Dr. Jim Denison: John Lewis and the courage to lead: The truth about masks, public worship services, and conspiracy theories


John Lewis and the courage to lead: The truth about masks, public worship services, and conspiracy theories

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In The Daily Article for July 28, 2020

  • The first Black lawmaker to lie in state in the US Capitol Rotunda
  • Two ways evangelicals need to change
  • Three statements that should not be controversial

The flag-draped casket of the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a key figure in the civil rights movement and a 17-term congressman from Georgia, lies in state, Monday, July 27, 2020 at the Capitol in Washington,. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool)

The body of Rep. John Lewis is lying in state today at the US Capitol in Washington, DC as lawmakers and the public pay their respects. According to congressional historians, he is the first Black lawmaker to lie in state at the US Capitol Rotunda.

As I noted following Rep. Lewis’s death, his original intention was to become a preacher. As a boy, he was responsible for taking care of the chickens on the family farm. He fed them and read to them from the Bible, baptized them when they were born, and staged funerals for them when they died. As he noted in his memoir, “I could imagine that they were my congregation. And me, I was the preacher.”

Rep. Lewis dedicated his life to civil rights as an expression of his faith and call to ministry. He was by no means alone.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said of himself, “In the quiet recesses of my heart, I am fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher.” It has been noted that “the Black church served as the center for the civil rights movement in the South in both logistical and symbolic ways.” Catholic activists were prominently involved in the Selma demonstrations of March 1965 that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

One writer describes the civil rights movement’s leaders this way: “They were pastors who rose up to confront a powerful segregationist establishment and face down violent mobs. Their steel will, backed by thousands of followers inspired by their faith [in] nonviolent resistance, broke the back of unjust segregation laws and set in motion the transformation of America into a more racially tolerant nation.”

Two ways evangelicals need to change 

Historians will look back on 2020 as another pivotal year in the struggle for racial equality. This time, however, we are also battling the worst pandemic in a century and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, all during a presidential election year.

In the midst of crisis, however, there is opportunity for the gospel. Viktor E. Frankl, a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, noted: “In times of crisis, people reach for meaning. Meaning is strength. Our survival may depend on our seeking and finding it.”

In these days, I am convinced that God is calling his people to step into cultural leadership that speaks courageous truth in the character of Christ.

To answer this moment, however, many evangelicals need to revise our worldview in two ways.

One: The gospel is about more than a salvation experience. 

While Jesus clearly declared, “You must be born again” (John 3:7), he also came “to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18, quoted in fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1).

As the faith leaders who helped lead the civil rights movement knew, God cares about every dimension of our lives. His word speaks to every need of our day. It is vital that we use our influence to call people to salvation in Christ. But it is also vital that we speak biblically and act redemptively with regard to racial injustice, poverty, sex trafficking, and every other issue we face.

Two: We must not be discouraged from our calling. 

As our society degenerates morally, it’s easy to give up in the assumption that there’s nothing we can do. Street riots, economic crisis, and a pandemic disease are each overwhelming, not to mention when they are combined. But discouragement is not of the Lord. It is always too soon to give up on God (cf. Galatians 6:9).

Three statements that should not be controversial 

Every Christian has a kingdom assignment, a way to use our influence to lead in this moment for God’s glory and our good. Because many will disagree with us, we will need the courage of our convictions and the compassion of our Lord.

Since writing this Daily Article is part of my kingdom assignment, I’ll use it as an example by making three cultural statements. The fact that all three are controversial is a sign of our times.

One: Mask wearing is not a conspiracy. 

In a recent article, I responded to four claims against mask-wearing by citing scientific evidence and objective medical facts. Wearing a mask not only benefits you in ways we are just discovering, it is a clear way to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39).

Two: Public worship services during the pandemic can be dangerous. 

A small church in Alabama held a week-long revival recently. Now more than forty people, around half their regular attendance, have COVID-19. Singing is known to spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus in ways that other group activities do not, which means public worship services can be even more dangerous than many other group activities.

Again, we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. Scripture is clear: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).

Three: We should use our influence only to spread truth. 

Conspiracy theories always run rampant in times of social upheaval. These days are no exception. For excellent responses to conspiracies about coronavirus, governmental leaders, and other issues, go herehere, and here.

Christians are commanded to reject dishonesty and slander (cf. Proverbs 20:19; Ephesians 4:29). Before you post anything to social media or share it in other ways, examine it carefully. Use your influence for good and guard your witness.

Imagine the difference in our culture if everyone obeyed this biblical command: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

Let it begin with me. And with you.

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