Being an American Christian after Charlottesville

Being an American Christian after Charlottesville

For those of us who exist in the realms of privilege because of our race, gender, material wealth, or education, the only Christian response to Charlottesville and Ferguson is solidarity with our brothers and sisters who suffer, even to the point of putting our very selves physically on the front lines in the spirit of the one whom we follow.

Commentary

One of the earliest Christian creeds comes in a small line of the great Christological hymn found in Philippians. There, at the end of the hymn, St. Paul records the simple words “Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Those three words proclaim that the person Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah or the anointed one, and that he is Lord. Three simple words which speak to the heart of the Christian faith.

Yet what makes Jesus the anointed one in this hymn is not the measure of his power, nor of the sovereignty of God over all of creation, but rather the whole emptying of himself from the moment of the incarnation to the cross. Christ, though he was in the form of God, did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at.

If we dare to call ourselves Christians, if we dare to follow Christ, then we must follow the God who empties himself, and empty ourselves as well. If we dare to call ourselves Christians, then we can no longer be a people concerned with our own power and privilege. If we dare to follow the one who called on each of us to pick up our crosses, rather than sit in our ivory towers, then our faith must fly in the face of the racism and xenophobia which seeks to separate us.

The claims of one group of people’s superiority over the other is rendered meaningless by the act of the Incarnation, when the all-holy God becomes man. In that moment in which the God of the universe chooses to become Emmanuel, God with us, and in that act in which the great chasm between the Divine and human is bridged in the person of Jesus, even the concept that there could be divisions amongst us is rendered incoherent.

If we dare to call ourselves Christians, then it is our work to follow the one who rendered those divisions incoherent. For those of us who exist in the realms of privilege because of our race, gender, material wealth, or education, the only Christian response to Charlottesville and Ferguson is solidarity with our brothers and sisters who suffer, even to the point of putting our very selves physically on the front lines in the spirit of the One whom we follow.

Such a stand is all the more essential when the forces of xenophobia, which are nothing short of anti-Christian, come to town in their costumes with white hoods and orange armbands.

Beyond the dramatic moments where it might be obvious that we should stand hand-in-hand, we must be daring enough to stand on the precipice of the uncomfortable. Actively giving up our privilege by ensuring equity for all in education, healthcare, and pay, is a sign of our willingness to take up the cross in the hope that God’s will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Attentiveness to and rejection of privilege is a mark of our desire to be counted among those who fed Christ when he was hungry, clothed him when he was naked, visited him in prison and care for him when he was sick. Solidarity is not just about standing in line against the forces of racism, it is also about rooting out the latent racism which rests in every privilege which we enjoy and are afraid to lose.

Four days before he was killed, speaking in Los Angeles, Dr. Martin Luther King said: “And with this faith we will go out and adjourn the counsels of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism and we will be able to rise from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope. And this will be a great America!”

Adjourning the counsels of despair demands of Christians the radical following of Christ, which is the only hope of truly making America great. It is no longer enough to just pray, because our prayer and worship as Christians must flourish in the works of Justice, which are the manifestation of that great virtue of hope which rests, along with faith and love, at the heart of any relationship with God.

In that spirit, we must dare to have the same attitude as Christ, humbling ourselves so that the Kingdom might continue to be realized.

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