August 19, 2017 / Derek Vreeland

Do We, White Christians, Have the Strength to Stoop Down

On Sunday, August 13, I led our church in a congregational prayer written by my friend Rich Villodas. This prayer allowed us in Northwest Missouri to join with churches all across the country to offer a prayerful response to the protests and violence in Charlottesville.

Prayer should be the initial reaction of Christians to evil and hate.

When we pray we resist the spirit of the age. We who are followers of Jesus live in a new world, a world of new creation. The evils of white supremacy and racism belong to the old world that is passing away. There is no room for the superiority of one race in the kingdom of God, because red and yellow, black and white they are all precious in his sight. King Jesus is ruling over a kingdom where all nations, all tribes and tongues, all nationalities, races, and skin tones come to worship together.

For many white Christians, rage was the response to white faces illuminated by flickering tiki torches uttering vile slogans of white dominance. This outrage continued as neo-Nazi and white supremacist demonstrators clashed violently with counter protesters. The boiling rage continued in response to President Trump’s initial condemnation of violence and hate on both sides, followed by a condemnation of white supremacy and groups by name, then again followed by his failed attempt at drawing moral equivalency on “both sides” of the protest. The flames of rage continue to be stirred.

The Spirit of the Age

We are living in a very disquieted, anxious and antagonistic age. The nature of public discourse over the issues that matter the most has been corrupted with antagonisms which pit one side against the other. Hostility has replaced civility and ranting has replaced listening. We produce poisonous diatribes instead of healthy dialogues. Outrage is the spirit of the age emboldened by the power of social media. Our rants on our preferred social media platform reinforce our outrage as we are rewarded with likes, shares, and thumbs ups.

Hostility has replaced civility and ranting has replaced listening. Share on X

I give space to the marginalized and the oppressed to express, in a peaceful way, their feelings in the face of hate. I am in no position to tell racial, religious, or socioeconomic minorities how they should feel or express themselves. But to my white brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, may I offer a better way to stand in solidarity with the recipients of hate and injustice? Perhaps now is not a time to stand and shout, but maybe this is a time to be still and listen.

Perhaps now is not a time for white Christians to stand and shout, but to be still and listen. Share on X

Instead of jumping into the fray, exchanging verbal jabs with the perpetrators of racism, maybe we can best resist the ideologies of hate by first occupying the seat of humility and prayer. For those of us reared in positions of privilege, there does come the time for us to act, to stand, and to publicly resist evil and injustice in our world, but we must recognize first that it’s a time for us to stoop down. In doing so we are not abandoning our brothers and sisters of color. Rather we are stepping aside from the microphone and giving them room to speak, applauding them and amplifying their voices.

Jesus and The Pharisees

The Pharisees challenged Jesus by bringing to him a woman caught in the act of adultery, asking him what Jesus thought they should do in light of the law of Moses which said to stone such a woman (John 8:3-5). When these antagonistic religious leaders pressured Jesus, trying to trap him, he did not meet their pressure with fire and fury. In fact he did just the opposite. He stooped down and began to write in the dirt. He would eventually take a stand for justice. He would eventually do something. He would soon call out their hypocrisy and injustice and speak words of forgiveness to the woman caught up in an evil system of religious power. The time for Jesus to speak & act would come, but first he stooped.

The time for Jesus to speak & act would come, but first he stooped. Share on X

Watching video clips of the white supremacy torch march and the following outbursts of violence the next day in Charlottesville made me sick to my stomach. I felt the surge of outrage and lament shoot straight through me. I thought about taking to social media to fire off a response in the name of justice, but I paused. I prayed. I led my church in a prayer. And then I prayed some more. Then I used my social media platform to amplify the prayer written by Rich and Sean Palmer’s needed prophetic words in his piece entitled “Why Christians Are Incapable of Racial Healing.” I amplified my brothers’ words in the digital public square only after I stooped down to pray.

Action by Non-Action

White Christians need not retreat into silence when hate, bigotry, and racism rear their ugly heads. I am not advocating an all-heads-in-the-sand kind of quietism. For there to be true reconciliation and the triumph of justice over hate, the evil of racism needs to be named and shamed not only by people of color, but by white Christians as well. We need to speak, but first we need to pray. It is only from a posture prayer that we are ready to stand up. Only with hearts bathed in the presence of the Holy Spirit are we ready to link white arms with black arms, standing as one new humanity under the banner of King Jesus.

It is only from a posture prayer that we are ready to stand up. Share on X

Contemplative prayer, sitting quietly and intentionally in the presence of God, is the root of all social justice. Without prayer we simply mimic the antagonisms of our age. Without prayer it is too easy to try to combat rage for rage and hate for hate. In this regard, prayer is not doing nothing, prayer becomes the “non-action” which enables us to be more effective people of action. Prayer enables us to endure the suffering that comes with being citizens of the peaceable kingdom. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., prayer is what enables us to say to the haters: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force.”[1] Prayer is that soul force. It is action by non-action allowing us to embody counter-cultural peace in a world full of rage.

Stand and speak the truth to power, speak the truth of love over hate, but stoop down before you stand.

[1] Martin Luther King Jr., Christmas Sermon on Peace, December 24, 1967