I’m on Tik Tok. You have to be careful there. On one side of the straight and narrow way is the onslaught of thirst trap videos. The other side of the way are the Tik Tok theologians. I call them such because the totality of their biblical scholarship can be summarized in their three-minute videos. In the midst of that I have been recently targeted by Pastor Ed Young. At least Tik Tok has targeted me with Ed’s videos inventing a strawman he calls “Wokeism” and his subsequent debunking it as anything a Christian should be involved with.
I have read studies showing how pastors are running to the political right to retain white church members, but I would not venture to assign such a motive to Pastor Young’s videos. I can say that audience would gladly sit under these teachings and here is where my prophetic hackles get raised.
The great problem isn’t the orthodoxy of the social justice movement. The great problem facing the American church is whether or not it will be faithful to Scripture and the Tradition no matter the cost, or will she wink at immorality for short term gain?
Prophetic Israel Prophetic America
I find it impossible to not find congruent parallels between the testimony of the Jews in Babylonian captivity and the story of enslaved people in America. As I opened our service with Psalm 137 this past Sunday, I reflected on how the captives were forced to sing their songs of praise to God as entertainment to their captors. I could feel the internal struggle.
I imagined their inner dialogue would be something like, I know it’s always good to praise God but do I really want to bring pleasure to my captors by singing of a deliverance that has not come? The very thing I’m praising God for is a fictional notion to them and they find enjoyment in what seems to be delusional hope.
We know that enslaved Americans wrote their own songs of hope and deliverance and we know that there were times that they were forced to sing those songs as entertainment for the ones who had enslaved them. Again, mockery in the face of hope for the entertainment of enslavers.
Feel Good or Be Good?
This parallelism is what I wrestle with. If American Christians were serious about the word of God, they would celebrate a careful examination of a living illustration of the depravity of the unconverted man. American slavery shared its foundation with every other cult that has ever come about, whether Christian or not. People in power agreed to suspend their morality for unrighteous gain. The agreement to suspend morality for some sort of gain is always the hallmark of these cultic systems and is at the center of the anti-woke movement today.
There is a movement afoot to redefine slavery and the Civil War looking for those who will suspend morality for common, ill-gotten gain at the detriment of both the Church and our testimony.
Those of us who have not allowed our hearts to be seared against the conviction of Holy Spirit and seek to live a Christ-honoring, moral life are left to pick up the pieces of this harmful Christian rhetoric and it leaves us in much the same dilemma as the psalmist found himself in.
The Faithful Way Forward
Do we disassociate with the Christian God these fundamentalists are trying to appropriate in their quest for power? Do we still sing the praises so many others are using in their efforts to oppress whole people groups? Tik Tok has the answers. Depending on what you like and follow you will either be taught that sky daddy is a myth, God really has no requirements for man, or loving your neighbor is anti-Christ wokeism.
What we need is a new love for the Scriptures and the story they tell. All throughout the South there are monuments to men who tried to destroy the country people claim to love. It was a clever ploy by the Daughters of the Confederacy to rewrite that shameful chapter in American history. The Babylonian captivity is no different. It was a shameful chapter in the history of Israel. Their sins led directly to the loss of their testimony. The question our future rests on is how do we deal with a shameful past?
If we want to be faithful to the Scriptures and the God of Israel, we don’t whitewash that history. We celebrate the fact that such a rebellious people intent on self-determination still saw the plan of God come to fulfillment through their lineage. We celebrate that in the midst of man’s failure, God was glorified and His plan of salvation has come to pass.
We don’t condemn the Jews, mock them, denigrate them, or marginalize them for the endemic sin of their culture which led to the Babylonian captivity. Instead, we read it and study it looking for the same patterns in our culture and our lives in an effort to be faithful to the Scriptures and the God who inspired them.
Am I Woke?
I know woke is nothing more than a pejorative meant to rally the ignorant and fearful. And for me, I sense a deep shame that fellow ministers are using it to shore up their church attendance and maintain their influence. There is no moral justification for their actions. But I also see these are the actions of my people. These are the actions of American Christians of which I am a minister. My people are not faithful to God right now and have given their hearts to worldly definitions of success.
I pray that one day Christian nationalists won’t mockingly force true believers to sing songs about the reign of God for their deranged entertainment. I pray that America will wake up and that ministers would take seriously the contemporary bastardization of the Gospel. Teachings that bring earthly success but have no Father in heaven.
I Still Hope
Ultimately the psalmist did not withhold the praise of God even in the face of mocking. He wrote that it would be better if his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth that he deny praise to God. He made a decision. He decided that righteous acts were righteous no matter how other people received them.
I deeply pray that the American Presbytery will make a similar, God honoring decision and abandon their self-serving culture wars and choose to give honor to the God of heaven.
We can start by being honest about how the clearest and closest illustration of Israel and Babylon is right here in American history, teach it faithfully, and teach people to be better.
*The picture above is The Flight of the Prisoners (1896) by James Tissot; the exile of the Jews from Canaan to Babylon.