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“Sins of the Fathers”

Message given by Pastor Bruce Ray on July 5, 2020

 

Yesterday, I received an email with the subject line: “In God we still trust: Books for the American Patriot.”  The email was from a Christian book seller promoting an Independence Day sale.

I’m a sucker for sales. I couldn’t help myself. I took the click bait to see what books were being offered. Among the titles on sale were “100 Bible Verses that Made America,” by Robert J. Morgan, and “God’s Promises for the American Patriot” by Jack Countryman. Yes. It’s his real name.  But then there was Stephen Mansfield’s book, “The Faith of Barak Obama” which was highly recommended by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I was tempted. After all, it was 30% off. But I resisted.

But there was another book that captured my curiosity:  “The American Patriot’s Bible: The Word of God and the Shaping of America,” on sale for $22.99 – reduced from $44.99 – a 50% savings. It was cheaper than Amazon and Barnes and Noble!  Intrigued by the savings, I investigated further.

Here’s the synopsis:

“THE ONE BIBLE THAT SHOWS HOW ‘A LIGHT FROM ABOVE’ SHAPED OUR NATION. Never has a version of the Bible targeted the spiritual needs of those who love our country more than The American Patriot’s Bible. This extremely unique Bible shows how the history of the United States connects the people and events of the Bible to our lives in a modern world. The story of the United States is wonderfully woven into the teachings of the Bible and includes a beautiful full-color family record section, memorable images from our nation’s history and hundreds of enlightening articles which complement the New King James Version Bible text.”

 

I wondered who could possibly see the story of the US woven into the teachings of the Bible.  The Bible was edited by Dr. Richard Lee. I “Googled” him and discovered that he was the founding pastor of a 5,000-member church in suburban Atlanta – First Redeemer Church. He recently left the church to become President of “Here’s Hope America,” an Atlanta-based broadcasting company. His biography mentioned that he is frequently called, “America’s Patriot Pastor.”

That ended it for me.  I logged off.  “Patriot Pastor” sounds a lot like an oxymoron—like “jumbo shrimp” or “living dead” or “unbiased opinion.”  In my “unbiased opinion”, a patriot pastor is a fundamental piece of the problem in our country. The role of the patriot pastor is to be the State’s cheerleader, not the State’s conscience. The mission of the patriot pastor is to use the spiritual to support the structures of the political without any critical analysis. The goal of the patriot pastor is to preserve the status quo by wrapping the Bible in a flag. The patriot pastor has no interest in reforming the nation or transforming the systems. In the view of the patriot pastor, there is nothing wrong with the way things are. We’re fine.

Historically, it has been “patriot pastors” who have stood hand in hand with those promoting white supremacy. In 1861 (pre-civil war), Rev. James Henley Thornwell, a Harvard-educated scholar and pastor stood in the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., and preached, “As long as that [African] race, in its comparative degradation, co-exists side by side with the white, bondage is its normal condition. In itself, slavery is not inconsistent with the will of God. The Scriptures not only fail to condemn [it]; they as distinctly sanction slavery as any other social condition of man.”

100 years later in 1961, it was “patriot pastor” Rev. Henry Lyon Jr., of the 3000-member Highland Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL, who gave the local Citizens’ Council a “Christian” perspective after the attack on the Freedom Riders in that city.  He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, for 15 years I have had the privilege of being pastor of a white Baptist church in this city. If we stand 100 years from now, it will still be a white church. I am a believer in a separation of the races, and I am none the less a Christian. If you want to get in a fight with the one that started separation of the races, then you come face to face with your God.” The crowd applauded enthusiastically.

The problem with “Patriot pastors” is that they empower “patriot parishioners” like the people of The Heights Church in Columbus, MS, who, on June 18, 2020, voted out their pastor, Scott Volland.  According to Volland, he was fired because he spoke out publicly in support of Black Lives Matter and the removal of Confederate monuments in Columbus.  He was told by his church, “your agenda will not work at this church,” and “you don’t speak for the church.”

This co-mingling of Christian faith and white nationalism has been with us from the beginning of the nation. It is our original sin.  Patriot pastors and patriot parishioners have justified not only slavery and segregation, but also the relocation and genocide of first peoples nations.  This sin has perpetuated racism, classism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, and every other ‘ism’ and ‘phobia’ that denies people full participation in life. This sin has justified the expansion of the American Empire into Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific. To this day, Puerto Rico remains under the thumb of US colonialism. This sin has justified coups and interference in democratic elections around the world. This sin has built walls and separated children from their parents and incarcerated innocent people. This sin has justified hate of those our political leaders identify as enemies of the state—even when they are brothers and sisters in Christ. This sin is present today when we hold up the Bible in one hand and an assault rifle in the other. This sin is a cancer that is eating away at our souls.

The church in America doesn’t need patriot pastors. It needs to return to the Shepherd of our Souls, the prophet and pastor, Jesus.  Pastor Jesus told Nicodemus that in order to see the kingdom of God, he had to be born again of water and spirit. Rebirth by the Spirit is only possible when the old life is left to waste away and die—something Nicodemus struggled with.  We know from 2nd Chronicles 7:14 that God rebirths a nation when it turns from wickedness through confession and repentance—something our nation—and the American church—has never been willing to do with our racist systems and policies. Instead we have chosen to cloak ourselves in an individualized gospel of internal change that makes few demands on our collective external life.

Like the people of Israel in Nehemiah’s time, this is a day to come together in sackcloth and confess the sin of our ancestors and our own sin of perpetuating it our generation.  The church must reject the poisonous drug of patriotic religion that weakens it and makes it a puppet of the status quo. The Church must instead drink the water of new life and rebirth by the Spirit to rise up as prophets of God’s kingdom.  Only by rebirth into a people of justice and liberation will the church be animated to act powerfully on behalf of the immigrant, the oppressed, the hungry, the fatherless and the widow, the poor and the captive.

This day of Independence is not a day to celebrate, for the American church is not free. It is held in bondage by the ancestral sin of white supremacy and racism.  It is a day to fast and pray, confess and repent of our wicked ways, and seek God’s forgiveness and healing.  Maybe God will hear from heaven and relent from bringing damnation on our nation and make us a nation that God can bless.

(Following the message, time was taken for collective confession and prayer.)

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