The Safest Place

by John Sprecher

The past few years have seen significant social upheaval challenging the status quo. Prejudice against African Americans mistreated by the police and others has been called out, and the Black Lives Matter movement which began after police shootings in a number of cities. More recently women have responded en-mass to revelations of sexual abuse, assault, and rape occurring in Hollywood and the corporate world.

Sadly, racism, abuse, and other injustice have occurred—some hidden, some exposed—even in the church. Nevertheless, I’m convinced that the church of Jesus Christ holds the only REAL HOPE for our world. The Apostle Peter says that judgment begins “at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17), so when we point fingers at others, we also ought to examine ourselves. For instance, have we been willing to truly obey the instructions written by the Apostle John? “If someone says ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” (1 John 4: 20-21, NKJV)

The challenge we face is to define what love looks like in a practical way in our communities of faith. Too often, those who are involved in wrongful behavior simply say, If you love me you’ll allow me to continue to do what I’m doing. Jesus’ comment to the woman taken in adultery is often quoted as justification: “Neither do I condemn you”; but his concluding statement (“go and sin no more”) is conveniently neglected (John 8:11). Real love holds us accountable for our actions and seeks the best for another person. It would probably be beneficial from time to time to remind ourselves of Paul’s definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13, where the primary focus is seeking the best for someone and not trying to maintain power, position, or prestige.

We can learn to love others by stirring our congregations to work for good with other believers, different denominations, and ethnic backgrounds. A number of our churches have intentionally engaged immigrants and those of color by bringing them together to understand each other better, and to care for one another.

As a result of intentional connections over the years, I’ve had the privilege of preaching at Sunday morning services at half a dozen primarily African American congregations in the city where I live. When we know each other, the suspicion goes down and the trust goes up.

I was profoundly influenced as a young teen when a black family joined our all white church in Madison Wisconsin. I will never forget my reaction when my mom told me in the early 1960s that they could not buy a house in a certain part of the city simply because they were black. Something rose up in me that has never left, and I blurted out “That’s not fair, they’re George and Doris.” It wasn’t about race; it was about my friends whose children I played with and with whom we worshiped every Sunday.

The church should be the safest place in the world—especially for the most vulnerable. That’s why we need to do all we can to protect our children, our women, our minorities and any suffering injustice. That’s why we need to truly show the love of Christ who said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13, NKJV). We must lay aside our prejudice, our blindness, and embody the love of Jesus Christ.

John Sprecher, after serving for decades as a pastor in Rockford, Illinois, is now the Lead Elder of the Fellowship of Christian Assemblies in the U.S.