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Christian Courage and Conviction amidst Chaos

Christian Courage and Conviction amidst Chaos
'You shall not be afraid of any terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day' -Psalm 91:5

By Ladson F. Mills III
June 11, 2020

The smell of fear is contagious. Witnessing bravery is inspiring.

C. S. Lewis observed forgiveness is a Christian concept not much in practice. The same might be said for non-reactive courageous Christian witness in the modern culture. Truth even when spoken in love is about as welcome as a skunk at a garden party.

The week following the riots that engulfed King Street in my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina has proven to be an exercise in reflection. Boards and hurricane shutters replace once beautiful and inviting store windows. Shattered glass remains embedded along sidewalk gutters. Friendly greetings are only now returning to replace anxious glances.

On an early walk through the damaged city following the riot I recall being surprised by the make-up of those out surveying the damage. I was struck by the mix of ethnicities, ages, and genders united by shared looks of sadness. My liberal friends might have marveled at the almost poster-like mix of inclusiveness.

As the week has progressed the protest have become more subdued and with noticeable changes. Current participants are mostly young, female, and Caucasian. Events have the feel of being highly scripted and photo-op savvy. The Antifa trained hired guns and predatory opportunist appear to have moved on to the next gig, and many local thugs who joined them hoping to score expensive merchandise are being arrested.

Those who remain to protest strike me as falling into three categories: idealistic, angry and posers.

The idealistic are just that. They believe there is a wrong that needs to be made right. Like old school liberals they are motivated by an inherent decency. Although they may sometimes seem naïve, it is a naiveite that one can respect.

The angry, although young, have already abandoned their dreams. A pleasant acknowledgment even when returned exudes suspicion. To them George Floyd is an opportunity to project disappointment. Perhaps it is reinforced by a case of misery loving company.

The posers take selfies while offering raised clenched fist to symbol power to the people. They have been humorously described as resembling school children seeking permission to go to the washroom. A humorous observation in an otherwise tragedy.

I have encountered a lot of disappointment over the past week. Politicians who stood idly by allowing cities to be vandalized now pander to the perpetrators. Police officers who having been conspicuous by their absence during the riot participate in protest marches.

Large corporations cynically tout financial support for those committing violence in hope that appeasement will gain favor. Their money however never seems finds its way to the shop and businesses owners. Merchants having lost everything discover they are easily tossed aside.

A well-known and respected former Marine Corps General arrogantly dismisses criminal acts that destroy lives and livelihood as a mere "distraction by a small number of lawbreakers." Perhaps his vision has been temporarily impaired.

But then I discovered an example that eclipsed all others. The authority that emanates when a committed and courageous Christian leader provides a faithful non-reactive presence amid chaos and insanity.

The Revd. Holton Siegling, Jr. Senior Pastor of First Scots Presbyterian Church in Charleston was dining in the city on the night of the protest when he heard of the escalating violence. Making his way to the demonstration he identified himself as a pastor and offered his services in hopes of diffusing the volatility.

When contacted, Siegling humbly downplays any significant role on his part. He candidly states that his offer may have affected a few, but only a small few.

But if my Brother in Christ will forgive me, I will respectfully disagree with his assessment. His witness was noted by more than he may have anticipated. When the story was relayed to me it was from those who were visibly moved by his actions. He intentionally risked personal harm to engage the demonstrators.

I understand there are serious long-term issues in America that must be addressed. I know that not all who participate in protest do so in order to cause destruction. But destroying property of the innocent has become an all too easy and arbitrary means of expressing disagreement. Especially when there is little concern for personal accountability.

Like C. S. Lewis's observation on forgiveness, non-reactive courageous Christian witness is a concept not much in practice. But there was at least one faithful display of the Gospel in full force in Charleston on that Saturday night amidst the riotous mayhem.

Ladson F. Mills III is priest with over thirty years pastoral experience. He is retired and lives with his wife in Charleston, South Carolina. He is the author of "Abandoned Shipmate: The Destruction of Coast Guard Captain Ernie Blanchard". He is a regular contributor to "Virtueonline" and "The Covert Letter".

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