by David Browder
Last week, I wrote about Postmodernism and its axis of power and contrasted it with Christianity and its axis of love. Why am I interested in what may seem like an obscure academic issue to many? Because the axis on which we choose to live our lives (either power or love/grace) determines how we respond to and work out the issues that affect all of us today.
We must understand this dichotomy if we want to move forward glorifying Christ in our church, school, and preschool. We must understand the Bible’s vision of justice and how to pursue it as we move forward; we want to avoid falling into secular ideas of justice, whether those ideas are of the left or the right.1
When I speak of the axis of love and grace on which Christianity operates, I must first acknowledge how poorly the Evangelical church in the South understood — or wanted to understand — this throughout most of our country’s history. (We at Saint Thomas’ have our own history with respect to this particular issue). If you want further proof, simply look around and see Black denominations and White denominations: Black and White worshiping separately even as we read Revelation 7:9-10 in our Bibles:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (ESV)
When we lose sight of this, we place ourselves on the secular axis of power and we have something of which to repent.
As we consider the axis of love and the experience of those who carry the Image of God, please allow me to share a couple of things I have learned this summer. They might be helpful to you as well. I learned that many Black men have to consciously operate day-to-day so they do not appear to be a threat. One gentleman described how he waits in his car when a neighbor’s wife comes to collect the mail in order not to be perceived as a threat to her. The same man recounted how, when he gets on an elevator with a white woman, he gets off on the next floor so as not to be perceived as a threat. I had no idea this happened. That I might appear to be a threat because of my skin color has never occurred to me — it is outside my experience.
Over the past few years, I have thought about the opioid epidemic in many of our rural areas and small towns. This epidemic grew as factories moved overseas and these areas’ economies collapsed. But, here is what I did not know. I did not know that, after World War II, White GIs coming home had their mortgages subsidized when they settled out in the suburbs — but Black GIs did not; banks did not consider them good loan risks. When the companies (and, thus, jobs) later moved out of the cities it created economic crisis in the inner city. To make matters worse, White families were able to build equity in the homes those loans enabled them to buy, which they could leave to their children; Black families could not. I did not know this happened.2
When a Christian works from the axis of love and grace, it breaks the heart to hear of these things — injustices both individual and corporate. Our work done in response must arise from love — Biblical justice. If the work comes from secular axes of power, it will result in either stubborn defensiveness or destructive resentment. Many people want to keep us on the axis of power. They keep their positions and profit from the exercise of power. But — there is an ancient, divine vision of justice in God’s Word. This way is our calling.
- If you want a very good treatment of what I mean, read Dr. Tim Keller’s recent article comparing and contrasting Biblical and secular understandings of justice (hint: the axes I discussed last week are there). You may also listen to this thought-provoking discussion between a white, South African Christian and Professor Anthony Bradley from King’s College, NYC.
- Hear more about it.