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What does a church "under the cross" look like?©

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

Presently, I'm reading a captivating book entitled, "Protest at Midnight: Ministry to a Nation Torn Apart," by Peter Storey. This memoir contains many first person witnesses of the significant role Bishop Storey played in the uncovering of the oppression and injustice that occurred in South Africa during apartheid. Likewise, Bishop Storey shares parallels between what occurred in South Africa and what is occurring in present day U.S.A.

According to him, early in his ministry, "It became clear to me in the coming years a new kind of church would need to be born in my homeland. Like that which had emerged in Nazi Germany, it would have to be a church 'under the cross,' willing to suffer.'"

He goes on to name four guidelines that helped him stay faithful in the land of apartheid. He writes these remain essentially the same today. 1) Be a "gospel truth-teller"; 2) "bind up the broken standing with the victims of injustice and the hurting wherever I found them"; 3) "shape congregations that would be visible contradictions of apartheid by 'living God's future in the now'"; 4) "join Jesus in working nonviolently to end our evil system and bring in a new dispensation of justice, equity, and peace."

("Protest at Midnight," Peter Storey, Page 20).

Many may wonder, "What does this have to do with the U.S.A.? We don't have apartheid, (a system of legalized separation in the U.S.A). Yes, there's some racism, but really not all that much. In what ways do the four guidelines mentioned by Bishop Storey apply to my Christlike journey here and now?"

If you don't think we experience a society that places persons in suspicious social categorizations based on color of skin similar to the kind of separateness that was legislated by apartheid, I encourage you to read "Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent" by Isabel Wilkinson. She exposes a seldom acknowledged history that is tempting to deny. Denying this history may cause us less sleepless nights; however, let us be clear--- denial will lead to fragmentation and division and oppression. Denial equals co-opting our faith which adds up to denying Jesus. Denying Jesus leads to hatred, oppression, death, even genocide.

This brings to mind a recent conversation. I was visiting with another Anglo-American who is in his sixties. He told me about a surgeon who is building a house in a rural area of North Carolina. He is designing his house with certain precautionary measures. For instance, the house can be powered by solar panels and is also designed to resist magnetic pulsing. My neighbor told me, "The guy said he wants to be able to live off the grid. He's from South Africa. He said he went through the turmoil caused by the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa and he wants to be prepared if and when something similar happens here."

As I reflect upon this conversation, it sounds to me like this person did not really learn from the lessons of apartheid. I assume and I may be wrong; however, I think it is quite possible that he bases his identity upon the construct: "I am white and I better protect what I got including my power, my family, my stuff." This brings to mind a haunting realization---any time we base our identities upon any identity less than "I am a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, the Savior and Lord of all," we build our fragile sense of self upon quicksands of idolatry. Instead of living with a sense of the abundant presence of God's love as embodied in the generous gift of Jesus, the Christ, I wonder if he is hoarding resources and trying to build a fortress designed to make him feel less vulnerable and exposed. I hope to meet him one day and enter into conversation. I hope I get to know him, hear his story and learn why he thinks and acts the ways he does. I hope my assumptions are incorrect. If my presumptions are accurate, I pray God will give me the courage to ask in love, "In what ways does building your own fortress perpetuate the evil you are seeking to keep out?"

I don't know the gentleman who fled South Africa to come to the U.S.A. after apartheid fell apart. I don't know if he claims to be a follower of Jesus. I simply mention him because I cannot help but wonder in what ways I have coopted the faith and sought to run away from the suffering that occurs when we expose ourselves to persons who tend to be treated as "the least" in the U.S.A. Who are "the least?" Those who are homeless, those without health insurance, those who are immigrants, those who are incarcerated, those who face mental illness, those who are addicted to drugs; sisters and brothers who live on the margins, fellow human beings who know what it is like to have a hungry belly and a wounded soul are "the least of these" because they are treated as lesser than in the U.S.A. today.

Peter Storey's poignant witness invites me to ponder many important questions:

Am I willing to follow Jesus into the suffering I will experience when I dare to expose the false gospel of civil religion that leads us to turn blind eyes to the ways we worship our country as much or more than we do the Creator of all?

Am I willing to pay the price that comes when I seek to live into the formation of God's kingdom come, the beloved community Jesus' blood and tears call us to seek on this dear planet earth we call home?

Am I willing to join together with sisters and brothers across all suspicious social categorizations and confess my complicit sin?

Am I willing to partner with other followers of Jesus who look differently than me and think differently than me and walk the streets and neighborhoods we call home?

Am I willing to seek persons out and really listen to what it is like to be them?

Am I willing to seek out persons who are hurting and truly hear their dreams, hopes, and desires?

Am I willing to walk beside new sisters and brothers and partner with them to help make their hopes and dreams come true?

Am I willing to be an instrument of God's kingdom come here and now?

What does it look like when followers of Jesus come together hand in hand across all suspicious societal categorizations to live like we really love Jesus?

What does it look like to be the Body of Christ?

Are we willing to take up the cross and put our lives on the line like Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Peter Storey, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other followers of Jesus have done before?

Are we willing to take what we have learned as followers of Jesus and weave Christ-like habits that leaven the world into all areas of life---"private" and "public"?

Are we willing to call out and expose politicians who exploit, crucify, and prostitute the name of Jesus?

Are we willing to share the "truth in love" and hold each other accountable?

Are we willing to quit fighting with other followers of Jesus and become servants of Jesus who care enough about the state of the world and all human beings enough to focus all of our energy, resources, and efforts around Matthew 28:18-20?

Are we willing to discover together what a "church under the cross" looks like!

Lord Jesus, we hope so! Lord Jesus, we pray so! Lord Jesus help us! Lord Jesus, help us love so!

Lord Jesus, help us dare to embody in real day to day life the four guiding principles that shape the ministry of Bishop Peter Storey!

Help us 1) Be "gospel truth-teller(s)"; 2) "bind up the broken standing with the victims of injustice and the hurting wherever (we find them)"; 3) "shape congregations that (will) be visible contradictions of apartheid (and racism and classism and nationalism) by 'living God's future in the now'"; 4) "join Jesus in working nonviolently to end our evil system and bring in a new dispensation of justice, equity, and peace."

("Protest at Midnight," Peter Storey, Page 20).

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