1968 was a challenging year with incredible turmoil. Issues such as Vietnam, race riots and high profile assassinations tore at the nation’s fabric. As a guy trained in history I see many parallels between 1968 and 2016. Against all this Together 2016 is held on the national mall here in Washington, D.C. This is an overview of what happened and a reminder of what the American church needs to address as a number of issues prevent unity. Does the American church want to impact culture? This is a question that many should ask and think long and hard about.
“There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future and mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past which, in fact, never existed.”
“What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by an assassin’s bullet. No wrongs have ever been right by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled or uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, it is not the voice of the people.”
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
John 17:20-23 NIV
Robert Kennedy declares victory after winning the California primary in June 5, 1968, part one here.
Robert Kennedy’s Funeral Train.
1968 would be an especially polarizing year in American history. On January 30th of that year the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive. Forces involved in that military campaign included the Viet Cong, and the North Vietnamese People’s Armed Forces. This campaign was a surprise attack against military and civilian command and control centers across South Vietnam. Eventually 80,000 North Vietnamese troops attacked over 100 towns and cities including the southern capitol of Saigon. The American Embassy was briefly overrun but the Viet Cong were driven out at 9:15 that morning. The American people learned that the Vietnam War was not going well despite President Johnson’s assurances. On March 31, London Johnson whose career was adversely hurt from the Vietnam conflict explained on national television that he will not seek another nomination as president. The first surprise that all was not well occurred in the New Hampshire primary when Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy nearly defeated Lyndon Johnson. This political situation then convinced New York Senator Robert F Kennedy to enter the race. Shortly after Johnson withdraws from the race, on April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Robert Kennedy may have given one of the most memorable speeches of his career after hearing this horrific news. In the ghetto of Indianapolis he addressed the crowd from the bed of a truck appealing for peace. He acknowledged injustice and spoke of how he knows about pain, especially in pointing out that his family lost someone to violence. You can watch that speech right here. Robert Kennedy tapped into the growing concern about the Vietnam War and connected with many of the lower working class and those hurt by racial injustice. Unknown to many people one of the most horrific atrocities of the Vietnam conflict takes place earlier in March. It would be the infamous Mai Lai massacre. The Vietnam War drives sit ins, protests and creates controversy and the situation escalates. In late April of 1968 Vice President Hubert Humphrey then entered the race for the White House. As the primaries continue the first major win for Kennedy is in Nebraska, while Eugene McCarthy wins the Oregon primary. Then came the California primary which Robert Kennedy had to win. It became a fierce competition between Humphrey who represented the Johnson administration, McCarthy who represented those on college campuses, and Kennedy who represented minorities. The race in California was exhausting and Robert had shook so many hands that he had scars. He campaigned to the point of physical exhaustion. On June 4, 1968 California went to the polls and Kennedy beat McCarthy by 195,303 votes. Robert went to the Ambassador Hotel to declare victory. You can read about the California Democratic Primary in this article here. After giving a speech in which he said it was time to go to Chicago, Kennedy was shot in the kitchen by Sirhan Sirhan. He breathed his last nearly 26 hours later.
Democratic National Convention in Chicago
Riots outside/Massachusetts Senator Abraham Ribicoff baits Chicago Mayor Richard Daley inside.
An overview of the 1968 Democratic Convention.
Hubert Humphrey came to Chicago with the nomination basically in his hands. However, here was his liability, Humphrey was known as Johnson’s man, and Johnson controlled the convention. Humphrey was also dealing with the growing anti-war wing in the Democratic party. However this convention was in Chicago, and it was Richard Daley‘s city and he was one of the most powerful mayors in American history. During the convention anti-war demonstrators would clash with 11,900 Chicago police, 7,500 Army troops, 7500 Illinois National Guardsmen, and 1,000 Secret Service agents for 5 days.
