Video captures the ambush of two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies while they are sitting in their patrol car in Compton, CA. A gunman runs up, fires multiple shots at the deputies through the passenger window and runs away. Both shot in the head, they manage to call for help. Multiple news organizations report protesters trying to enter the hospital where the deputies are in surgery and in critical condition, at least one chanting, “We hope they die!”
The mayor of Compton condemns the shooting but notes that some LA County sheriff’s deputies have terrorized the community for years, citing her own experience with a traffic stop. The city manager of Lynnwood, adjacent to Compton, condemns the shooting in a social media post but says “the chickens have come home to roost,” an apparent reference to the allegations of abusive policing. Meanwhile, a local religious leader speaks on the scene at the hospital: “They were saying, ‘Death to the police. Kill the police.’ And they were using all types of curse words and derogatory terms about the police, just provoking our police officers . . . [it’s] unacceptable behavior, because the hospital should be a sanctuary. We should leave hospitals alone.” You can read all about this story at the following sources:
- LA Times: www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-09-13/sheriffs-deputies-ambush
- ABC News: https://abc13.com/los-angeles-deputies-ambushed-compton-la-shot-protests/6422147/
- Fox News: www.foxnews.com/us/compton-sheriffs-deputy-shooting-mayor-aja-brown
- Fox News: www.foxnews.com/us/city-of-lynwood-distances-itself-from-city-managers-social-media-post-about-shooting-of-la-county-deputies
Should we be surprised by this turmoil? Jesus himself said that in the last days lawlessness will increase. In Matthew 24:10-12 (NIV) he taught, “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold . . .”. Likewise, in a letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive…without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God . . .” (2 Timothy 3:1-5 NIV).
We should not be surprised that when a culture turns away from faith in Christ, people end up “betraying and hating each other.” We should not be surprised that, in the absence of any objective moral compass, their love grows cold so that there is a lamentable loss of virtue and basic decency. We should not be surprised that when people turn away from God and then turn in on themselves, they can no longer identify a common good much less love it. Nevertheless, this incident continues to dominate the headlines because it is a raw example of the pain, hurt, and divisions that plague our cities and our culture from Minneapolis to Seattle, from Kenosha to Portland—and now Compton.
But what hope do we, as Christ-followers, have to offer such a weary and divided world? Is there more than just saying, “the hospital should be a sanctuary”? Is a hospital the only place for us to find rest?
We can start with the truth that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), beginning with God’s Word, especially his diagnosis of our fundamental human nature: “There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10ff cf. Ps. 14:1-3, 53:1-3; Eccl. 7:20). This is true of all peoples, tribes, races, and nations. Gospel hope for a weary and divided world begins when we exchange the self-justification that causes our hearts to grow cold for the justification that brings deadened hearts to life: the justification by faith in Christ alone (Romans 3:21-26). Until we “remove the beam in our own eye” before we try to remove the speck in our brothers’ (Matthew 7:5), we have no grounds for the reconciliation of races that are in the body of Christ. In and through Christ, we have power beyond ourselves and our institutions to change hearts and lives from the inside out. Therein lies our hope.
I was encouraged on Sunday by a new sermon series at Falls Church Anglican, “Together in Christ Amid Divisive Times” (You can find the outline of the series here: https://www.tfcanglican.org/sermons-1/2020/9/13/together-in-christ). In this series, Rector, the Rev. Sam Ferguson, seeks to address the question, “How do we as followers of Jesus Christ engage the issues surging around us?” There are at least three things from this sermon to keep in mind:
1. We must frame the problems we face according to the larger narrative of the Bible.
The larger (meta-) narrative of the Bible can be summed up in four chapters: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Within this larger narrative, Rev. Ferguson points out that we must be alert to Satan’s devices: division, sin, and mistrust. Beginning from creation and the fall through redemption on the cross, he notes how Satan used these devices to separate Eve from first God and then Adam, Cain from Abel, the Israelites from Moses, and on the cross, Jesus from the Father. We should, therefore, not be surprised at the spirit of division at work in America or its author. It seeps into everything, and it can even seep into the church.
2. We struggle not against flesh and blood but against spiritual oppression and unspiritual conditions.
There’s a somber reminder elsewhere in Ephesians that our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against spiritual wickedness (Ephesians 6:12). This condition infects the heart of every human being, regardless of race. As Christians, the hope we have to offer is the power of God, the Holy Spirit, to change our hearts from the inside out so that we can love our neighbors and not merely tolerate them. Therefore, we desperately need a new Pentecost outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the Gospel work that lies before us.
3. Unity among all people is the wisdom of God manifested through the Church.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit brings not only power for internal change but also unity to the Church. When Paul writes about unity, he isn’t just talking about “getting along” with one another. In Ephesians 3:10, Paul provides a stunning vision for the Church, that through it “the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities.” This wisdom is God making visible the Gospel through the Church in real-time including the removal of dividing walls of hostility between two races, Jew and Gentile, in order to create in himself one new people, reconciled and at peace (Ephesians 2:13-22).
This unity is essential to the church’s witness (Ephesians 4:3). Jesus himself prayed to the Father for it, “so that . . . the world will know that you [Father] sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23). This unity begins with the conversion of hearts to Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit and ends with the real expression of God’s love among God’s people despite all barriers.
Of course, we will be pulled toward opinions, movements, and parties within our culture. Just as disagreements happened in the Church between Paul and Peter (Galatians 2:11-13) or Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41), there will be disagreements threatening to divide us. But just as those leaders maintained their love while contending for the truth, we must also strive to maintain our unity in the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). We must love the Lord and His people, our brothers and sisters, more than we love being right or being self-justified. If our primary loyalty is to any perspective that is not framed by the Bible itself, not only will our unity be threatened, but we will have also lost the very ground we have in Christ to make the Gospel of restoration tangible in real-time.
I find myself, like you, struggling to sort fact from opinion and to prayerfully guard my heart against loves and passions other than my love for Christ and for my neighbor. But this series on Ephesians from Falls Church seems a good place to start, and it certainly causes me to seek God’s perspective on these difficult times and hold fast to up our gospel hope: “This mystery is that through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Eph 3:6). Together…not divided.