A beam of light amid the darkness
By the Rev. Dr. James Kelsey
Alt-right/white supremacists launched a terror attack Aug. 12 in Charlottesville, Va. These folks despise what our country stands for. They want to destroy our way of life and rend the fabric of our national community. This latent bigotry in our nation that has come to the surface so forcefully recently is a clear and present danger to our common life.
In the creation narrative, the writer is careful to say that God separated the light from the darkness. The symbolism is clear; this is about more than sunshine and the moon. The darkness is bounded and contained, but it is not eliminated. One day the darkness will be fully extinguished.
The writer of Revelation declares that night will be no more. (“They need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever” [22:5].) Until that day, the darkness will continue to rear its ugly head and attempt to usurp dominion. The fact that alt-right/white supremacists employ Christian symbols and language demonstrates how insidious the darkness can be. The darkness, however, will not have the last word.
In the meantime, we have work to do. The writer of John tells us that, in Jesus, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (1:5). We, too, are to reflect that same light in the midst of the darkness (Matthew 5:16).
On the Sunday following the violence in Charlottesville, I found some hope — a beam of light amid the darkness. That morning I participated in the dedication of the Syracuse Karen Baptist Church’s new building. I looked at the hundreds of faithful worshippers celebrating this expanded ministry in the city and was reminded of Jeremiah’s words to the exiles in Babylon: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. …But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile” (29:5, 7).
Could it be that these new Americans, whom the alt-right would like to drive from our country, may well be a part of our salvation? They carry a deep faith in God — a faith tested by persecution and hardship. They embody one strain of the character and history of our country.
God forged the character of Israel on the anvil of her history. Now God is forging the character of our nation on the anvil of current events. Do not be deceived; the powers and principalities of the world are at play here. But do not despair; we know who wins in the end — God.
As is written in Ephesians 6:12–18: “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.”
The Rev. Dr. James Kelsey is executive minster of American Baptist Churches of New York, where he works to add value to the ministries of local congregations.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.