If murder is poison, we need an antidote. The chaos, violence and the unholy permission of certain ideologies toward wanton destruction and brutality need undoing. That undoing is calling all our names to act with honor.
We have a powerful moral imagination born of the great Creator God who sees the value of each human life and the hope of building beloved community through mutual sacrifice and love of neighbor. As black, white, blue and brown Americans, we have a moral imagination for justice. Our nation was born of a commitment to human rights and civil institutions that enable people to participate in making true justice and honoring life together.
These comments come from Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter in the wake of the murder of 3 Baton Rouge police officers on July 17, 2016. Her entire statement can be read here, https://cbfblog.com/2016/07/17/paynter-honor-moral-imagination-are-antidotes-to-the-poison-of-murder/.
I love her phrase ‘moral imagination,’ and I love that she links this phrase to our ‘Creator God.’ God is many things. Lord, Savior, Sustainer, and Creator are a few of the roles God fills. In God’s original creation, the word to describe what God had done was ‘good.’ God looked and saw that it was good (Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25).
God is still creating good things today. One of the numerous insidious ways acts of evil undercut human thriving is the way they are magnified in our thought. Good stories just don’t grab our attention the way horrible ones do.
Children’s Hope Chest provides education and food for economically struggling children in Kombolcha, Ethiopia. No one reports it. Isis soldiers make a public spectacle of beheading people they’ve captured: it’s the BBC lead.
Habitat for Humanity brings Christians from five different denominations together to help people into the life of home ownership as an entire block of new homes goes up in Chapel Hill. WRAL in Raleigh doesn’t utter a peep. Police officers kill unarmed black young men; and then police officers (not the ones who shot the young black men, but rather those keeping order so a protest can be possible) are killed. News outlets go crazy (as does Twitter and Facebook).
HillSong Church (and many other churches) gives away hundreds of dollars each month to help struggling families pay their utilities’ bills. CNN doesn’t know and does not care. A terrorist kills dozens of people in France by running them over with a truck. It’s broadcast worldwide.
My point is not that the tragedies and horrors should be ignored. They shouldn’t. They need to be faced, confronted, and especially, followers of Jesus must actively opposed evil. No, my point is not that these stories of terror and sorrow should be swept under the rug.
My point is that these aren’t the only stories. There are good stories to be told of how God is active in the world, helping people thrive. God is doing this through His body, the church. Using our ‘moral imagination’ (thank you Ms. Paynter for this wonderful phrase), we followers of Jesus move in rhythm with the Holy Spirit to unlock the creativity God has planted in our minds. We imaginatively tell the good that God is working in the world. Moreover, we seek new places to join God as God works to save the world that’s fallen in sin and sinking into destruction.
Through imagination that leads to constructive conversations and to actions that help people thrive, the body of Christ competes with evil. The Enemy collaborates with the media’s lust for headlines. The body of Christ counters with stories and actions of love that promote health, spiritual and relational wellbeing, and help people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus. We Christians insist that our narrative will compete with the sad saga of evil, and our good news will win out because it is nourished by the Spirit of God.
There is a time to weep and to lament, but our tears are most moving because beyond the sickly gray of death is the blinding illumination emanating from the empty tomb. Our Lord Jesus has defeated death and his resurrection provides hope this summer of terrors cannot dampen. Jesus told us to let our light shine. He is our Light. We tell his story and evil is vanquished.
I pray Christians will, through worship and prayer, tap into our moral imagination that we might offer our competing narrative, a tale of transforming, saving love. I pray the summer of 2016 will be remembered for the way the good news of Jesus became the dominant story.