By Darrell R. Hamilton
For too long, the church has been in opposition to the gospel of Jesus. This became clearer to me while reading J. Russell Hawkins’ book titled “The Bible Told Them So: How Southern Evangelicals Fought to Preserve White Supremacy.” And as the title suggests, the book focuses on Southern Evangelicals who buttressed their bigotry on the premise that the “Bible told them so” in their fight against integration.
Merging their politics with their profession of faith, they stood resolute in their defiance of federal law. Rather than seeing their opposition to integration as a stain on their profession of faith, they wore their stain like a badge of honor that certified their Christian righteousness. And in the decades since, this same deluded faith used in the fight against the bogeyman of integration has shifted toward fighting the equally frightening specters of abortion, immigration, and Critical Race Theory.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus declares to Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church,” and proclaims that “the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (16:18, NRSV). However, through centuries of complicity with sin, the church has done more harm against itself than the gates of Hades could ever do.
The Devil has raised more hell from within the church than he ever could have raised without the church. And sadly, Hades has had no need of prevailing against the church because, in good Baptist parlance, the doors of the church have been opened giving Hades unencumbered access to thrive from inside our sanctuaries.
Yes, on the one hand, the church has been a bulwark pressing against the tide of oppression and injustice and functioning as a refuge to those in need of a safe and loving place. Yet, on the other hand, the church cannot claim itself to be the savior to problems it was a chief architect in helping to create.
The church has weaponized itself against the marginalized and marched on the front lines of genocide, slavery, and colonialism. The church has patterned itself as a for-profit, secular institution by making room for the spirits of consumerism and greed to be at home within its walls. The church has perverted blatant hatefulness into a deluded sense of Christian faithfulness. Thus, the church must be honest and accept its continuing role in preventing the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
Likewise, the church must be honest and acknowledge that this is not a right-wing, white evangelical issue. Rather, churches (white, black, evangelical, and progressive) have equally been complicit with sin because of a prevailing conviction that a prophetic, radical proclamation of the gospel has no place in the life of the community. These are churches that will speak privately about the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusion but will not speak against homophobia publicly. Churches that openly ordain women to the call of gospel ministry but refuse to hire women in substantive senior ministry positions. Churches that claim Black Lives Matter but will not commit to needed institutional restructuring to heal the effects of its past and present institutional racism.
The church must be honest and acknowledge its defection to follow the ways of Caesar as opposed to the ways of Christ. Therefore, the church must decide this day where it will direct its faithfulness. Will the church be faithful to Greed which preys on the weak and takes advantage of the poor; Capitalism which sells the needy for a profit and only secures prosperity for the rich; Guns which provides a false sense of safety and a perverted nationalism; Racism which dehumanizes the very people whom the Bible tells me are made in the very image and likeness of the Lord?
Or will the church repent and direct its faithfulness to the One whom the Bible tells me is called El Shaddai (The Lord Almighty), Jehovah Jireh (The Lord Will Provide), Jehovah Rapha (The Lord Who Heals), and Jehovah Shalom (The Lord is Peace)? Will the church direct its faithfulness to the One whom the Bible tells me is named the Christ and the bringer of justice, freedom, inclusion, and abundant life?
I pray that the church will no longer succumb to the whims of Hades and will dedicate itself to nothing less than making room for the arrival of the coming reign of God.
Darrell R. Hamilton, II is the Executive Minister for Operations and Resource Development for Middle Collegiate Church in New York City. Prior to Middle, he served as the Pastor for Formation and Outreach at First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, MA. Darrell is an ordained Baptist minister and is impassioned by the way politics and faith merge together in the Christian theological traditions of justice and liberation. Darrell is a graduate of Wake Forest School of Divinity where he attained his Masters of Divinity degree May 2017.