Reading in Exodus today, I observe that two passages in the first two chapters have poignant application to the Body of Christ in the United States today. I see two predominant lines of injustice in the United States to which the Church collectively has given its attention that are identified in these first two chapters of Exodus.
At the same time, the Church is divided on justice issues. I don’t say this to condemn or to be judgmental. It’s simply a fact that I think we need to recognize soberly, honestly and humbly.
We might find many examples, but the one that comes to mind – the one that is, perhaps, most poignant in this given time – is the division between black and white and the division between supporters and and non-supporters of Donald Trump.
I know: I said one example, and it seems I given two here. These are two examples, but they coalesce into one. The proof for that is in the statistics that show that approximately 80% of white evangelicals support Trump, and approximately 80% of black “evangelicals”[i] do not support Trump.
Now, I recognize that these statistics are sweeping generalizations, but generalizations do tell a story. There is some reflection of truth in them. I also don’t mention Trump to be divisive here. The example simply is provided for illustration.
Churchgoing African Americans can be as theologically conservative on things like what it means to be born again as white evangelicals, but their individual and collective experiences give them a different perspective on life. Their view of the world and injustice is different than their white, evangelical counterparts, for the most part, and influences them to have different political affiliations.
My reading in Exodus (which I will get to) is timely because today is Sanctity of Life Sunday. I didn’t even realize it when I did my daily reading after I woke up this morning.
I didn’t realize it until I tuned into the Manchester (NH) Vineyard Community Church service this morning. I have never tuned into their services, until today, though I know people affiliated with them. When I set out to participate in a more local church service, I believe God drew my attention away to this one.
It was a great message, and I gained some perspective from it that, perhaps, God wanted me to have in writing this. With that introduction, let me explain the passages in Exodus that prompt my writing. Those texts include Exodus 1 (about the killing of babies) and Exodus 2 (about slavery).
I will take these things one at a time and draw some conclusions consistent with the burden God has placed on my heart over the years. In another article, perhaps, I will explain how my perspectives have changed and, hopefully, shed some light on how the church can come together in the full council of God to advance His justice and righteousness.
Before I get into my immediate thoughts, though, I need to say that I speak with no condemnation in my heart
Just as Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery that he did not condemn her, I am reminded that God sent his son into the world not to condemn the world; God sent His son into the world so that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)
I do not say these things to condemn anyone because Jesus has redeemed us!
In the story of the woman caught in adultery, the Pharisees and Sadducees brought her to Jesus to challenge him because the Law required her to be stoned. They wanted to see what Jesus would do, but Jesus seemed to ignore them and began writing in the sand.
Some people believe that Jesus may have written the Ten Commandments out in the sand. When he looked up from from writing, Jesus “invited” them, saying, “He who is without sin may cast the first stone.” Then, he continued writing in the sand.
Some people believe he was writing down the sins those men had committed. They would say the men walked away silently because they realized that no one is without sin.
The wages of sin for every person is death.
Whatever he wrote, we know how the dialogue went next. “Jesus stood up and said to [the woman], ‘[W]here are they? Has no one condemned you?,” John 8:9) When she replied, “No one”, Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.” (John 8:10)
Jesus didn’t condemn the men either, because he told us he came not to condemn, but to save. I imagine that, Jesus would have received, forgiven and invited the men to follow him, if they had stayed and repented.
God desires to save us, to have relationship with us, to renew our minds and to conform us to His image. Our sin is the reason God became flesh and died for us. He came not to condemn, but to demonstrate His great love for us and to save us from the sin that enslaves us.
One last thing before I get into what I believe God has put on my heart to share: salvation and sanctification is a process. It starts where we are. When we are born again, God begins to work in us to will and to act according to His purposes and to conform us to His image, but we start that process in different places.
One point made in the sermon today, is that “a person doesn’t have to be pro-life to be saved”. People are saved by grace; it’s a gift that we haven’t earned. There will be no exam in heaven we must answer satisfactorily for salvation. It’s already been accomplished for us by Christ’s death and resurrection.
At the same time, if we are born again, God has begun a work within us. He has begun to renew our minds, and change our hearts, and we have begun to learn to think God’s thoughts after Him and become like Him.
With that said, I will address the two texts I read today in Exodus 1 and 2 that speak to me about the Church, collectively, in the United States. In writing this article, my hope is to provide some biblical basis on which we might begin to bridge the divide along racial and political lines and come together as the body of Christ. I hope to provide some perspective and understanding that will bring us together in Christ.
The first issue in Exodus is the killing of babies. This is where my justice focus was as a young, newly evangelical Christian early in my walk with Christ. I got involved in the picketing of an abortion clinic. I participated in the March for Life in Washington, DC. I have provided support to crisis pregnancy centers and spoken and written about the evil of abortion.
