Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Fighting Against Whom?

This past weekend, I went to Hayneville for the Jonathan Daniels Pilgrimage that honors the martyrs of Alabama. When I lived and worked in Montgomery and the pilgrimage was a thirty-minute drive away, I went just about every year. Now that it takes three and a half hours to get there, I don't make the trip very often, but this year was special. It was the fiftieth anniversary of Daniels' death. We dedicated a historical marker on the spot where Daniels was killed. And Presiding-Bishop-Elect Michael Curry was there as the preacher. Even without the extra hullabaloo, it's a worthwhile trip, and I was glad I went.

Daniels' story--and that of the whole Civil Rights Movement--is a classic tale of good vs. evil. It is a story of the power of God standing up against the powers of this world. As the prayers of the pilgrimage reminded us, the martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement were bold to declare the truth of the gospel when brought before the councils and rulers of this world and to die because of their convictions. As a white, wealthy, privileged, Christian man walking that path in a place (town, state, nation) where racism still haunts our lives, I feel the call to declare boldly the truth of the gospel yet I know that, demographically speaking, I represent the authorities to whom that truth must be declared. I feel that disorienting tension keenly, and I find some direction in Sunday's epistle reading (Ephesians 6:10-20).

Paul writes, "Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." I am both slain by those words and heartened by them, too. They remind me that the Christian "battle" is not to be fought against other people but against the Devil himself. The good news, then, is that we are not called to pick up sword against our sisters and brothers no matter how evil they may seem, but the bad news--the truly damning news--is that I and anyone else who stands against the gospel of Jesus Christ is a soldier in Satan's army.

I don't know what it was like to march from Selma to Montgomery. I don't know what it was like to feel the pounding, ripping sting of the fire hoses. I don't know what it was like to lose a child or a spouse or a brother or a sister to racist violence. And I don't know what it was like to know that justice will not be served in this world. But I want to listen to the stories of others because I want to know what they felt so that I can know what it means to put on the armor of God and stand up to the forces of evil.

I imagine that those who felt the blow of the policeman's baton as they tried to walk across the Edmund Pettus bridge knew that they were marching for God. And what armor did they wear? They did not don helmets of iron, nor did they brandish swords of steel. They wore the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness. They held the shield of faith. They put on the helmet of salvation. They carried the sword of the Spirit. And those things are not able to deflect the blows of the human beings who are pitted against them, but they are able to protect those godly soldiers from the "flaming arrows of the evil one."

Paul invites us to put on God's armor. He knows that the battle we fight is made manifest in the powers of this world, but the enemy we fight is not of this world. We may be tortured and killed for Jesus' sake, but we win the battle if we are equipped as only God can protect us. You may be able to see the battle gear that God's soldiers have worn and are wearing, but you can see them shining with the light of the Spirit even in the face of violence.

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