Sunday, November 9, 2008

A spiritual stronghold broken? Maybe

During services this morning and in response to the election of Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency last week, the pastor of my interracial church invited all the African-Americans, myself included, to stand. He then directed the rest of the congregation to lay hands on us because he believed that a spiritual stronghold had finally been broken with Tuesday's result.

I need to chew on that for a bit, but I think he may be right.

There's no question that racism, especially against African-Americans in this country, has been a social and cultural problem throughout its 400-year history. But because it has affected the church of Jesus Christ, it also became a spiritual issue as well. Especially my church, which 30 years ago froze out every black person who tried to visit.

Indeed, racism has been a large, if generally unspoken, issue in evangelicalism in general. Theologically conservative churches were virtually nowhere to be found during the civil-rights movement, which of course was born in the historically black church, and those few evangelicals who supported it (most notably evangelist Billy Graham) caught considerable heat for doing so. Even as recently as the last decade, Bill McCartney, founder of the Promise Keepers movement and a staunch anti-racist, experienced the cold shoulder for bringing up the subject at PK rallies; he was quoted in Christianity Today as saying that attendance actually dropped because of it.

However, I see positive signs in the generation behind me, not simply that folks are learning about racial and cultural differences but also looking past them to see -- and judge -- people by the content of their character. More frequently they seem to be crossing those lines in intimate relationships as well, including dating and marriage, which I see as a positive sign. My white senior pastor has a Filipino son-in-law, and from what I can tell no one cares that they belong to different races. That's as it should be.

More importantly, "salvation" is becoming less and less the be-all and end-all of the purpose of the church. I see a movement toward building community; a concern for the health and welfare of the world that, while fallen, God created for His glory; and a desire to break away from self-centered "boomer" theology, in many cases by recapturing a sense of the holy.

I hope I'm around in 20 years to see what the evangelical church looks like, which I hope will be more like heaven (I'm not ready to go just yet). And should another black man, or even a black woman, become president it won't be a big deal -- and that what happened in church today will and should never happen again.

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