Genuine Christian Repentance in Tumultuous Times: An ExampleJanuary 28, 2021
Genuine Christian Repentance in Tumultuous Times: An Example
We have seen the latest racial and political train wreck unfolding in slow motion over several years. The temperature on the ever present, simmering hate and bigotry residing in the DNA of this country began to boil with the election of Barack Obama several years ago and has fueled the divisiveness and radicalization that led to the attempted coup at the Nation’s Capitol on January 6. I could go on and on and on about the false Christianity standing arm in arm with white supremacy, drinking from the fire hose of right-wing propaganda media, conspiracy theories, and opportunistic politicians, but I would like to focus on something else, if I may.
Throughout this terrible time in our country, where we have seen and experienced multiple health, economic, racial, and political trials seemingly unimaginable in their magnitude within the context of most of our lifetimes, God has been unveiling and revealing who we really are at heart. He is exposing our real character, collective and individual, through the trials and tribulations He is permitting. And while my point of emphasis has often been to highlight and warn about those whose true nature has been exposed by their false teaching, idol worship, bad fruit, and the like, God is also identifying those who do strive to walk by and in their faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I confess that, in my protector-driven pursuit to identify the wolves, I have not paid much attention to the sheep around them. I am saddened that I have, at times, been willing to sacrifice the sheep near the wolves, rather than offering them a path back to the flock. The fact is that if we watch closely, people will show us through their words and conduct whether they need Jesus, or whether they belong to the family of God, but may have traveled down the wrong path. I must do better, and I encourage you to do the same, if you are struggling to exhibit love towards fellow brethren ensnared by the traps set by the evil one to engage in hurtful behavior.
My conviction came from a post on Facebook of all places. I try to manage my time and involvement with social media – it is at sometimes work-related, family connecting, instructional, sports highlight indulging, enemy watching, and Christ sharing – but sometimes, it manages me. Have you noticed that, when something really upsets or angers you, it can fuel you to pursue the issue further, become more upset or angry, and pursue it even further? Of course, the algorithms and information bundled to push at you are built to entice and consume you – it’s a business after all and the more captivating the influencers and influence platforms, the greater the financial reward for the businesses. It is like most technology in this world, useful for good and for evil.
In any event, on January 6, as the situation began developing around the Capitol, I made my way to a television, tuned in to a news channel, and saw a split screen. On one side, I observed a former preacher turned Senator from Oklahoma at the podium in the constitutionally required joint session of Congress. He was attempting to prevent the counting of duly certified election results from states whose black and brown populations had swung election results in favor of President-elect Biden. On the other side of the screen, was coverage of the attempted coup taking place at that very moment in support of the effort of President Trump, the Oklahoma Senator, and others to overturn the election results. There, the Christian flag waived alongside confederate flags and white supremacist symbols as domestic terrorists attacked the Capitol.
Nearly immediately, I noticed a number of people on my social media accounts who self-identify as “Christian” and who have been rabid supporters of President Trump and the far right (including rejection of the election as “stolen”), pushing a narrative that the attack was orchestrated and being carried out by “ANTIFA” and “BLM.” I suppose they panicked with the realization that their political movement, purportedly draped in God, country, the flag, “law and order,” and blue lives (I still have yet to see a blue person, by the way), was attacking all of those things, either in principle or physically, and in front of the eyes of the entire nation. “ANTIFA” and “BLM” became their immediate scapegoat. I watched in realtime as these “Christian” promoters of overturning the election posted feverishly to reassure each other that, no, this was not their movement – the “fake news media” was at it again and this was really the work of imposters from the left. Some, I believe were naïve and distraught that their fingerprints were on this rebellion; others were seeking to absolve themselves of any connection or accountability for their association with domestic terrorism. But they found immediate solace in their own reassurances that their enemies – “ANTIFA” and “BLM” were the real culprits.
In the days since then, much has come to light to confirm the nature of the attack and the identity of those groups who had a hand in it one way or another. And it is clear that it is not over. It would be comical if the attack were not so tragic and disgusting, but the greatest confirmation that it came from and was carried out by Trump supporters and sympathizers, has been the self coverage of the rebellion itself and all things related, captured by those involved. They captured themselves and their fellow rioters on social media during the course of the attack, they identified themselves, their beliefs, their planning, their purpose, and all manner of other information, leaving no room for scapegoating. In fact, the allegations by the self-identified “Christians” that other groups were to blame for the attack were demonstrably proving to be false as quickly as they were being posted and the information since then has only further solidified this.
