I am not a son of the South. While I was born in Kentucky, when I have been asked about my formative years, I have always appealed to my West coast experiences of California. I have conducted Gospel ministry in Arkansas for five years now and I have learned a great deal. I have experienced a deepening love for God’s Gospel and his Church over these last years. That deepening love though is accompanied with sadness for the visible Church of the South. If I did not love the Church, there would not be this current sadness. It is through this sadness, I pray that my love would become deeper.
The South has a unique Christian landscape. Her landscape is decorated with a variety of edifices that on the surface signal the presence of the Gospel. Like a colorful, woven blanket, her threads are a variety of Baptist, Reformed, Pentecostal and small store front type gatherings. The South is vocal in her voting patterns and ways of living, maintaining that her tapestry will be the covering for family values, morals and traditional living.
Her tapestry though is frayed at the edges and is unraveling from the middle because she has let go of her threefold strand of faith, hope and love. Her nakedness is slowly becoming exposed as she revels in larger buildings, religious programs that serve her children and an increasing propensity to view the poor as projects, not persons who are in the same need of faith, hope and love. She believes herself to be the admiration of others yet in reality, she appears lewd on the highest hills.
I look at the Christian landscape of the South and specifically my Arkansas; I wonder how silent the local church is to the formless void that is washing over the many communities of her state? She appears ready to answer the cries of dark babies in Kenya and Uganda. She is quick to pack her bags, jump on a plane to Port Au-Prince and join hundreds of thousands of NGO’s. She is willing to mobilize people to buy a trendy pair of shoes. Yet as she flutters over the chaos that exists in the communities two and ten miles from her front door; she says very little.
Her prophetic voice has become nothing more than a whimper of seasonal platitudes during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Her voice is weak enough to gather a few dark, smudged faces to build her web page, update her new look timeline on Facebook or garner support for next year’s “mission trip.” What happened to the prophetic voice that resounded in the South, so long ago? When she braved water hoses and lunch counters so that “others” could live as humans in America. When she walked long streets and fought for children in such places as Little Rock to attend a high school? The prophetic voice of the local church was once world creating. Her voice has now become muffled by the bandannas of affluence, territorial expansion and “the show.”
I am hopeful though for the local church. I am hopeful for the local church because I know that God has among these varied congregations; his people. These are the people of God who have refused to be far too easily pleased by the allurements of comfort and “I.” The people of God that exist and gather among the people of the world discern that they have a voice which is far more superior the most skilled teacher who stands behind a pulpit, lectern or music stand. Their Spirit empowered voice, is the one that creates new worlds for those who languish under the oppressive nature of sin and all its effects. That voice, when that voice utter words seasoned with faith, hope and love- it brings order, rhythm and fellowship. That voice which utters the words of Christ to the least of our city will discover a sweet eternal union as the Spirit of God speaks through the child of God to minister to God himself.
The Church of the South must speak like her husband-today. Christ stood over the formless void, spoke and the universe came into being. We are able to speak the Gospel of Life-today. We must stand in and over the chaotic, dark and formless places of our city and speak the word of Life before we venture elsewhere. When we do, new worlds are created and in those worlds, the grounds will release living men and women who will know order, rhythms and life in the one Christ.