The most contentious issue was Vietnam. The minority “peace plank” scheduled the debate to be held past prime time television on Tuesday night August 27 . But the peace delegates protested and it was rescheduled to occur the next afternoon. The debate was limited to one hour for each side. Rep Phil Burton from California was the featured speaker in support of the peace plank. Senator Edmund Muskie from Maine was the featured speaker in support of the Johnson-Humphrey language. After the Johnson-Humphrey language was approved the New York and California delegations began to sing “We Shall Overcome.” More delegations joined in and started to protest on the convention floor and American television revealed how the Vietnam issue was tearing apart the Democratic party. While the peace plank was being debated the worst day of rioting occurred outside the convention. It was called “The Battle of Michigan Avenue.” Outside Chicago police fought demonstrators and a lot of it was captured on television. The fighting was horrific as Chicago police beat protestors and people who were medically assisting protestors such as doctors were also beaten. Fumes from tear gas wafted into hotels where delegates stayed. Hard hit during all this was the Conrad Hilton. The city of Chicago seemed to be on fire. Inside the convention hall Hubert Humphrey was nominated for president. Also nominated for president was George McGovern by Senator Abraham Ribicoff from Massachusetts. You can see this in the clip above but as he nominated George McGovern he looked at the mayor of Chicago and said, “With George McGovern as President of the United States we wouldn’t have Gestapo like tactics in the streets of Chicago.” Daley blew in anger at the Massachusetts senator. Eventually Humphrey chose Edmund Muskie from Maine to be his running mate. When the convention came to a close Chicago police reported that 589 arrests had been made. Plus 119 police and 100 protestors were injured.
The Events of 2016
2016 has been one of the most tumultuous years I have witnessed….and what frightens me is that it is not over yet. I am not going to do a blow by blow of all that happened, instead I want to do a quick recap of stories that have been stunning to watch. Here in the United States we have been confronted by the Zika virus which is new. We also had the water crisis in Flint, Michigan which while dragging out into 2016 and apparently beyond, really surprised me. Playing out in the country now we have one of the most contentious elections I have ever seen. This blog is not going to get into politics but as a student of history what I am seeing is incredibly disturbing to watch. I can’t recall such turmoil in a political election like what is playing out. Then we had Brexit over in Europe which is adversely affecting stability. We have also had the ongoing issue of Syrian airstrikes and ISIL. The United States and other parts of the world have had to deal with Islamic terrorism. France has been hit late in 2015 in Paris, and again in Nice. Attacks have occurred in Brussels in March and in the capitol of Turkey’s airport not long ago. Here in the United States we also had the horrific Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting that resulted in the deaths of nearly 50 people. Another thing that has been troubling to watch is the racial conflict which blows my mind. In 2015 we had the situation with Freddie Gray which led to riots in Baltimore. In 2016 the issue appears to be escalating with incidents such as the death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Then we had the shooting in Dallas and the execution and the targeted assassination of police officers in Baton Rouge.
I started this post with a brief history of 1968 and the events leading up to the Democratic National Convention for a reason. I have a graduate level degree in history and as I was thinking about all this I began to realize that we are probably in a period in history where we are going through similar times like the late 1960’s. The issues have changed for example…instead of Vietnam being the driving factor you have concern for radical Islamic terrorism. We definitely are having the racial conflict, riots and demonstrations take place today like we did in the that controversial era in American history. There is only one thing we have not had yet, and I say this with a great level of caution. I believe the country is on a powder keg, just like in the late 1960’s. The key difference is that we have not had any high profile assassinations. For example in 1968 we had Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. We haven’t had anything like that at all. And my hope is that never happens as there is enough pain going on in this country. I don’t want to see any more violence as what we need is unity. But I am struck by the similarities of the times from the late 1960’s and today.
