A really bad thing happened last weekend. It was an evil thing. I suppose you could even call it a demonic thing. The city of Charlottesville, Virginia, (with a population of just over 43,000 people) had seen several small racist rallies in past months by radical groups from both the extreme right and the far left. On Saturday morning, hundreds of neoNazis, Ku Klux Klan members, and other “white nationalists” began gathering in anticipation of a noon rally to be held by “Unite the Right” for the purpose of protesting the pending removal of a statue honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. (The park was formerly known as Lee Park.)
But as thousands of demonstrators arrived, the event was projected by authorities to become the largest and most dangerous in decades. State police and members of the Virginia National Guard, therefore, surrounded the park after Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, saying he was “disgusted by the hatred, bigotry, and violence” and blaming “mostly out-of-state protesters.” The city of Charlottesville declared the “alt-right” protest an unlawful assembly — effectively cancelling the demonstration before its planned start time. Some 500 of those gathered headed for home.
But within minutes, thousands of those remaining were met by equal numbers of “counter-protesters,” including Black Lives Matter activists and a radical Princeton professor. Clashes broke out, mainly between the white nationalists and anti-fascist groups, as crowds moved toward the park where the Lee statue was located. Dozens of people used wooden poles from their flags and banners as weapons. Others threw trash, bottles, and urine-filled balloons into the opposing ranks of protesters as the crowds swelled. Many also brought their own pepper spray. Numerous protesters came prepared, wearing helmets and flak jackets and charging into crowds holding plastic riot shields. Protesters on one side of a square held up anti-fascist signs and Black Lives Matter banners, while groups on the other displayed Confederate flags and iron cross banners.
At one point, a 32-year-old woman died and at least 19 people were injured when a car sped down a congested street and intentionally crashed into a crowd of peaceful protesters leaving the rally. The 20-year-old driver was quickly arrested. Three hours later, a Virginia State Police observation helicopter crashed seven miles southwest of Charlottesville, killing two state troopers. It was a terrible day.
Saturday’s violence followed a spontaneous march the previous night by hundreds of torch-wielding white nationalist protesters on the University of Virginia campus that was broken up by police as an unlawful assembly after scuffles broke out and pepper spray filled the air. Some saw this image as a call to action.
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Now, why have I taken so much space and time to share so many details of this story? For one thing, both sides of this violence claimed to be representing Jesus Christ, using Bible quotes in support of their actions. Both sides also had pastors involved. That’s a problem. How can both points of view represent the gospel? In fact, does either side truly reflect the principles of God and Christ? Where should the Church come down on a situation like this? I’ve heard of a lot of pastors who have already made very strong pronouncements even before all of the facts are known.
I probably had more time this week to sift through the research than you do in a normal week, and I still don’t believe I have a grasp on everything that happened. So, how can you be expected to be accurate and comprehensive as you talk about your church and its place in this culture? How do your people get the truth? The answer I stumbled upon many years ago is something I call “a social concern committee.” A social concern committee can be of great assistance to any pastor for understanding and addressing cultural issues.
In my first years as a pastor, I believed that openly opposing societal ills would create problems for me from people who felt uncomfortable with their pastor talking about “news” subjects. And I was right. I was hammered from all sides, and I became reluctant to speak my conscience. However, I eventually worked myself out of that corner and again started to take stands on public policy. Had I not done so, I would have felt less than honest.
There were also many occasions when I felt lonely and exposed because it was difficult for me to know where I stood with those who mattered most to me — my congregants. Then it dawned on me that I should not stand alone, nor take the abuse for my well-intentioned convictions. That was the genesis of a social concern committee.
Every congregation has a nucleus of people who care deeply about the signs of the times. They are concerned when society begins to move in a direction that could be detrimental to the institution of the family, the church, and our children. Call them together around a cause and you will have the simple beginnings of a social concern committee.
A social concern committee can also be used as a research and information source for the whole church body. Committee members can attend meetings of the city council, school board, library board, and so on. They can gather pertinent information related to social issues. They can meet each month to discuss whether or not an issue is worthy of further action. They can make telephone calls and visits to the significant players in the community who influence policy matters. They can compile lists of names and telephone numbers of those who need to be contacted and whose opinions can be influenced by the public. They can write letters.
Further, they can provide pertinent material with issue-related information for those in the church body who need to become better informed. In short, the social concern committee is like Nehemiah on the wall — a watchman on behalf of the church and the community it serves.
You yourself can’t be everywhere in the community and do everything in the church. So you need concerned individuals to act as your eyes and ears, collecting information for you, informing your congregation, being a liaison with the community, praying for you. It’s a wonderful way to get appropriately gifted individuals involved and is a great help to any pastor.
Are you hesitant to form yet another committee in your church? Do you think you already have too many? Here are a few final thoughts about how a social concern committee can make your job easier.
First: It can provide you with a group of people to run point for you on issues about which you might be uncertain or incomplete in your knowledge.
Second: It can give you a point of reference or serve as a resource reservoir. Members can do research on your behalf, in order to provide information that is accurate and not skewed by the liberal press. They can go to the source and ask hard questions. They can also stimulate interest within your congregation, which might be difficult for you to do.
Third: When you grow weary, they can hold your arms up and, when you are discouraged, they can be a Gideon’s army — not many, but very dedicated. In addition, they can prove to be a source of great prayer support.
Contrary to what many might say, I do not believe that everyone can be an activist. Nor do all in your church family have the gift of evangelism. But I do believe that everyone in your church can have a witness, just as I believe all in your church can have an opinion and a vote on social issues. You needn’t stand alone when, in front of you every week, there can be a small remnant of people exercising their passion for the cause of Christ in the interest of righteousness and godliness.
Think about it, and consider forming a social concern committee.
“May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:17).
“Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:3-4).
“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).