In Exodus, Pharaoh gave orders to Hebrew midwives to kill all Hebrew male newborns. (Ex. 1:15) When they did not do it, Pharaoh commanded “all the people” to cast every Hebrew male child into the Nile. (Ex. 1:22)
If Pharaoh stands as a type of Satan who tempts people to do evil, we see him putting pressure on Hebrews (a type for modern Christians, perhaps) first. Then he pressured “all the people” to kill Hebrew babies. In a similar sense, we see a strong pressure to justify abortion today, pressuring people in the Church and outside the Church to participate in that view.
It started with a Supreme Court opinion that declared life begins no earlier than the second trimester. In the last half century or so, we have stretched our willingness to justify abortion so that now abortion is legal in many states right up to the moment before birth. Some states are even pushing to legalize the killing of newborns out of the womb.
The largely white, evangelical church in the US has focused on the issue of abortion and has consistently spoken out against it since Roe v. Wade. Many evangelicals vote with this one factor as their guide.
The issue of abortion, like no other, has driven white evangelicals into the Republican camp. It is the primary reason they supported Donald Trump.
Of course, sin is missing the mark. It is not what God intends or what He sanctions. Sin leads to injustice, and God is a God of justice. We need to be brutally honest when it comes to sin.
Thus, we need to be honest about another issue that we see rising out of the first two chapters of Exodus, and we need to let it speak to us today. This is the issue of slavery – the oppression, exploitation and subjugation of one people group by another people group.
The Church in America does not have clean hands on this issue.
We read in Exodus 2 that “the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help”; “[t]heir cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning….” (Ex. 2:23-24) Poignantly, we read,
“God saw the people of Israel and God knew.”
We need to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that God has heard the groaning and cry for rescue of African American believers in the United States – even if we haven’t. When they suffered under slavery, Jim Crow laws and many forms of outright discriminations, God heard. As they continue to experience the ramifications of those 400 years of racial injustice in their lives today, God hears. God knows.
Of course, many will note that slavery was made illegal over 150 years ago. Jim Crow laws have been eliminated (over time). All people in the United States today enjoy equal rights and freedom from discrimination on the basis of race… according to the laws on the books. Still….
The injustice occurred over a span of 400 years…..
Only 50 years have passed since equal rights became law. Not even a generation has passed yet.
Laws don’t always change peoples’ hearts. Even if they did, the effects of 400 years of racial injustice are not undone overnight. Wounds that festered for that long do not heal so quickly. The ramifications, consequences and ongoing effects of that injustice are still present in the fabric of our society and the hearts and lives of people who suffered it.
Just as a segment of the Church in the US has been complicit with or complacent about abortion, a segment of the American Church has been complicit (or at least complacent) about racial injustice. A portion of the Church fought against the ending of slavery while another portion of the Church fought to preserve slavery and resisted change.
A portion of the Church today resists the idea that “black lives matter” (which is different from the Black Lives Matter organizations). A portion of the Church in America is still not sensitive to God’s heart for racial justice.
If we acknowledge that the Church, collective, includes all people who believe in Jesus, both black and white, we must see that the American Church is divided on these two great issues of injustice. White, evangelicals tend to focus on abortion, and black evangelicals tend to focus on the issue of racial injustice.
These two issues (largely, though not completely) explain the political differences of these two groups of people, though both groups follow Christ and believe that one must be born again to see the kingdom of God. They land one segment of the American Church predominantly in the Republican camp, and they land anther segment of the American Church predominantly in the Democratic camp.
We divide, politically and in other ways, over these two things – both of which are injustices. Perhaps, this division is explained, in part, by the fact that we come to Christ and are born again out of different circumstances and perspectives.
We are all citizens of the same kingdom of God, united in Christ who tore down the dividing walls between people. Our minds are being renewed and we are being conformed to the image of God as we move toward Him from different directions.
If we step back from our own views, and attempt to gain the higher ground of God’s perspective, we may begin to see that we are divided over different aspects of justice, both of which break God’s heart. In the first two chapters of Exodus we see both issues on display.
On this Sanctity of Life Sunday, let us lift our gaze and raise our prayers to God not only for the ravages of abortion that took the lives of millions of people, but for the oppression of so many years of racial injustice and disparity the wounds of which are still present in those who are living. Let us extend each other grace and let Christ remove the stones in those walls that still divide us, recognizing that there is no political or ideological litmus test to get into heaven.
I mentioned that I have changed my view on these things over the years. I don’t have time to get into it in this article that is already long enough. I still think abortion is a great evil, but I approach it differently now. I have come to see racial injustice as a much greater evil and a greater problem today, still, then I appreciated earlier in my life. Perhaps, I will write on the subject in a subsequent article.
In the meantime, I note that God did not call Moses to protect the babies that the Pharaoh decreed to be killed. As brutally evil as infanticide is (and abortion), their suffering ended quickly. God received them and wiped away their tears. They enjoy eternity with their Maker, martyrs of an evil generation.
God heard the cries of the people living in slavery. God called Moses to rescue the living who suffer under slavery. Jesus came to set the oppressed free. God calls us to do the same.
[i] I put “evangelicals” in quotation marks because pollsters don’t consider black Christians who are born again into the category of evangelicals, though the belief in the necessity of being born again for salvation is at the ore of what it means to be evangelical.