©Wendell Griffen, 2018
Justice Is A Verb!
June 13, 2018
The Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship are the largest two bodies of white Baptists. So, as Southern Baptists and Cooperative Baptists convene separately this week in Dallas, Texas, a year and a half into the Trump presidency, ponder a few questions with me.
The Trump administration has been hard at work trying to deport undocumented immigrants almost from the moment President Trump took office. What have Southern Baptist and Cooperative Baptist leaders said or done to voice support for the immigrants subjected to that xenophobia and racism?
When did they say it?
When did they appear before Trump administration officials and challenge the policies as contrary to the gospel of Jesus?
When did they appeal to their constituents to mount phone, social media, and other communication efforts to members of the U.S. Congress and Senate?
Where are the prophets among white Baptists who have been speaking up for immigrants who currently resemble the Palestinian Jewish family that, according to the New Testament gospels, migrated to Egypt when their infant son named Jesus was marked for death by a tyrant named Herod?
Prophetic people nudge a society toward the moral imperative of repentance. I shared the following thoughts on that issue during a 2015 lecture at Hardin-Simmons University in Texas.
The Bible also reveals that persons and societies are called to repentance by prophetic challenge, not internal impulse. In Genesis we read of God confronting Adam and Eve following the Fall and God confronting Cain after the murder of Abel. Then we read of Noah confronting his society before the Deluge. In Exodus Moses is the prophetic agent sent by God to confront the Egyptian empire with the repentance imperative concerning oppression of the Hebrew population.
The prophetic call to repentance is always an act of protest. It is an observation and objection that the way we live violates the Great Commandment that we love God with our whole being and love others as ourselves. Somehow, people are inspired to recognize that people are not living as God would have us live, meaning that our relationships are not right with God and each other, whether because of actions we take or duties we neglect. Somehow, the Spirit of God inspires people with insight about love, truth, and justice (righteousness) who are then impelled to protest conditions and situations that violate the love, truth, and justice of God. Without that protest, idolatry of self prevents us from recognizing our sinfulness and confronting the imperative for repentance.
So repentance does not begin with us. Repentance begins with God whose love, truth, and justice define the meaning of right and wrong, good and evil, healthful and harmful, just and unjust. God inspires people to see situations and relationships from the divine perspective. Then God commissions those inspired people to become prophetic protestors with God for love, justice, and truth and confront persons and societies to confess sinfulness, return to God, and restore what has been harmed because of sin.
There is no repentance, personally or societally, without the disturbance of that subversive protest, subversive in that it asserts a different and counter-cultural version about life, love, truth, and justice from what is the dominant narrative. God is literally Protestor in Chief concerning our actions and attitudes that violate divine love, truth, and justice. God summons prophetic protestors to proclaim God’s demand that we live according to divine love, truth, and justice and protest our failure and refusal to do so.
And in repentance, we join God in protesting our transgressions and derelictions. We not only agree with God that our transgressions and derelictions are wrong and harmful. We agree to turn back toward God in repentance to protest our sinfulness with God, and in repentance turn away from that sinfulness toward God. With God’s help we become protestors of our ways. We not only agree with God that our ways require prophetic protest. In repentance we become God’s people of protest, prophetic and subversive agents of divine love, truth, and justice. We never become repentant people without somehow becoming prophetic people about God’s love, truth, and righteousness (justice).
Thus, the Hebrew prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus and the people who followed Jesus were prophetic subversives of repentance. They were markedly and intentionally inspired to view life and living from the radically different perspective of divine love, truth, and justice. That inspiration caused Moses to confront Egyptian unjust treatment of Hebrew workers. Nathan was inspired to protest to David about misusing personal and political power in his relationships with Bathsheba and Uriah. Isaiah, Amos, Micah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were inspired to protest the ways that power was abused to oppress widows, children, immigrants, workers, the weak, and people who were poor. Jesus was inspired by the Holy Spirit to protest the ways power was abused by religious authorities to oppress rather than to liberate, to rupture fellowship rather than nurture reconciliation, and to benefit the wealthy while disregarding the plight of suffering people.
Ponder how history might have been different if white Baptists had entered into honest dialogue with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rather than catered to popular racial prejudice. Ponder how history might have been different if white Baptists had entered into honest dialogue with Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor (who inspired Rev. Jesse Jackson and Dr. Jeremiah Wright). Ponder how history might have been different if white Baptists had entered into honest dialogue with Dr. James Cone about black liberation theology.
Ponder how the coming years might be changed if Southern Baptists and Cooperative Baptists learned from Dean Emilie Townes, one of the leading contemporary thinkers about womanist theology. Ponder how the state of things might be challenged and changed if Southern Baptists and Cooperative Baptists would bother to re-think the gospel of Jesus by hearing from Dr. Cornel West.
Each person I have mentioned is or was black. Each is or was recognized as being prophetic. White Baptists could benefit from more exposure to prophetic people who are not white and privileged.
That exposure might inspire a new consciousness in them about faith, love, justice, peace, truth, and hope. The new consciousness might lead to a deeper and stronger awareness about the urgent need for repentance among white Baptists and other religionists about white supremacy, patriarchy, xenophobia, racism, sexism (including homophobia and transphobia), capitalism, imperialism, militarism, and techno-centrism. In other words, it would force white Baptists to confront the idolatry of self and its unjust societal and global results.
That would be a very good thing.