This has been a really, really hard week for "the others" of our country - people of color particularly Mexicans and African Americans, the LGBT community, immigrants, refugees, Muslims...and those that love them. Once again I find myself listening and learning to my dear friends. I also find myself interacting with a few who have had enough. My friend Keith Robinson, a pastor in Chicago and my associate at the Slingshot Group, is one of those. I pray more of the "majority" will follow Keith's lead...
This is NOT political. I’m not writing to compare our two most recent candidates for President, nor their credentials to hold the highest office in the land. I’ll leave that to the so-called experts and pundits.
This is about a conversation the American Church is refusing to have — at least in my corner of the world-the predominantly white, male-led evangelical Church. I realize the irony in that statement because, on the surface, I easily fall into that camp. I’ve never been super comfortable with that label, but today is different.
Today, I’ve had enough.
My 8-year-old son came home from school and asked me if his friends were going to be deported. His best friends are from India, Mexico, Serbia, and the Philippines. My 11-year-old son’s best friend is named Fahad. He’s the son of Muslim immigrants who fled their country to start a better life in America.
Out of all my accomplishments in life, what I’m most proud of is who my kids are becoming. When they started the school year, my wife and I asked if they made any new friends. As they began listing names we could tell that their families of origin were different than ours. What I loved most, however, is that they refused to use race to describe their friends to us. I can’t say I’ve always done the same.
My oldest, Joel, has always had a huge heart for the “least of these". Since his first day of Kindergarten, he’s always had a way of finding and befriending the kid with autism, the kid in the wheelchair, the kid who didn’t get picked and the kid who is obviously different. He even stayed after school last week to help a substitute teacher who had been bullied by a bunch of mean sixth graders! I digress…
I’ve had friends (some who are pastors) tell me that I should teach my sons to be more competitive and aggressive.
“He won’t make it in the world if he isn’t.”
“It’s what makes him a man.”
Of course, seeing our kids achieve is important to us as parents, but it’s not the most important thing. The Gospels inform us that getting ahead of others isn’t nearly as important as getting along with others. Christians, how have we missed this?
I get it. I was raised around racism and bigotry. A lot of it. People who were different than us weren’t accepted. People of color were called the “N” word in my house. Words like "homo, fag, and gay" were regular monikers for guys who didn’t "measure up". I mean no disrespect to my family, but the truth is the truth, no matter how ugly or personal it feels.
But, when I read the Gospels in the New Testament for the first time at the age of 17, something changed in me. In fact, everything changed in me. As I poured over those compelling stories about a humble, Jewish, son-of-a-carpenter named Jesus, what immediately stood out to me was how different the world would be if we all followed him.
Even a tertiary reading of those four Gospels will give you a glimpse of his unprecedented compassion for the hurting, his undying friendship with the outcasts and his constant gripe with people who feigned spirituality while ignoring the Greatest Commandment: to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus taught us to measure the depth of our spirituality by how we treat people. Ultimately, if we say we love God, we’ll love the people who bear His image regardless of where they come from, where they’ve been, or what they’ve done.
For me, the beauty of the Gospels has always been that Jesus picks the ones that everyone else discredits and disregards. His regard for the foreigner and the outcast is everywhere in the Bible. Jesus expects us to inconvenience ourselves for the sake of helping "the other", regardless of what caused that suffering.
This is the heart of the matter for me. I’m a follower of Jesus. I’m a father. I’m an American. I am all three of those things at once. Like many of you, I endeavor to raise my children to love God and love people. Not just in words, but in actions. So, when my sons heard with their own ears the things our now President-elect said during this election cycle, how was I supposed to respond?
How can I, as a good father, turn a deaf ear to those things and ask my sons to ignore them, too? I’ve seen my own hypocrisy at times, and I refuse to pass it on to them knowingly!
And the list goes on and on and on. I can’t be the only father who found it difficult to explain this man’s incendiary remarks about a Gold-Star Muslim-American father and mother and his disgustingly boastful statements about sexually assaulting women.
Then the question came, “Dad, who are you going to vote for?”
As a Christian father, at what point do I tell my son to turn a blind eye to arrogance, xenophobia, misogyny, racism and disregard for human decency in the name of some greater good? What greater good is there than just being good?
