I’ve been reading Klan literature. The histories, the newspapers, the sermons, the money trail, the facts. It’s very, very, very sobering. As much as it makes my gut roil, I have to admit that the beginnings of fundamentalism were intimately intertwined with the Klan ideology. The historian I’m reading right now clarifies that the Klan exploited the fundy discontent and disempowered status for its money-making potential. Perhaps. Perhaps they were duped with egotistical appeals for the sake of the almighty dollar. Perhaps it was just a violent money-making pyramid scheme with torches and sinister costumes. I’m not so sure.
But everything’s starting to make sense now. My family’s stories about growing up as immigrants in Detroit and my grandparents’ distrust of all things Baptist. The Polack jokes I heard from the BJU pulpit over the years. The hatred of all things Catholic. The creationism. The conservative politics. The misogyny. The violent ethics. The secrecy. The unorthodox “use” of Jesus for His moral example. It’s all there. In both fundamentalism and the Klan.
I heard a story this weekend from a friend and fellow graduate of BJU. He was applying for a job here in Greenville and made it all the way through to the third interview — a mere formality at that point. The African-American manager took one look at the man’s undergraduate degree on his resume and politely ended the interview right then and there.
I remember the city’s Christmas parade last December. It was a silly but joyful event. Dogs dressed as Christmas trees. Little preschoolers dancing like snowmen. Local politicians, chiropractors, the YMCA — they were all there. The BMW employees next to us cheered for their friends’ folk dancing troupe. Grandmas offered their blankets to our shivering wee ones. It was a perfect community event. We were all having a good time together.
Until. . . . the Bob Jones University float passed. Its presence cast a pall over the whole crowd. You could hear the crickets chirping above their choral singing. The African-American family next to us looked at their feet and cleared their throats. It sucked the joy right out of the celebration.
Despite BJU’s desperate insistence that it has a terrific reputation in the Greenville community, it doesn’t. And I’m slowly finding the documentation to prove why. For my BJU administrative readers and BJU IT web whackers, you won’t find me posting that data here, so you don’t need to lurk and rip. There’s too much data. It requires more analysis than is suitable for a blog.
But I want to confess this sin again. This sin of racism. For the sake of my neighbors and former and future students, for the sake of this town, for the sake of my sons, for the sake of Jesus, I want to identify and repent of that sin. For the most part, I’m just going to re-post a previous blog series:
1 Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be— you get a fresh start,
your slate’s wiped clean.
2 Count yourself lucky—
God holds nothing against you
and you’re holding nothing back from him.
3 When I kept it all inside,
my bones turned to powder,
my words became daylong groans.
4 The pressure never let up;
all the juices of my life dried up.
5 Then I let it all out;
I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God.”
Suddenly the pressure was gone—
my guilt dissolved,
my sin disappeared.
6 These things add up. Every one of us needs to pray;
when all hell breaks loose and the dam bursts
we’ll be on high ground, untouched.
7 God’s my island hideaway,
keeps danger far from the shore,
throws garlands of hosannas around my neck.
8 Let me give you some good advice;
I’m looking you in the eye
and giving it to you straight:
9 “Don’t be ornery like a horse or mule
that needs bit and bridle
to stay on track.”
10 God-defiers are always in trouble;
God-affirmers find themselves loved
every time they turn around.
11 Celebrate God.
All you honest hearts, raise the roof!
I’m more than a little surprised at how different this Presbyterian thing feels. I mean, I’m not uninformed about American religion — especially among conservative Protestants. At least, so I thought. But now that we’ve attended several PCA churches locally and although their worship “styles” have varied, one thing is consistent and that’s the thing I find most startling.
Each service re-presents, rehearses, and reviews the Gospel. In my previous life, that might mean something heavily evangelistic. And I intimately know many fundamentalist ministries who are overtly trying to be God-centered (code for “Reformed”). All that aside, this Presbyterian thing is more deliberate, more routine, and, it seems to me, more tried-and-true. Dare I call it liturgical?
You often hear so-called non-denominational conservative Protestants scolding their more market-savvy brothers for being too man-centered in their worship. “Worship,” you’ll hear, “is not about you. It’s about God.”
Well, no. It’s not. It’s about both. Presbyterians get that. Sean Michael Lucas — fellow BJU alum and, I’m pretty sure, a former student of mine way, way back when because he looks so familiar — explains it this way:
Our belief [is] that worship is covenantal would mean that in worship there is a two way movement between God and his people. Some people have even suggested that in worship there is a dialogue between God and his church. God is the one who makes the first move toward us be calling us to worship, and we respond by invoking his presence in our midst. And the rest of worship is a movement back and forth between God and his beloved people, a movement in which God meets us in Word and sacrament and we respond to his presence with prayers and praises.
Perhaps you have noticed a certain ebb and flow to many Presbyterian worship services:
- God calls us into his presence by his Word and Spirit.
- We enter God’s holy presence, are convicted of sin, and confess our sin to him.
- God responds by his Word with an assurance of his pardon.
- In prayers and songs, we praise our God for calling us into his presence and forgiving our sins.
- God speaks to us by his Word in the reading and preaching of Scripture, as well as through his visible signs of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
- We respond to God in thanksgiving with praise and offerings.
- God sends us away with his blessing (or benediction).
- We move back into the world for loving service, assured that we are God’s people.
That’s not just the Gospel in five easy-to-remember steps. That’s not just a revival service designed to get ’em saved. That’s reminding me that the Gospel is for me. That’s rehearsing the Drama of Grace.
Starting with Confession, yadah. Surveying the Old Testament use of the word en masse implies that confessing our sin as sin and confessing our God as Lord are pretty much the same. Like inhaling and exhaling, crescendo and decrescendo. We are helpless and fallen, and God is powerful and good. We have broken the law, and God provides escape. Salvation and adoration. Repentance and praise. It’s all confession. In admitting our iniquity, we privilege God’s greatness. We are depraved and He is gracious. We are human and He is God.
Why won’t we confess? We believers should be the best at this since it most glorifies God. But in refusing to admit our own sin, we’re erecting our own towering, babbling ziggurats. David describes it as gnawing away at our insides, dehydrating our juices, and pulverizing our bones. Nothing sounds more maddening, more Pharisaical, more pagan, and more blasphemous.
We get incensed that Science denies God as Creator while we whitewash our sepulchers. We raise our fists and our voices in anger at politicians for sounding a tad too Marxist in describing our religious impulse, but we act as embittered as any failed revolutionary when it comes to admitting our wrongs. We stand without apology after all, and we think that’s a tribute to God when it’s nothing more than a tribute to ourselves.
Why not confess our sins? What are we afraid of? Making God look good?