Though ostensibly about cities, the main thread running through this issue is that of racial injustice and man’s overcorrections. The Gospel is given lip-service, to be sure, but the main theme is that we must change to meet the felt-needs of city-dwellers—not that the Gospel is sufficient in itself.
Dr. Reed Lessing on p25 opines:
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) is in another kind of tailspin. We call it urban ministry. One of the reasons for our decline in the city is that a number of members have left urban parishes for the suburbs. A second reason is that concerns of people in the city (like racism. segregated housing, police violence) are dismissed by many white. conservative Christians—including some in our synod (25).
We have many problems in the LCMS, but the solution is not to further segregate sinners into city, urban, and country categories. Above all, we must trust God’s Word to work on all people. We wrongly think missions is about molding our activities and words to the particular sinners, rather than the Spirit making them followers of one risen Christ. Worldly concerns are not God’s Word. The one guilt that matters is a person’s own sin—not the sins of others or theoretical sins of society at large.
Another article, by another St. Louis seminary professor (See image on p6), makes the idea of people living close together a sort of new person, made in the image of God, to be respected. This collection of people is conflated together in a human romanticism of “the city,” as if it were something special before God. The opposite is true. Cities, since first man gathered to build the tower of Babel, tend to elevate sinful pride in contradiction to God’s rule over the earth. No city is the city of God (heaven), but a city of man’s sinful creation. Whoever trusts in a city is doomed to destruction, as all cities not founded by Christ.
The article by Dr. Sanchez indicates that human culture has its own life and these urban artifacts of sinners can even indicate God’s kingdom. The “who” of the city, though, cannot be saved. It is not a person, but made up of distinct sinners. The city is not to be respected as the individual. Like in critical theory, people are made anonymous and meaningless when they are grouped together and treated as a solitary unit. The personality and diverseness of each individual is denied in this blanket thinking. Christians are called to love the neighbor, but it is hard to love a general class of people, who are quite distinct.
The image of God is for the individual people God creates. A city is something man makes. We cannot elevate a man-made city to the status of something divine. The people in it are all different, some controlled by the Devil, some by the Spirit. To treat them as a whole as righteous or sinful misses the point of the justification, which only the individual receives in faith. Cities are not anything special before God. This sloppy, theology of theory and slogans does not hold up. We need a solid, meaty theology that works for all nations—which is ready-baked in Scripture. A demographically-tailored gospel is not the pure Gospel of Christ whose merits alone count for righteousness.
The Rev. Dr. Mark Koschmann, Associate Vice President of Faith and Ministry & Chair of the Department of Theology & Ministry at Concordia, St. Paul, has a very disturbing article. He writes:
The progress toward racial and economic equality in America has, like religion, had its high and low points. Has there been racial progress in the last fifty, Sixty years? Most certainly, yes. But America is far from finished in its pursuit of racial equality in America. Over the last few years. news stories have covered police-involved shootings and deaths of African Americans in Ferguson, New York City, Cleveland, Baltimore, Chicago, and Minneapolis-St. Paul, among others. These police-involved shootings and deaths have brought racism, racial inequality, and policing practices to the forefront of American discourse. Numerous polls have shown how divided the nation is on matters of racial justice and equality. According to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, the vast majority of African Americans and black Christians believe police-involved killings are part of a larger racial problem in America. Meanwhile, many white Americans and white Christians think the issue of race is receiving too much press and the deaths of people of color by police are isolated incidents. How can the church effectively minister in an urban setting when it disregards a fundamental concern of so many people? Much can and needs to be said. but one point seems painfully obvious: US cities today remain plagued by racial segregation, division, and injustice.
Many urban historians and scholars have written extensively on racial segregation and its numerous and detrimental consequences to American lives. Particularly among those who have black or brown skin color…. Make no mistake about it. racial segregation remains a critical—and seemingly intractable—problem.
Racial injustice, violence, and civil unrest are formidable challenges compounded by the deep polarization in American politics. Christians have also been taken up in this political polarization. Christians act with deep—seated suspicion toward other Christians who believe, act, and vote differently. (60).
An opinion about an issue does not make truth, and certainly has little to do with God’s true Gospel. Yes, they are concerns. But Christ did not die for racial justice results in fair outcomes. He rose over sin and death for all sinners. If we focus too much on the sins of others, we will miss the log in our own eye. The fact that certain people are treated as martyrs de facto, minimizes those who die for Christ submissively. God’s Word addresses all sin, the specific sinners, not just the media-driven ones that get the attention. The solution to sin is not Christ if it is merely human justice.
The expectation and desire to change others—seems to be entirely on the side of the worldly. It is presented as a “must,” necessitating that we must change for the Gospel to be heard. But the compromise is in the Gospel itself. The Gospel addresses real sinners, not those just on the unfair side of earthly justice. The social gospel is not the eternal Gospel of Christ.
Shaped by the gospel and called by the Spirit. Christians are free in Christ to serve their neighbor, and, among other things, can and should pursue racial justice in the United States. This is no easy task. The individual and social sins of racism are rooted in human nature and human psychology and ampliﬁed by our current state of politics and the media. As Lutherans, we cannot look the other way. In the LCMS Black Clergy Caucus Statement on George Floyd. Rev. Warren Lattimore Jr. compels Lutherans to compassionate, Christian action. “If we have the opportunity to prevent more lives from being lost. let us seize it” (61).
The Spirit does not lead us to fix this earth, but to seek a better home above, in heaven. Why are we listening to one fallible human voice, instead of the voice of God. The worst error is to imply that fixing laws and politics and cities (saving lives) is more significant than the salvation from sin and hell for which Christ died. Preaching God’s Word is actually saving lives, not merely putting a band-aid on death by trying to patch up this cursed world a tiny bit.
It is said about the Christian that he “can and should pursue racial justice in the United States.” But human justice is not forgiveness or loving—it is punishment and human works. A “should” is a must. Will the author go so far as to say it is a sin to not follow such trivial ideas. We do not just challenge injustice, in theory, we are called to forgive sinners. Calling for justice as a church seems like appeasement, merely dumbing down the gospel due to present hot-button concerns.
The church is to speak for God. It has the truth over whatever city-folk think is their most pressing needs—Christ’s unmerited righteousness. But here the church is invited to “listen, understand, and stand with those suffering injustices—especially racial injustices.” Notice no Bible verse is cited, because there is none. This is pure worldly dross. Rather the church should expose this nonsense. It is not enough to stand with sinners, we must also preach repentance to them. We have a better Gospel than an earthly reckoning of justice based on sweeping, man-made categories. —ed.