Shalom Challenged—A Head-on View
The struggles for economic opportunity of black congregations were once led by the black church through marches, voter registration drives to elect public officials who are sensitive to the needs of the black community, and embracing of urban black entrepreneurship. The voices of protest are still there when there are clear and blatant signs of racism and discrimination, police brutality, and horrific crimes, yet most voices are confined to the four walls of the congregation. Thus, "without public expression beyond the confines of the sacred space round the altar, religion can lose its savor and become irrelevant." Our messages and interaction must be constant going forth; not just when evil shocks our community. We must also be willing to be rejected by the very ones that we reach out to help—because it is a fact of nature that you cannot help someone who doesn’t want to be helped!
- Sin (which is transgression against God’s law) is at the heart of societal deterioration. It is the refusal to give God the glory that is His and the willingness to pursue our own way with a disregard for anything different than our selfishness. It was sin that caused the first biblical account of murder and God’s Word states, “the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life.” We never fully understand the nature of sin because it is a force that defies common sense and decency. At its most mature level, sin manifests itself in a kind of evil and cruelty that rips at the very essence of our souls. A society that dismisses sin is a society headed for destruction.
- Selfishness and Greed. While the world order suggests that economics and science are the answers to all of our ills, the contemporary church must offer an alternative to the relentless pursuit of riches and power. Scripture, (Revelation 18), reminds us of the arrogance that comes with earthly power and the significant impact that this power has on everyone, sometimes even believers. In the end, it is a false power and a superficial sense of control, since only God is omnipotent. God’s justice will prevail and it is incumbent upon the local and worldwide church to offer the gospel message as one in which the reign of God prevails. When we are attempting to develop individuals within the black church, there must be a common understanding that our society will not be what it should be outside of God. In the past, empires have come and gone, yet God is still the sovereign ruler of the cosmos and acts to bring redemption and restoration to this world. This fact must be clear to believers who are challenged by the appearance of powerful, dominant evil forces and empires.
This means offering love as an alternative to selfishness and hatred, and a common bonding with humanity instead of tribalism and dominion. We have witnessed in the past decade how easily voracity can corrupt and almost destroy our world economy, therefore the message of moderation and a concern for others, as well as for the earth itself, must be understood and proclaimed as loudly as possible. It calls for shared sacrifice by everyone:
- Sacrifice. Few things are harder for us mortals than giving up something we would rather keep. Thus, the more people are willing to give up for others, the greater the likelihood that we will celebrate them in our mythology of virtue.
- Pursuit of everything but God. Apparently it is possible to commit ourselves to things that are utterly opposed to God, and then expect God to bless us in our pursuit of those things! The worst thing that could happen would be for Him to bless us in those things and cause us to be ensnared in our worthless gods instead of being liberated to find genuine goodness in the living God.
We may not bow down to images of wood and stone, but if we allow anything else to take the place of God, then we are practicing idolatry. God may take away the thing that we hold so dear in order to redirect our attention and affection to where they belong—on Him.
- Breakdown in family structure. As modern-day society is quickly discovering, there is no substitute for a solid, stable home life. Where parents are absent, negligent, or abusive, children will probably not learn to cope with the world in a healthy way. Babies are not born monsters, but a combination of dysfunctional families, unsafe and uncaring environments, and the absence of any godly supervision can produce monsters who will destroy without any remorse.
- Disregard for life itself. Something has gone awfully wrong when our young men are bent on killing others for stupid reasons. God is the giver and sustainer of life itself; we are not. Therefore we should never take what we cannot give—it is not ours. The murder of Abel is a sobering fact for all of us that our families and society are made up of sinners who frequently reveal the dark side of their character.
- As in the biblical account, we have raised up a generation who don’t know God. (Judges 2:10) Within the American culture there are subcultures which exist and the church not only needs to be aware of them but be willing to listen and converse with them in a meaningful dialogue. If we do not begin to speak their language and understand their apprehensions about God, salvation, and the church, we are allowing a generation to spiritually deteriorate. We have an obligation to help them grow as believers and independent thinkers while respecting their culture. This does not mean turning a blind eye to evil, it means engaging instead of dismissing or ignoring. We can’t force anyone to accept our beliefs, values, or faith. But if they are willing to talk we should too.
- Whose fault is it? Everyone’s. There is enough blame to go around, yet most of us in society have not intentionally tried to promote evil. But when we refuse to be a part of the solution, we are, by default, a part of the problem. None of us can change the world, but change can begin with us, our family, and our friends. It only takes a spark to get a fire going. That’s how it is with God’s love—we need to pass it on.
See part three in this three-part series for a discussion of a path forward in a corrective and redemptive direction.
Anthony Bonds (D.Min. ‘13) serves as pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Rochester, N.Y. His doctoral research investigated an andragogical approach to developing and nurturing urban Back leadership.
 Paris, African American Religion and Public Life, 490.
 Stephen L. Carter, Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy (New York: HarperPerennial, 1998), 103.