I was reading Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail today in honor of the great civil rights leader and I was struck by the thought that probably crosses God’s mind a time or two – It did not have to be this way. It just didn’t. We never should have gotten there, even though we did.
America, the experiment never should have and did not have to go down the ugly road that it did – slavery, 600,000 dead from the Civil War and the necessity of the Civil Rights Movement – but because of the failure of some otherwise good men we have this legacy that we are still dealing with today. Sin and compromise with sin never goes quietly into that good night. The repercussions of sin can echo through many generations.
First, it is a fascinating read – here is the post that I was reading from https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/evangelical-history/2017/01/16/reading-kings-letter-from-birmingham-jail/
Jump with me though a bit further back in history to the founding of America. Though the faith of some of the Founding Fathers may have been non-traditional, Thomas Jefferson, I am looking at you, the majority of those involved in the framing of the Constitution were followers of Jesus, at least in name. Many were pastors and deacons in their churches. Their writings are filled with direct quotes and references to the words of Jesus and God directing their steps.
The famous opening portion of the Declaration of Independence reads:
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Yet, the institution of slavery was deemed to be not only legal, but a valuable part of the building of America by many of these same men. Others strongly opposed slavery, but believed that the formation of the country was more important at the time.
Therefore when presented with a choice by those who were ardently pro-slavery between abolishing slavery and forming the country, they chose the country and thought that they could deal with the slavery issue later.
600,000 dead in the Civil War, thousands dead in the slave trade, years of oppression of people that they agreed were created equal and made in God’s image was the result. The race related issues that we are dealing with even to this day just did not have to happen. It could have stopped had enough good men refused to give in and defended the rights of the poor and downtrodden.
Compromise can be a good thing in life. When our preferences or hopes or plans are confronted with competing preferences or plans, it is always good to check and see whether we can bend our will to the will of others for all of our goods.
I recently read a story from the Jesus People Movement of the 70’s when a young hippie came to Jesus and decided to join the local mainline denomination church. He came to that church filled with stained glass and suits in a pair of cut off jeans, no shoes and a tank top arrived late and promptly walked to the front of the church and plopped down in front of the pastor’s elevated platform sitting cross legged on the carpet. The congregation was aghast but were comforted when they say one of the elderly ushers immediately head down the center aisle towards the young man. He was decked out in his Sunday suit and even his cane was fancy as it helped him to reach the front as even the pastor stopped to watch what was happening. Don’t be too hard on him they thought, just get him cleaned up and bring him back when he is properly dressed for church. You can imagine their surprise when the usher, rather than drag the young man out by the ear, simply put his cane on the closest pew and sat down on the floor next to him. He did not want to sit on the floor but he did not want the new brother to feel all alone hearing the Word.
This is good compromise.
But when the demand to compromise is from the forces of sin in this world, then we need to stand firm and say an emphatic never. Why? Because the cost of compromise with sin is always worse that saying no, no matter how bad it looks at the time.
John Newton, the guy who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace, is now well known as an opponent of slavery, which is great.
Did you know that he was a Captain of a slave ship before he came to Jesus? A captain of one of the many vessels that took slaves from Africa to the Americas treating them as cargo along the way. Look up how they used to pack the men and women and children into the ships in horrible conditions during voyages if you want to have bad dreams tonight. Many of the prisoners died during the voyages and were disposed of along the way.
When Newton did come to Jesus, through God’s miraculous intervention, do you know what his profession was for the years that followed?
As a slave ship captain.
After he became seriously ill and was unable to go to sea and be a slave ship captain – seemingly God stepping in to stop him from the awful thing that he was doing, Newton made a living from investing – investing in the slave trade.
In a truly horrendous calculation, Newton’s living was felt to be more important than the lives of those being mistreated.
It was more than 30 plus years after he came to Jesus that Newton finally published his memories and opposition to the slave trade in a pamphlet that was instrumental in abolishing the English slave trade.
If not for compromise, what could have been done during that 30 year period? How many lives could have been saved? How many hours of pain could have been avoided for the imprisoned and for John Newton?
Sin never fails to do damage. It is never containable, it will always steal, kill and destroy. It can never be compromised with or managed in service of a greater good. The wages of sin is death, always.
It did not have to be this way. It does not have to be this way. God does not charge us with knowing the future. He does not demand that we know the outcome of every decision we make or solve the world’s problems all by ourselves. We are just called when there is a decision to make between what is clearly good and what it clearly sin to choose the good, again and again without apology and let God deal with the consequences. If enough of us choose to do so, then society changes and looks like a reflection of God.
It does not have to be this way. We never have to choose sin and the world will be better when we don’t.