Sunday, December 6, 2015 3:42 PM

In Defense of Orthopraxy

Sunday, December 6, 2015 3:42 PM
Sunday, December 6, 2015 3:42 PM

In 20th century England amid the wrecked ruin of the church’s waning influence G. K. Chesterton remarked that people are already weary of hearing what they have never heard.[1]


Such is the case with the Chicago protests surrounding the murder of 17 year-old LaQuan McDonald.


By now you have likely seen images or heard of McDonald’s untimely death at the hands of a rogue Chicago Police Officer. Who can escape the images of the young teen pelted down by a cop emptying a clip of 16 shots? More than bullets shot him down, however. A darkened heart empowered by a system that disregards the lives of black youth murdered him. That is the stark reality facing Chicago tonight. And it is the low octane fuel propelling outrage in protests seen around the nation.


For 400 days the City of Chicago and the state’s attorney concealed the dash cam footage for reasons of political expediency. It was not until a judge ordered the city to release the video footage of McDonald’s murder that Chicago officials began a detailed janitorial effort to clean their cover up.


Having come of age in black Chicago, I am quite familiar with her less than stellar record of Police protection of black residents. Sure this is the city of Obama, Oprah and Jordan. But it is also the city of Jon Burge, Richard J. Daley, and Gage Park. Officer VanDyke, who murdered LaQuan McDonald, is part of a larger narrative that has the authority to disregard black lives. He was long known as a loose canon. Prior to the McDonald murder, His personal and professional poverty of judgment cost the City of Chicago more than $350,000. And yet he remained an officer.


Collective Outrage

I wonder how many Christians, if given the opportunity, would be marching with us in Chicago? That is a worthy question in light of the sordid history of American Evangelicalism. We are known far more for a defense of orthodoxy than we are as a proponent of her twin orthopraxy. That is at least as it plays out in matters of race in American society.


Don’t get me wrong. There were some evangelicals swarming the Magnificent Mile in Chicago on Black Friday in collective protests against the City’s cover-up. I was one of them. How could I resist? This is a live illustration of “how to get away with murder.” And then there was last Monday when our church joined another set of churches to pray for justice at the Chicago Police Headquarters. For the most part, we sense it most important that the church to lead the conversation of justice because we have the only foundation upon which it can stand, righteousness. I am most grateful that some of our non-black Christian brothers and sisters joined us.


And here is where Chesterton’s words ring loud and true. There is an eerie silence among many Christians in these protests. I think it is because some of us are weary of hearing what we have never heard. To those who feel like black America is misguided when it cries “Black Lives Matter,” perhaps we should feel again. The Superintendent of Police and an indifferent State’s Attorney coalesced to protect a rogue officer. It is another affirmation of the insignificance of black lives in America. McDonald was a ward of state, armed with a three-inch blade while walking away from Officer VanDyke. He alone fired 16 shots on the teenage orphan. What happened next is woefully gruesome. Almost instinctively, the Chicago Police erased 80 minutes of security camera footage from the nearby Burger King and suppressed the story for 400 days. Had it not been for the court injunction we would have never known it. This screams injustice.


This is a moral problem before it is a racial contention. The outrage in Chicago is a matter of righteousness and justice. For that reason the American church ought to have something loud to say about it. What is our answer? What kind of Christian community sits by and silences its collective outrage over such blatant injustice? What church just resumes Sunday morning services with no mention of this degradation? What Christian group, despite its ethnic orientation, fails to at least speak about it? A failure to demonstrate leaves the appeal for justice to those who have no allegiance to righteousness. And yet many in our beloved community will not do anything. Wherever you live a Christian response is more than sitting on its couch, watching the evening news, lamenting another tragedy and keeping quiet. I suspect many of us are unmoved because we have grown weary of hearing what we have never heard. To do nothing is to not hear the gospel message that you have heard.


The gospel prompts you and I to civic action. It may not demand that you march in every demonstration, but it does convict inaction. Both testaments and early Christian history affirm that issues of mass injustice matter to God. Let me go a step further: it should matter to us. I propose that our implicit insistence that the Christian pulpit and pew is not the place to address matters of societal injustice is more of an American notion of the separation of church and state. It is not our biblical, prophetic heritage. A cursory reading of the Old Testament, especially Isaiah gives us some of our clearest and strongest imperatives toward societal engagement.[2]


In the context of Luke 4, when Jesus picks up the Isaiah 61 passage it was not a dismissal of the needs of suffering people with just a focus on the exegetical points of Isaiah. It was a ministry to the oppressed. Spiritually oppressed? Absolutely, but it does not stop there. It was spiritual to the degree where it encompassed the whole of us, including our physical wellbeing and the humanization of our personhood. When Jesus says, “Today this is fulfilled in your presence” he had already inaugurated his ministry as seen in his physical healing of the lame, opening the eyes of the blind and even raising the dead. If we make that spiritual then we allegorize the Biblical text. What this tells us is that Jesus’ ministry was not solely about the human spirit. It was also about the human condition. His 33 years on planet earth was principally about the salvation of humanity, but it was also profoundly about the commencement of a new Christian culture.


Now this is no suggestion that our Christian witness de-emphasize the depravity of men’s souls or the importance of man’s unregenerate position. It is however a rejection of that kind of Christian silence that minimizes the situations that trap a man’s life on earth.


If you have heard the gospel, then you have heard a clarion call to protest injustice.


Dissonance on Display

While marching in the Chicago black Friday protests I noted a peculiar disassociation between the generations. It is palpable, actual and far-reaching. This divide is not new, but it deserves our most deliberate attention.


Converging into one march were several groups. The first led by the older, established black clergy. They were the veteran civil rights group. The others by Millennial-aged, disaffected and embittered people. At the beginning there was an unspoken disenchantment among the young people. And then as the march continued there was an outspoken disagreement played out on national television. This was not a quarrel over philosophy. It was not a debate over strategy. Rather it was a hatred of history. The young rejected the moral premise of the elder’s group. They are weary of hearing what they have never heard. They deserted a heritage they never understood. They seemed obsessed with a kind of anti-clericalism.


It broke my heart. On deck is the emergence of a passionate, un-churched, unchristian generation. They are appropriately discontented by blatant racism in society. Even more conspicuous is that their indignation is uniformed by righteousness. They have not heard that where indignation is not righteous its offspring will be worse than its offense. Righteousness must fuel the demand for justice. This is why our Christian community should consider involvement. No amount of infuriation will overcome a trespass if it is not grounded in holiness. Therein lies the mandate for the church. This is a timely opportunity to reach our nation’s young.


We should seize this opportunity to demonstrate that the Gospel transforms every facet of human existence. The relationship between our human experience and the Biblical text is inescapable. We do not simply read the biblical passages, but those passages read us. The redemptive historical narrative is long but it cares about justice. The church ought equip her young to recognize the need for the prophetic voice of the gospel in these protests. To those under 35 the church can exhibit a gospel response to the death of LaQuan McDonald. We can reclaim our witness to a generation that has not heard the power of truth. As a starting point, I think Christian churches everywhere ought to denounce this injustice in Chicago.


[1] Chesterton, G. K. The Everlasting Man in The Everyman Chesterton by Ian Ker. Knopf Publishing, New York, 2011. Page 411.

[2] Isaiah 61:1-2

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