"Let God be true though everyone were a liar." – Romans 3:4 (ESV)
It was about eight years ago that Ruth, Jonathan and I visited Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. This was not my first visit to that house. As one who used to be a museum manager (overseeing an 18th century house, and regularly giving tours to the public) how a property is presented is of special interest to me. It was immediately evident, upon this latest visit to Jefferson's home, that change was in the wind. Sure, we were reminded of Jefferson's role in this nation's founding, his special role in helping to draft (and write) the Declaration of Independence, his role as President of the United States and his procuring of the Louisiana Purchase. His keen intellect, his architectural skills, and his theological musings – all these were again brought to our attention. But this time, something else was not merely mentioned but was, instead, the focus of the tour: Jefferson's owning of slaves, dependence upon those slaves, mistreatment of those slaves, impregnating of at least one of those slaves and eventual sale of those slaves (to help pay off his many debts as he was, for all his skills, a poor money manager). In short it was as if it was the determination of those overseeing the museum house that Thomas Jefferson be taken off of his pedestal and that we all begin to see him as he truly was: a very flawed man.
Regardless of the motivations of those who have been involved with this year's protests, with BLM or with Antifa, the net effect of it all has been sobering, pointing out to us, or simply reminding us, that those whom we have revered were imperfect people. Some owned slaves; others were silent in defending the rights of the oppressed. I recently was reminded that even one of my theological heroes – the great George Whitefield – had been a proponent of slave labor to help oversee the orphanage he was establishing in Georgia.
Since time began, it has often been a challenge getting people to admit that they are sinners. Evangelist Ray Comfort has developed an entire ministry based upon convincing people that, as humans, they are not okay. While this year may not have brought us to the place of admitting we are (by nature) not right with God, it has certainly proven that we are not right with each other. And that may be as far as we will get this year. But it is truly a silver lining to this dark pandemic of global sin and guilt.
This offers the church a golden opportunity, if we are bold enough to take it: to communicate that the issues at hand (calls for justice, an end to oppression, and hope for the downtrodden) are at the heart of what we as followers of Christ are all about. The Bible is clear that "mercy triumphs over judgment." We are to be merciful people, compassionate people, forgiving people, loving people. "Love one another, even as I have loved you" is what Jesus taught his followers. Brothers and sisters, this is a message that particularly in this day and age will "sell." This is what we have to offer in Christ; this is what Burning Hearts has and offers to others.
So, take heart. The clouds may seem dark and foreboding this year, but there is a silver lining.