So there I was talking to another pastor about race issues in the church. He told me about a friend of his (yes, I know that this would never be admissible in a court of law, but it’s just a story, so chill) who was pastoring down south. The pastor was new to the church, and when a black family visited one Sunday the board later asked the pastor what he was going to do about it.
His response? “I’m not going to do anything about it.”
But the family visited again. And the pastor was summoned to a special meeting with the board. Upon entering the meeting, the board members pulled out their wallets and showed the pastor that they were all card-carrying members of the Ku Klux Klan.
I don’t know how that story ends. That wasn’t the point of our conversation. Our conversation revolved around people who consider themselves to be Christians yet behave in ways that many Christians believe to be contrary to how authentic disciples of Jesus behave.
But here’s the thing: we can’t tell people what they are. Or aren’t. people are allowed to self-identify however they like. Oh, sure, we can tell people that we don’t think their way of doing things fits into the mold, but people don’t usually listen when we try to tell them what they are.
Like an article I saw from not too long ago. A local KKK leader in Virginia claims that the KKK is a Christian organization. They just want to make sure that the white race stays white and isn’t diluted. As he says:
It’s not a hateful thing to want to maintain white supremacy.
But here’s the kicker: I think it IS possible for Christians to be card-carrying members of the KKK.
Don’t misunderstand me. I think the KKK is unequivocally evil. But humanity is predisposed to be evil. It’s in our nature. In theological terms we call it sin-nature. Left to our own devices there is no way we can ever achieve heaven – we will simply never be good enough. That’s the whole point of the cross – Jesus paid the price for sin because the price was TOO steep for us ever to pay.
For Christians, that means we’re all a bunch of sinners in the same boat. We’re simply on different places of our spiritual paths. Some of us are farther along than others. Some of us still have a long way to go. But faith in Christ isn’t predicated on a list of rules and behaviors. The Apostle Paul never said, “Give up all your old ways, come to Christ, and then you’ll be saved.” That’s getting the order mixed up.
We come to Christ FIRST. Then our behavior ought to be in an ever-evolving state as we grow in our Christ-likeness. I’m fond of saying:
God loves you as you are, but God does not love the way you are.
As we mature in our faith, the old way SHOULD die out. Can a Klansman be a believer? Sure, just like the Christian-murdering Paul could come to faith. But after Paul started the road of faith HE CHANGED. This is where the rubber meets the road. God loves everyone, but authentic faith brings us to a place where we are no longer the same.
Can the Christian church have Klan members in it? Yes. I would hope it did. Just as I would hope the church would have drug addicts, drug dealers, spouse abusers, porn addicts, tax-evaders, and any other horrible thing you can think of. If the church isn’t reaching sinners then we’re not doing our job.
But the beginning-of-the-journey sinner can’t stay that way. It’s not enough to come to Jesus if we refuse to change. When it comes down to it, though, it’s not our place to force change. We can welcome people and speak the truth as we know it. Then we need to trust God to do the real work of changing hearts. Because my words will most likely never change hearts. That’s not my job – it’s God’s.
That means we should treat people with a whole lotta grace, even when they’re on a different part of the journey than we are. You might have a Klansman in your church. Who knows where God will have him this time next year.
May God be patient with us all as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Him.