Together 2016 is Held on the National Mall
Against all the turmoil on the national mall last Saturday July 16, 2016 they held Together 2016. Together 2016 is the brainchild of Nick Hall. Nick is the founder and executive director of PULSE. He obtained a BA in Business Administration from North Dakota State University in Fargo and a Masters in Leadership and Christian Thought from Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Together 2016 was supported by the Assemblies of God, Southern Baptist Convention, Pentecostal Charismatic Churches of North America, Grace Communion International, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and the Evangelical Free Church of America. The goal of Together 2016 was to have 1 million people on the National Mall. From October to December 2015 up until today churches were encouraged to pray for the event. The lineup for the event was diverse and it included a greeting from Pope Francis. Some of the individuals scheduled to speak at the event included the following:
- Mark Batterson Senior Pastor at National Community Church
- Poet Amena Brown
- Ronnie Floyd of the Southern Baptist Convention
- Mike Kelsey from McLean Bible Church
- Author Ann Voskamp
- Louie Giglio of the Passion Movement
- Dr. Sammy Wanyonyi of Shine the World Ministries
- Josh Brewer of LifeLight
- Francis Chan
- Bob Lenz of Life Promotions in Wisconsin
- Josh McDowell
- Ravi Zacharias
- Dr. Tony Evans
Music was by many of the known and established Christian artists to include Casting Crowns, Michael W. Smith, Hillsong United, Lacrae, Matt Maher, David Crowder, Jeremy Camp, and Matthew West with many more committed.
I did not attend Together 2016 because of the heat. When I saw what the weather was going to be like I was a little concerned about the event. The event received a lot of coverage in the Washington Post, Washingtonian magazine, and local press. At the event the theme of unity and racial reconciliation was promoted and taught. People could go pray to “reset” their life. The day started at 9:00 and was intermixed with a song here and there. Nick Hall who leads Pulse which helped put all this together challenged people to use the hashtag #Jesuschangeseverything. Its my understanding on Twitter that was one of the most trending tweets during this event. The revival however also had a lot of issues due to the extreme heat. There were a number of people who had heat stroke and the event ended at 4:00 on the request of the National Park Service. It will be interesting to see if they hold another event like this in the near future. Had it not been for the weather I would have attended, after all I also attended the Reason Rally to write about it for this blog.
Unity is Important, But the Following Obstacles Threaten that Goal
While the theme at Together 2016 was unity there are a number of challenges and issues that the church really needs to address. Many of the issues below are obstacles which prevent unity from taking place. Jesus challenged us to take the plank out of our own eye and I believe in following that the church needs to address the issues below.
Confronting Child Sex Abuse in the Church
One of the top issues that the modern evangelical church struggles with is child sex abuse. This is a topic that needs to be addressed. The church can’t preach the Gospel and also cover up child sex abuse at the same time. Child sex abuse threatens the Gospel. And it hangs over the church. What is worse is that the autonomous nature and structure I believe makes evangelicalism a breeding ground and attracts many people who want to harm a child. After all a person claims they are “reborn” and have found the Lord, and what must immediately happened? What happens is that it makes people gullible and puts many people at risk. But the scars from child sex abuse can be devastating and haunt a person for life.
Confronting our Past History of how we Treated Gays
Another point of contention is that we need to face our past and search our own heart for how we have treated gays in ways that are horrific and ways that are stunning. For some reason the church believes that you can attack gays and then something happens like the Pulse shooting, and then Christians can engage and all is well. Nope…it doesn’t work like that at all. You can’t hate and then suddenly love and expect people to listen. People are not stupid, some are very smart and they remember. We also have a problem in that many Christians cannot differentiate the difference between religious marriage and state/civil marriage. Some evangelicals have married their faith to politics and American culture. That is why some went ape over the last Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. I have to say I was horrified and embarrassed when I saw how Christians reacted. There was no kindness and while there are ways to disagree what took place was not that way at all. I have no problem with two gays getting married outside the church. What people, who are not Christians choose to do in their private life is their business, its not mine. I have no concerns about secular gay marriage. Within the church I think the issue is trickier and I don’t have a solution. But whatever we do it needs to involve a lot of grace or we should shut our mouth and not say a word. We have already fumbled this football spectacularly.
