The KKK, BLM, and the Sins of Nineveh
Recently, in one of my largely ill-advised descents into Twitter-land, I came across the following tweet:
Which three letters get white Christians more uptight? Which three letters have been most preached against?
KKK or BLM?
— Brian Dye (@visionnehemiah) July 15, 2020
Now, there’s a lot to unpack here, but the part that got my attention was the second sentence – the one about preaching. The answer to that question has deep theological, ecclesiastical, and pastoral implications. I intend to look at this first on a micro, and then on a macro level.
The KKK, BLM, and the Local Church
Let us suppose, for the moment, that you are the pastor of a Bible-believing, Bible preaching church in the heart of Mississippi, or some other location in the deep south. Let us further imagine that in your community there is an active chapter of the Klu Klux Klan. You discover that its members are people of influence in the community, and that there are societal incentives for the young people of your (all-white, of course) church to join up.
You, as the pastor, know that the Klan is an evil organization. At its very core is the denial of the imago dei in a large swath of mankind. Not only do they believe this, but they act on it, destroying the homes and businesses of African Americans, intimidating them at the ballot box, corrupting politicians. Perhaps they don’t carry out lynchings any more…or perhaps they do. Either way they clearly hate anybody who is not a part of their “superior” Aryan race.
And let’s sweeten the pot a little. Suppose you discover that there are members of your church – deacons, Sunday School teachers, pillars of the community, tithers all – who belong to the KKK.
What do you, the pastor, do in such a circumstance? Do you preach against the Black Lives Matter movement? Doing so would certainly be popular in your context. It would not, however, be the correct, righteous, biblical thing to do.
No, your job as pastor is stand in the pulpit and preach clear, full-throated, unequivocal messages about how all men are created in the image of God, how all racial and cultural divisions are broken down in Christ, and how anybody who actively participates in an organization that teaches otherwise is sinning against the Most High God and must repent. Not only that, but your responsibility as shepherd of the flock requires you to exhort your KKK members to repentance, and, failing that, to bring them before the congregation for discipline. And you should not accept Yankee aggression, Reconstruction, carpet baggers, “there are some fine people…”, or any other flimsy excuse.
To take any other course of action, or no action at all, is to abdicate your sacred duty as a pastor.
Now let’s move north. Let’s say that you are a pastor of a largely African-American church in urban Chicago. All around you chaos is being sown, buildings are being destroyed, and people are dying, all in the name of Black Lives Matter. You do your research and discover that the BLM movement is based on anti-Christian philosophy, and is committed to the promotion of anti-biblical lifestyles. What’s more, through its support of abortion, it denies the imago dei in a large swath of humanity. You discover that, not only are the youth of your church being recruited to take part in this movement, but that several of the people in your church are into it up to their eyeballs – deacons, Sunday School teachers, pillars of the community – tithers all.
So pastor, what do you do? Do you preach against the KKK? Doubtless that message would be wildly popular for your audience. But if you do, if you fail to cry out against the BLM movement, if you neglect to shepherd your flock away from it, if you accept the excuses of past grievances as justifying current sin, then you have abdicated your pastoral duties to the same degree that the remiss pastor from Mississippi has abdicated his.
The point here is that what you “preach against” is going to be determined by the predominate sins of the specific community where you minister.
One particular tweeter thought that Jonah would provide a clever example to use in this context:
Well…I agree that Jonah is a good example…just not in that way. You see, it was easy for Jonah to preach against the sins of Nineveh, in Israel. But to do the same in Nineveh, well…not so much.
But, you object, was not Jonah’s sin the fact that he did not care about the Ninevites? Is not that the point? Indeed it is. And pastor, if you refuse to preach against the sins of your congregation, it is a symptom, not only of cowardice, but of a cynical, exploitative, lack of love for the people to whom God has called you to minister.
The KKK, BLM, and the Larger Church
Now, in subsequent replies, the gentleman in the first tweet applied his thoughts to society at large. He seems certain that the if we are not preaching against the KKK on a national level, we are abdicating our responsibility. And at face value, I agree with him. Racism is a particularly egregious affront to our Creator, and must be preached against in all its forms, including but not limited to the KKK, skinheads, the alt-right, and any other group that teaches that one particular race is superior to another.
But let’s look at the Klan for a moment. According to this article on the ADL website,
Despite a persistent ability to attract media attention, organized Ku Klux Klan groups are actually continuing a long-term trend of decline. They remain a collection of mostly small, disjointed groups that continually change in name and leadership. Down slightly from a year ago, there are currently just over thirty active Klan groups in the United States, most of them very small. However, the association of Klan members with criminal activity has remained consistent.
They go on to say that there are roughly 3,000 clan members nationwide. This means that there are currently 2,000 more hot air balloon pilots in the US than there are KKK members. Let that sink in.
Now, don’t get me wrong. 30 groups is 30 too many, and 3,000 members is 3,000 too many. May the current downward trend continue and accelerate until both numbers sit squarely at zero.
It is also important to note, in the same article, the reasons given for the decline:
The long-term decline of Ku Klux Klan groups is due to several factors, including increasing societal rejection of what the Klan stands for; a growing perception by white supremacists that Klan groups are outdated; and competition with other white supremacist movements, from racist skinheads to white supremacist prison gangs, over the small pool of potential recruits.
Notice what I have highlighted in that paragraph. The Klan has an extremely limited appeal and virtually no national influence.
Meanwhile, there is BLM. Despite the mayhem, violence and death associated with the movement, it appears to have a growing appeal and influence. Indeed, it counts Ivy League colleges as recruitment centers, most of the national media are happy to serve as both mouthpieces and apologists for it, celebrities stumble over themselves to be associated with it, and it has a major political party in the palm of its hand.
And so I ask you, speaking on a national level, where should the great preachers and expositors of our day focus their righteous indignation? At the evil organization that barely exists, or at the evil organization that is currently on everybody’s lips?
Or, to put it another way, do we love the Ninevites enough to preach against the sins of Nineveh in Nineveh?
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