“… there is plenty of Christianity that cannot solve our problem either– little, petty, hide-bound Christianity, an escape from life, utterly irrelevant to the vast issues that confront mankind.”
~ Harry Emerson Fosdick, A Great Time to be Alive: Sermons on Christianity in Wartime, 1944
Fosdick writes these words in his first sermon in this collection of twenty- five sermons presented to the members of the Riverside Church in New York. He titles the sermon “A Great Time to be Alive” but begins the message with these words: “This certainly is a ghastly time to be alive. Behind the stirring headlines that narrate the clash of armies and the march of victory, an unheralded mass of human misery exists, the like of which our earth has seldom, if ever, seen before.” He is proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ in the midst of World War II.
Fosdick reminds us that “great Christianity” has resulted from times like these, that even in the midst of war, “this is a great time for great convictions.” The adjective juts out, nudges me, urges me to say something. Great Christianity? Great convictions? When have I seen this during our time of war? When has this kind of Christianity been displayed in the generational wars of race?
Our convictions regarding Christianity are not great when it comes to race but become these small, divisive, mean- spirited and consequently, “utterly irrelevant” positions as our hatred of our neighbor prevents our love of self and of God. These beliefs do nothing more than undergird our prejudices, enable our stereotypes and strengthen our prideful resolve to live separately and unequally.
There are those of us who describe themselves as Christians (This is different from those who define themselves as Christians.) who buy houses, cars and land in the name of God while there are those who take the houses and land of impoverished communities, claiming to be God’s chosen and thus, the rightful heir to it. How can they either be expressions of Christianity and what adjective would we use to describe them? I assure you that great does not come to mind.
And a Christianity that chooses to express itself through the historical hatreds of race rather than the eternal love of God, that consumes itself with the trivialities of the flesh rather than assume the great power that is found in the Holy Spirit is not a great Christianity. In fact, it is not Christianity at all but “another gospel,” not evidence of the abundant life that Christ came to give to all who would believe.
Still, I, like Rev. Fosdick, believe that in the midst of such turmoil, a great Christianity that surpasses that of race and strips it of its power will emerge. I can see it in the distance and for the haste of its appearing, I pray. Amen.