Whoever Is Not Against Us Is For Us

I had the privilege of guest preaching recently at Statesville Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC, and my lectionary text for that morning was Mark 9:38-50. The title of my sermon was: “Whoever Is Not Against Us Is For Us.”

Here’s an excerpt:

“But pastor, they are against us!” I know it often feels that way, and I want to acknowledge those feelings are often valid. But I would argue that most people are, in fact, for themselves, and they live with fear of others being against them. And that is different. Most people in our lives are for themselves first and foremost and live with fear that others are against them!

A landmark study done recently by a group out of the University of Maryland identified that almost half (49%) of white “born again” evangelicals believe they face more discrimination than Muslims or other racial/ethnic/religious groups identified (black, Latino, Asian, and immigrants). Let me say that again: 49% of white evangelicals believe they face more discrimination than Muslims, black people, Latinos, Asians, or immigrants.

And that belief that they face more discrimination than Muslims, for example, carries across to their other beliefs on other issues such as same-sex marriage, believing that immigrants actually hurt the economy, disagreeing that the federal government should combat climate change or that the federal government should increase aid for the poor, or opposition to Black Lives Matter (77%) or disagreeing that the U.S. should apologize for slavery (79%).

What these researchers have identified is what they are calling “in-group embattlement,” the notion that “my group” is actually the most “under attack” right now. Now we can argue all day about all the evidence that goes against this idea and how irrational this fear actually is, but the reality for these white born again evangelicals is that this is their experience, from their perspective. So how do we reach out to them and communicate with them in a way that gets through their fear and feelings of “embattlement”?

I’ll confess this is a very live question for me:

I’ve got some white evangelical friends that I have strong disagreements with. I’ve gotten into some heated arguments with my own parents. Let’s just say my parents voted for our current president, and let’s just say that I did not! I was raised to believe just as they believe, but I’ve strayed far from that fold. And I’ll admit I’ve spent a good bit of the last two years fighting to hold back the tide of damaging policy violence against families and against children. But here’s what I’ve come to learn about my evangelical family, including my parents: They’re actually afraid. The world is changing, and it is changing in ways that are foreign to them. Frankly, it is not changing in ways that preserve their power and position in the culture. The world is becoming more tolerant and accepting and inclusive -- and let’s be real about it: less white, and more black and more brown, and that’s a real psychological threat to anyone who is possessed by white supremacy.

There’s a whole sermon in there that I don’t have time to go into -- exorcising the demon of white supremacy! -- but let me just say I’m grateful for all the amazing people who are doing the work of casting out those demons in Jesus’ name! And many of them don’t even use the name of Jesus’ but they are doing the Lord’s work.

And anytime an evangelical friend or family member and I can find a place of common ground and agreement, we can work together on that issue -- and it may only be one issue, but …

Whoever is not against us is for us!

Watch the full 23-minute sermon video:

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