I was angry. I’m tired of seeing “Christians” engaged in the politics of hate. I’m tired of the brazen appropriation of Christ and Christianity by hypocrites and scoundrels and I’m saddened at the realization that so many people who “go to church” are lost. I was really struggling with my own desire to unleash my emotions on these people, restrained only by the knowledge that my interaction and words needed to be salt and light. I could not in that moment cultivate the words to respond appropriately and thought better of saying anything. It was then that I saw a post pop up from a high school friend's wife, on the topic of the Capitol crisis. She said:
“I have a confession to make. I haven’t been practicing these verses.
I had a LOVING, PRIVATE MESSAGE (those that care about speaking the truth in love to you will do it privately, not on a social media platform) from one of my daughters, who I won’t name (but she’s my first born). She tenderly pointed out to me that the photos I posted of what I thought were Antifa members storming the capital were actually Trump supporters. She had done some digging, and I hadn’t. She was being slow and careful to research and come to a conclusion. I had been hasty. As I read her message to me I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit immediately, although it took all day to let it soak in deep. As I reflected I realized when I posted those photos I was caught up in anger, pride and I think some fear mixed in there if I’m really being honest. I just want to own it and repent publicly since my post yesterday was public.
I don’t want this post to turn into a debate no matter where you stand politically. It’s a post about having Godly sorrow over my sin. Might sound phony or religious, but it’s real and I’m feeling it in my heart as I type these words.
A gal that’s been recently humbled ....again.”
The verses our sister referred to came from James, Chapter 1, and beginning at verse 19:
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. 26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:19-27 ESV)
The words of the author’s post ministered to me in so many ways. In this beautiful public display of genuine, Holy Spirit led and accomplished, Christ honoring words was one of those “sheep” who’d taken a wrong turn and who was finding her way back to the flock. Obviously, she has been caught up, and probably resides mostly in, the bubble of white conservatism which, itself, is so tethered to the events and people leading to what occurred January 6. Likely, as a result of negligent and biased reporting at best or intentional misinformation at worst, she became upset and determined to blame others, compounding the misinformation and sentiment. But when confronted with contrary information from a daughter, she reconsidered the possible impact of her actions on her daughter and those who had or would see the post.
In the midst of her confession, we see God on display in so many ways. For instance, though she seemingly initially believed that the misinformation she shared was true, when confronted with the fact that she was mistaken, she desired to right the wrong she committed. I think it says a great deal about her that she was willing to receive correction from anyone, much less a daughter. She knew scripture, wanted to adhere to scripture, was sufficiently under control of the Holy Spirit to respond in humility upon learning she shared erroneous information, desired to model her faith to her family and the public by acknowledging her error – not simply erroneous information, but a failure to adhere to scripture in her use of social media to respond to the national events unfolding.
Wow, that’s grown-up Christian behavior. She found herself in a situation many of us have or will, and though she failed initially, she made sure to get things right. In contrast, though I haven’t searched exhaustively and some besides her in the group of messages may have apologized, but I am unaware of any similar responses from the host of “Christians” who engaged in similar and much worse social media behavior regarding the same misinformation.
The apology also stands in stark contrast to that Senator who regularly appears in some sort of hybrid elected official/preacher capacity in pulpits around the state each political season. Upon being criticized for his attempt to cancel the certified election results from other states – a key component of the insurrection – he began to send out special newsletters attempting to cast himself as detached from it and as providing balanced information to his constituents to quell rumors. Most appalling was the additional purported letter of apology to black Tulsans in which he suggested he had no idea that his posture opposing certification of votes was an overt attempt to cancel the votes of black and brown Americans in several states. He referred to it as a “blind spot” as he attempted to save his position on the Tulsa Race Massacre Commission. When compared with the apology of our sister above, the “apology” from the Senator reeks of a self-serving political attempt to avoid, rather than acknowledge and accept, responsibility for his behavior, rather than real sorrow and regret born out of a love of Christ and compassion for others.
As we continue to navigate these tumultuous times, let us recommit ourselves to the knowledge of the Word of God, to submitting ourselves to the control and conviction of the Holy Spirit, to maintaining a humble spirit, to accepting conviction when we fall, and responding with contrite and repentant hearts. Let us have the courage to admit our failings and strive to honor our Lord in everything we think, say, and do. And let us remember in the midst of tense and troubling times, when our first instinct may be to lash out or join the social media frenzy, we should rather seek ways to honor God by being an example of Christlikeness, lighting the path for those who have lost their way or have not yet come to know Him.