Charlottesville: Statues & Images

As I sit comfortably on my couch, in my completely quiet house, while my babies take a nap, there are mobs of angry people in a town called Charlottesville who are carrying torches, yelling and screaming, and running over people with cars.

The people who started this violence are part of an alt-right, White Supremacist group that is angry because a confederate statue was taken down. The confederate statue, of course, was an image to commemorate, and for some people celebrate, the most violent time in our nations history, where we not only voted against one another, but we fought and killed one another.

These violent alt-right people believe that they are standing up for righteousness, perhaps even for God. Their desire to stand up has driven them to de-humanize those around them who are different and to destroy relationships.

It’s pretty easy to see and call out what they are doing as evil. But it’s not quite as easy to admit echoes of what’s driving them in ourselves, and to change the way we relate to our neighbors from the very core of who we are.

Some of my liberal friends have been pointing out that the culture President Trump has created has invited these people to feel comfortable enough to spew their hatred.

Many of my conservative friends have condemned it, while some have either ignored the situation, or tried to balance it by blaming “both sides.”

But as a more conservative Christian American, I’d like to speak particularly to “my side.” While I don’t know of anyone personally who would support such overt racism, I do see a spirit of de-humanization in our community that destroys relationships, all in the name of “standing up for God.”

A few years ago, there was a story on the local news of a “Christian missionary” who was doing charitable work in another country. But what was he really doing? He was actually there trying to convince people from another culture that they had to reject their culture’s style of music, dress, communication etc. for his suburban, conservative, white, Greenville, SC, American classical style.

While that “Christian missionary” may not have been carrying a torch or running over people in a car, he firmly believed he was standing up for God by demanding that people from another culture conform to his culture and language, and making them feel guilty about the styles of songs that had been born from their hearts, and with their neighbors.

Those of you who have grown up in conservative Christianity know exactly what I’m talking about, and know that stories like this permeate our communities. In the name of standing up for God, we have elevated our own white, traditional culture, and consequently de-humanized God’s image bearers and destroyed relationships.

So what do we do now? Do we try to justify ourselves by differentiating ourselves from the alt-right? Do we post strongly worded condemnations of this alt-right violence on social media?  Do we march in new protests against their protest? Do we try to show how violence from the right isn’t as bad as violence from the left or violence from Muslims? Do we vote for the Democrats in 2018 and 2020?

Standing For God.

It was the time when the legends who would one day be commemorated by these confederate statues were roaming our country in the flesh. Rather than carrying signs, they carried guns. Rather than shouting insults, they shot bullets. As our country was falling deeper into death, the soldiers on each side of the battlefields would sing,

“Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
Ye soldiers of the cross;
Lift high his royal banner,
It must not suffer loss.
From victory unto victory
His army shall he lead,
Till every foe is vanquished,
And Christ is Lord indeed.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
The strife will not be long;
This day the noise of battle,
The next the victor’s song.
To those who vanquish evil,
A crown of life shall be;
They with the king of glory
Shall reign eternally.”

I remember regularly singing this song, even into my 20’s. And as I look at its lyrics today, I’m quite honestly confused as to why we sang it at all. It’s basically saying that we have to stand up for Jesus by lifting his banner (whatever that means) and fighting battles to destroy those who oppose Christ, so that Jesus doesn’t suffer loss, so that Jesus can become Lord, and so we can reign.

How is this song any different than the Islamic call to Jihad?

You might say that it’s talking about spiritual battles, rather than physical ones. But if that were the case, then why were soldiers on both sides of the Civil War singing it for inspiration? And why is it’s theology completely dependent on us accomplishing Jesus’ victory for Him?

In our conservative Christian communities, we have too often “stood up for Jesus” by redefining Christ’s victory and by making His victory dependent on us either defeating our neighbors or convincing them to become just like us.

I know this, not only because I’ve seen it in others, but because I’ve seen it in myself. I “stood up for Jesus” by trying to get my neighbors to not only believe the gospel, but to believe it exactly like I do. I even looked down at four point Calvinists, because they weren’t as reformed as I was in my five point Calvinism. I “stood up for Jesus” by trying to get my fellow Christians to live out the gospel exactly like I do. I “stood up for Jesus” by creating a “Me vs Them” mentality in which I had everything figured out, and my Christian and non-Christian neighbors were like cute, ignorant children at best, and ravenous wolves at worst.

And the result of this “Standing up for Jesus” mindset was exactly what the song described, battle after battle, argument after argument, feeling really good about vanquishing my neighbors, and wishing they would submit to my reign.

But Jesus doesn’t need us to stand up for him. He’s already won by defeating sin and death. He’s already Lord, by creating and sustaining the universe. He simply wants us to be with him.

Being With God.

Proverbs 8:30-31 says,

“Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
Rejoicing always in his presence,
Rejoicing in his whole world
And delighting in mankind.”

Consider the phrase, “I was constantly at his side.” It’s the image of a child clinging to the leg of a mother or father. It implies closeness, trust, dependence, and communion.

What does being with God bring?

It fills us with delight, day after day.

How does this delight evidence itself?

Being with God produces a delight that rejoices in his presence, rejoices in his whole world, and delights in his image bearers.

Is your posture toward other Christians one of delight?

What about non-Christians?

Getting more specific: When you think of someone who votes for Democrats, can your heart fill with delight for who they are?

When you think of someone who supports abortion, can your heart rejoice in the beauty of who they are?

When you think of someone who is attracted to the same sex, or who says they are transgender, does your stomach turn? Do you quickly look away? Do they see the back of your head shaking in disgust?

Or do you only delight in Christians who are of the same political persuasion, in the same church denomination, and with the same convictions, preferences, and standards as you?

Being with God sheds us of the need to stand up for God. Being with God births within us a child-like delight that sees a beauty in “His whole world” and in all of mankind that is worth celebrating.

Of course, there are differences. I’m not on the same page as my atheist, liberal friend. But when I think of her, I always picture her face with a smile on it. When I see her social media posts, I see a love for her family, a wonder at the universe, a dedication to physical health, and a heart for community that is worth being thankful for, and rejoicing in.

Why?

Because, despite my friend’s decision to not believe in God, I believe that she was created in His image. She reflects God’s love for others. She reflects God’s enjoyment and care for the universe. She reflects God’s valuing of the human body. And she shares the same inner desires that I have for peace on earth. She may not be my “sister in Christ.” But she is my “sister image-bearer.”

While we create statues that commemorate our wars, God creates image bearers who reflect His beauty and express His love.

So in varying degrees and in various ways, we all ultimately point to Christ, who is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”

Let’s not get so worked up over the tearing down of an earthly confederate statue that we dehumanize image bearers of Christ, who is the image of the invisible God.

When we truly “be with God,” we will be filled with a joy that goes beyond our differences, and sees beauty in everyone. We will see each other as part of an earthly family of image bearers.

So as my children continue their quiet resting, my prayer is that our communities will experience this same rest in their souls.

Charlottesville isn’t the one, obscure place where this unrest is happening. In reality, we are all Charlottesville. All of our communities have been groaning and restless for far too long.

That rest is not going to come by “standing up for Jesus” and fighting battles with our neighbors in hopes that Jesus doesn’t suffer loss. In fact, it’s not anything that we can produce. But what we can do is to be with God in such a way that we can rejoice in our brother and sister image bearers throughout His whole world. And my guess is that God just might use our posture of rejoicing, and our expressions of love to help people see what perfect love is, where it comes from, and how that love can transform us all.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *