Paul walks into Athens. He’s there to speak, to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. Except… except, how do you do that when it is illegal to preach in Athens about foreign gods?
So he does what any good preacher would do, he walks the town and prays for inspiration. As he walks through Athens, and wherever he turns there is another statue, another monument of another god. Zeus, Jupiter, Apollo, and, of course, Athena. He cannot turn his back on his One True God, by speaking about these other gods, I mean there is no comparison, until he finds it.
Acts 17:22-28 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’
I happen to be Presbyterian Church USA. A denomination that stems from Calvinism where through the years of the Protestant Reformation we no longer have “likeness” of God in our churches. I am not here to dump on churches that do have statues of Saints, Christ, or Mary. I will also add (this could be a whole other blog post) that we have our own idols (have you noticed that plaque on the back of that bench that says “in memory of…”).
However, we don’t have a likeness of God because we are not supposed to confuse that statue with the actual God. We are not to worship an object, and God is everywhere and cannot be contained.
In the weeks that have followed the hatful violence of Charlottesville, Virginia we have heard a lot about monuments and statues. Specifically, Confederate monuments. As I read this text from Acts I could not help but have flashbacks to the images I’ve seen in photos over the last few weeks.
I say all this because the KKK and White Supremacy is about the purity of the Aryan race. Yes, White protestants. And just because you’re protestant doesn’t mean you’re Calvinist, but it’s statistically a reality that Klansman stem from churches who do not have statues or monuments. Why? Because we are not to idolize anything but God.
As I stare at these photos, as I watch video and news clips I cannot help but ask, “who is your God?” It is not the God of Jesus, of justice, of “love thy neighbor”. They worship a statue that represents hateful men who wanted to keep other men (and women and children) enslaved. They worship the very monuments that represent a cause that “purifies” the world of anyone “other” than white protestant.
And if you think that statement is going to far, if you think that these white supremacists don’t “worship” these monuments as idols if you think this is just another liberal pontification, then let me say this: without the police stopping them they would have burnt down St. Paul’s Memorial Church where an interfaith service was taking place to pray for peace, they would have burnt it down with everyone inside. They did use violence on anyone they could get their hands on that evening leaving the church. Because they were mad that a statue of Robert E. Lee was going to be removed.
In the days that followed monuments were being taken down, either by protesters or, like my city of Baltimore, removed by the Mayors and City Councils.
And good riddance, I say. Tear them down! Tear them all down!
I’m not advocating that we have no monuments or that we replace them all with statues of Jesus (in fact, that is the opposite of what I am saying). But these Confederate Monuments have become idols to a group of people who are dangerous, who always were dangerous. And we, by walking by them, by allowing them to stand, are culpable to their racist, bigoted violence as well.
God does not live in shrines made by human hands. So if you’re feelings are that strong about an object, then I suggest you rethink who your god really is.
The Reverend Shannon Meacham currently serves Ashland Presbyterian Church in the safest part of Baltimore, the suburbs. You can find her musings about any and all subjects on her personal blog pulpitshenanigans.com.
RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.