Pursuing the Dones
Another issue I would like to raise is the growth of the dones. The dones are those who were involved in the church who are who burned out and fried. The dones are growing rapidly and I believe they find sanctuary at places likes this, The Wartburg Watch and so many other places. The dones however are still Christians, and many would like to be involved in the church. What the Christian faith needs to do is pursue the dones. They need to recognize and follow those opportunities. Evangelicalism has mirrored American culture in this one way, in that they have made youth an idol. Churches fight and compete against each other to launch ministries to the youth. At the same time they don’t care about older people or Elderly people. It is way out of balance and it needs to be re-assessed. The dones I would propose should be viewed as a missionary opportunity.
Dealing with the CJ Mahaney/Mark Driscoll Issue
The CJ Mahaney issue needs to be mitigated and diffused, and here is why. CJ Mahaney’s corruption not only ensnares Sovereign Grace, it also ensnares the Southern Baptist Convention and the Evangelical Free Church of America. Mahaney’s allegations of corruption, criminal wrong doing, blackmail, and covering up child sex abuse are horiffic. It is causing so much needless division and its tearing apart the church. Too many people in other parts of the church look the other way or refuse to get involved. That is not how the church should operate, when one is suffering we should all suffer, likewise we should all care. Mahaney’s corruption is a threat and it needs to be dealt with for the sake of the body. The same is true for Mark Driscoll. Mark Driscoll is a cancer on Christianity today. Money from the Mars Hill Global Fund is still missing, he fled Seattle with so many wounded and broken people in his wake. The church needs to confront and deal with him as well. The inability of being able to deal with the frauds, the charlatans, are going to be a serious issue in so many ways. Both CJ Mahaney and Mark Driscoll need to be neutralized.
Divorcing Ourselves from Politics Completely
One thing that the church is hurting about is that it is to politically engaged. The church needs to divorce itself from politics completely. Politics stain and adversely affect the church They affect the church’s ability to communicate the Gospel message and they show that for some people they are more concerned with obtaining influence than anything else. I would think God would love a member of the Republican or Democrat or Labor (British) or the Orange Democratic Movement (Kenya). It is long past time that the church cease involvement in politics and just stick to preaching the Gospel, and taking care of the sick and loving all people. If we could divorce politics completely I think the church would be surprised how the world would receive us.
Confronting the Prosperity Gospel
Within the United States there is a dark, powerful and deviant form of the “gospel” which is a threat to the Gospel. I am referring to the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel is established, deep and popular…and its particularly cruel. It threatens to taint and harm people who buy into it. Its promises are false and misleading. It plays with people’s emotions in times of their life when there are vulnerable. A while back I wrote a post about the prosperity gospel that I would like to highlight. It was based off a New York Times opinion editorial with the author dealing with cancer. The post is titled “The Prosperity Gospel: Reflection on a NY Times Op Ed Called ‘Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me.’ ” The prosperity gospel threatens the unity of the church because it teaches that those “who are not being blessed” are not of the faith. All you have to do is do a simple internet search and find all the debris that the prosperity gospel leaves in its wake.
Learning what Grace is
The final point I want to emphasize is that the modern evangelical church has no concept of what grace is. Grace that is given is often cheap and involves little to no repentance. It also is used in a manipulative way to coerce forgiveness and to silence people as well. Grace, true grace helps heal and grow people. Many Christians are afraid of grace because they fear that it will be a “get out of jail” card or a license to sin. That is one of the problems that affects the church. Grace is often “dispensed’ to the powerful, denied to people in the pews and causes a lot of pain. If you doubt me look at the reaction of this and other blogs which were started when grace is denied to someone. If the church knew and practiced grace the church would be very appealing and the faith would have an attractive aroma.
I honestly hope they hold another event like Together 2016 in the Washington, D.C. area. I would be happy to attend, again it was the excessively hot weather that kept me away from this past one. As always know that I love you guys!