I’ll admit it: I’ve been afraid to speak up at times — afraid of losing a title, a platform and even a seat at the table. Today, I have a deeper fear. I’m afraid my sons will eventually reject a version of Christianity that seems inconsistent with the values of our Savior who loves all peoples and calls us to do the same.
The truth is, white evangelical Christians have been on the wrong side of history before. I’m not sure we’ve ever repented of our silence during the Civil Rights movement.
Our brothers and sisters of color suffered and paid with their lives just to sit at the same table with us. Today, much like the 12 disciples who followed Jesus, we’re still arguing over who’s greater in our churches. We’ve created Christian celebrity statuses, but we’ve overlooked the marginalized, under-resourced, and working poor. Maybe, the time has come to take a cue from Jesus and stand up for them by kneeling down to wash their feet. It’s not just about making a statement. It’s about making a difference.
If you voted for Trump, that’s your right, but if you don’t understand why so many minorities in our culture are upset at this election, perhaps it’s because privilege has willfully blinded you to the ugly reality of their plight.
I get the frustration with the establishment. I have a similar frustration with a different establishment — white, male-dominated evangelicalism, posing as standard bearers for truth and righteousness. Their duplicity in this election would almost be comical if it weren’t so damaging to their movement. I watched many of my evangelical brothers and sisters throw the moral virtues, which they’ve always esteemed in any individual who holds the highest office in the land, completely out the window in this election! I am astonished at how quickly it happened! These are the same people who routinely stand up on Sundays and tell their people to “vote their conscience.”
Christians, our hearts are functionally operating in complete contradiction to the words that come out of our mouths on Sunday mornings. We sing songs with lyrics of inclusion. We put massive signs on our church lawns that say, “Come As You Are.” In the harbor of our greatest city, we take pictures next to the Statue of Liberty thanking God for our freedom to worship while silently ignoring the inscription that says,
We take missions trips to third world countries, but some of us don’t give a damn about the family from that country living across the street from us. They’re crying in their homes tonight. They’ll be looking over their shoulders for the next few years for sure, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Where will you be, Christian? Hiding in your ivory tower? Going to church on Sunday, singing songs about hope and freedom and love, but walking out ignorant of the global community we all live in?
Bigotry and hatred don’t always come in a white hood. Sometimes they come in silence.
Sometimes they come in abandoning our values when we feel threatened by people who aren’t like us.
The real test of our faith, it seems, will be looking our children in the eye and knowing they’re following our example more than they’re following our advice. We’ve not just been called to preach the gospel. We’ve been called to live it out. The saddest part? The culture needs our message now more than ever, but we’ve just resigned our right to be heard.
One of the best things about our democracy is that our President represents us, the people. Perhaps, more importantly, he or she is a reflection of the people. And because we, the people, are the government, what does that say about us?
Christians, we’ve been called by Jesus to be influencers of hope and goodness and kindness and love in the world. Jesus used the powerfully simple metaphors of salt and light to describe that influence. Unfortunately, we just lost some of our saltiness this week. We’ve hidden behind some false sense of the greater good and in doing so we’ve hidden our light from those who desperately need a glimmer of it in this dark hour.
You’ll never hear me say, #notmypresident — not about our current President or any hereafter. I do respect our democratic process. Beyond that, however, the Bible calls me to honor and pray for those who hold public office. The same gospel that calls me to love my neighbor also reminds me that everyone deserves a chance at redemption — that includes President-elect, Donald Trump.
And, therein lies our greatest challenge — to be content in these afflictions that burden us, hopeful in prayers that guide us, faithful to the gospel that saves us, but never silent in our witness that defines us.
Keith M. Robinson is an author, speaker and consultant whose compelling life story and unique ministry experiences over the past 15 years have positioned him to be an influential voice with churches and leaders. He currently serves as the president of Emerge, a non-profit he founded. Through this innovative platform Keith has shared a powerful message of hope with hundreds of thousands of high school students across America. In addition, Keith also serves as a Student Ministry Associate at the Slingshot Group, strategically connecting remarkable churches and youth workers through staffing and coaching. He and his wife reside in the greater Chicago area where they're raising their two boys, Joel and Jude.
You can find him on social media at:
- Twitter: @keithmrobinson
- Instagram: @keithmrobinson
- Website: www.emergexperience.com