One of the more powerful films of the year (if not the most powerful film) was 12 Years a Slave. The film is based on the life of Solomon Northup, who was a free man that was taken and illegally sold into slavery. It is difficult to watch; not only because of violence, but also because of our ignorance. But then again, history can be difficult to watch.
Films like Schindler’s List, Hotel Rwanda, or Letters from Iwo Jima can be difficult to watch because of the content. I’m not speaking about violence as much as I am speaking about how we, as Christ-followers, ignored the cries of the broken and destitute. That was one of the reasons why 12 Years a Slave was so difficult to watch. It was difficult to see Christians twist Scripture to support slavery and the near-deadly beatings of slaves. It was difficult to see oppression and Christians not do much about it.
Before I continue, some of you are probably going to object by saying that there were some Christians who fought against slavery. That is right. There were some of them. Unfortunately, as my mother would always say, “the squeaky wheel makes the most noise.” Even if some of them did fight against it, we have some who remained silent and others who spoke out in favor of it. Just because a few might have fought does not, unfortunately, mean that we can erase this smear from the history of the Church.
Christians have a tendency to erase the smears from the history of the Church. I think we do this to protect ourselves. It’s not fun learning about the Crusades or the Inquisition. It’s not fun hearing about all those we killed because we saw them as “heretics.” It’s not fun learning about the debauchery of the Popes.
But it is necessary.
I think it is important that Christians address our mistakes….as well as our successes. We need to talk about both. Why? Because we are responsible for our history. When one calls himself/herself a Christ-follower, he/she becomes part of the Church – in all of its stain-covered glory. This means we become part of the history as well as becoming part of the future. One cannot build the future without accepting the mistakes of the past. We as a Church will never be able to move forward until we address the mistakes of our past. This means there is a constant teaching that occurs. With each new generation, they are taught about the mistakes as well as the successes of the Church. And in it, they will see just how necessary Christ is in our lives.
I think we need to be constantly aware of our past mistakes. That sounds bad. It sounds negative. I don’t think it has to be, though. To me, it shows healing. Some people would like to run as far away as they can from the past. But it is absurd to think that will solve anything. How then can the Church try to run away from our past mistakes and think that will solve anything? There is healing in seeing how Christ worked in your life when you hated Him the most. There is healing in seeing how Christ worked in the Church when we represented Him the least. When we see how Christ worked in the Church when we failed to represent Him, then we can begin to see how Christ wants to work in the Church as we seek to become Him.
Judaism is great at remembering the past and bringing it up. They tell the stories…both good and bad. History is sacred to them. Is history as sacred to evangelical Christianity? How do we make that known?
Christ is calling the Church to do a great work: be the Kingdom. We’ve messed that up, unfortunately. But thankfully God freely gives us grace. I hope that the Church can begin to learn how to incorporate all of our history in our teaching. It’s important that people see where we have come from. For in seeing that, I think we can begin to see where the Church needs to go.
I’ve always wondered what film will be made about this time period. What oppression is there today that is going unnoticed? That the Church is being silent on? Some will argue that it is abortion. Others will state it is equal rights for sam-sex couples. It could be modern-day slavery. My thought is this: we, as a Church, screwed up horribly with slavery 150 years ago…maybe we should learn from our mistakes and speak out and take action against the current slavery that there is today. But I don’t think we will be able to until we understand the travesty of our errors over 150 years ago. When we see that, then we will become impassioned all the more for what Christ wants to do in us today.