pool area. Everyone was enjoying the show.  When the show finally ended, everyone simply went back to what they were doing before.  Amazing!

It was in this simple way that segregation peacefully ended at the city pool in Jasper, Alabama.  At least that’s how I remember it.  Unfortunately, desegregation didn’t occur as smoothly in many other places.  Fifty years later, I’m glad to live in a country where a person’s color isn’t as important as the “content of their character.”1 We still have much room for improvement, but we have steadily advanced the cause that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave so much for—even his life.  May our nation never turn back!

“We are only what we are in the dark; all the rest is reputation. What God looks at is what we are in the dark—the imaginations of our minds; the thoughts of our heart; the habits of our bodies; these are the things that mark us in God’s sight.”  —Oswald Chambers

1”I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”   —Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.