Please note that this article was first published in 2012, 8 years ago. That’s something to think about: what has changed, and what has remained as broken as ever? Truly, “only Christ will redeem and save this world. No government can do so.”
Four years ago to this date, I had the privilege of speaking to a class of ninth grade students in an inner city area of Birmingham, AL, known as Woodlawn. Imagine the intrigue of having a conversation with a classroom of all African American students in one of the most violent, segregated sites of the Civil Rights Movement, on the morning after America elected its first black president. Students told stories of their grandparents, who lived under the threat of the Ku Klux Klan and used “colored” public restrooms, sat in front of the television praying and weeping as they saw President Obama chosen for office.
Since that morning, which stills gives me chills when I recall the spirit of redemption in that classroom, I have had my eye on Woodlawn, where several friends serve, minister, and attend church. I can say definitively that there has been no mitigation to the suffering, poverty, estrangement, addiction, and violence over the last four years. Children struggle without fathers. Men and women fail to find work. Teens fall into gangs. The only real effect government has made in Woodlawn has been a bribery scandal among county commissioners that has led to the bankruptcy of their county and increased burden on residents to pay their utilities.
Simultaneously, during the past four years, several churches have established new ministries that are bringing real hope to the Woodlawn community. The Church of the Highlands has established its Dream Center that includes ministries of mercy, such as affordable healthcare, financial counseling, tutoring, and Bible study. They have a satellite church location that includes an integrated congregation. Church of the Redeemer, a church plant led by pastor Joel Brooks, has a thriving congregation with powerful relational ministry and strong biblical teaching in the Woodlawn area. Hungry families can depend on Grace Episcopal where meals are served daily. A rush of tangible hope and redemption has rolled through Woodlawn in a new way, probably not at a macro-level but to a degree like not before in decades.
I bring this up only because, today, I have dealt with students with very powerful reactions to the presidential election. Some have threatened to move to Canada, fearing that America will collapse. Four years ago, many kids unrealistically believed that America had found a messiah, who would redeem all problems. Teenagers are filled with passion that we can channel in a fruitful direction. Today, I will remind students of three important truths.
First, Christ reigns as King. His Kingdom already has come and will continue to increase. Only Christ will save and redeem this world. No government can do so.
Secondly, God ordains all elected officials. We are called to pray for them and respect their authority.
Third, the Church is the worldly vehicle through which God will redeem the world. The government can improve circumstances, but only God through the Church can revive desperate, sinful hearts through the proclamation of the Gospel, teaching of the word, prayers of the people, and missions for our neighbor. The Church relates to people face-to-face and heart-to-heart, not through policy, regulation, or bureaucracy. Policy operates at a surface level, while the Church (when functioning properly), engages at the epicenter of all the world’s problems: the human heart. It would be irresponsible not to acknowledge that, like the government, the Church can be a source of injustice and oppression, when its people do not have their souls anchored in Christ and the promotion of His Kingdom.
Therefore, let all of us- student, ministers, and parents alike- be encouraged that the most powerful change agent in the world remains Jesus Christ working through His bride, the Church. Let us not waste energy fretting over political elections, obsessing over cable news, or making inflammatory remarks on Facebook. Instead, let us exalt Christ the King and focus our energy on our role in God’s Church as agents in the complete redemption of the world.