Singing “Were You There?” in “Stop Woke” Florida

Is Telling the Truth Illegal in Florida?

One of the new laws that were passed by our Florida Legislature and signed by our Governor is designed to limit the way we confront painful facts in our history which might make people (particularly straight, white people) feel “uncomfortable.”

The “Stop Woke Act” makes it unlawful to teach that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears responsibility for and must feel guilt … because of actions … committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.”

The “Stop Woke Act” is in line with “Don’t Say ‘Gay'” bill and the new election laws that Judge Mark E. Walker struck down last week. In his 288-page ruling, the Federal Judge connects the dots between the new law and what he called Florida’s “grotesque history of racial discrimination.” 

Legal questions about the First Amendment and governmental intrusion into private businesses will be debated in court, but there are deeper issues here for people of biblical faith as we enter Holy Week.

You WERE There!

Those of us who grew up attending Good Friday services are haunted by the emotional power of the African-American song that asks, “Were you there when the crucified my Lord?” The response is the gut-wrenching cry, “O, my Lord, it causes me to tremble!”

We tremble at the cross, not just because images of crucifixion disturb us like pictures coming out of Ukraine, but because the bible makes it clear that we WERE there. It makes me feel both “uncomfortable” and “guilty” because we are still there today.

“He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

We are there with Peter in his denial, with the disciples in their abandonment, with the religious and political leaders in the protection of their power, and with Pilate in his refusal to take responsibility for the injustice in which he was involved. We are there, like the good, faithful people in the crowd who watched it happen or even cheered it on.

We were not there at that moment in history, but we are there because the same evil of injustice, racism, hatred, greed and violence that crucified Jesus continue to be at work in and through us today. Jesus is nailed to the cross, not just by the Roman soldiers around 33 A.D., but by my personal and often petty sins, as well as my unintentionally inherited, easily ignored, corporate and systemic sins.

Standing by the Lynching Tree

I plan to re-read The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone during Holy Week this year. I encourage you to read it with me.

Dr. Cone wrote that during the lynching era, Black Christians “told the story of Jesus’ passion, as if they were at Golgotha suffering with him … just knowing that Jesus went through an experience of suffering in a manner similar to theirs gave them faith that God was with them, even in suffering on lynching trees, just as God was present with Jesus in suffering on the cross … They found in the cross the spiritual power to resist the violence they so often suffered.” (p 73-74, 21-22))

Describing his own experience, he said “The cross helped me to deal with the brutal legacy of the lynching tree, and the lynching tree helped me to understand the tragic meaning of the cross.” (p. xviii) He asks the disturbing question, “Can American Christians see the reality of Jesus’ cross without seeing it as the lynching tree?” (p. 63)

Good News on Good Friday

The good news we experience on Good Friday is that the God whose Son forgave those who nailed him to the cross is the God who forgives us. When we confront and confess our complicity in the the evil that happened long before we were born and continues to happen today, we begin to experience the extravagant love, the immeasurable grace, mind-blowing forgiveness that meets us at the cross.

That’s what Charles Wesley experienced in his powerful hymn, And Can It Be?

And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?

Refrain:
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

’Tis myst’ry all: th’ Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above—
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For, O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’ eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

We ARE still there on Good Friday in both our guilt and God’s forgiveness. Praise God!

Grace and peace,

Jim

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9 thoughts on “Singing “Were You There?” in “Stop Woke” Florida

  1. Thank you Jim for this. If we can’t place ourselves at foot of the cross, we have missed its whole meaning. Have a blessed Holy Week.

    Debbie

    In Gratitude,

    Rev. Dr. Debbie Daley-Salinger Wesley Memorial UMC – Fort Myers

    “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16 NIV)

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  2. Jim Well stated … THANKS! I hope you and Martha are doing well and Easter will be a time of family together. I wish you my best. Have a blessed week and see you at AC… I hope. SHALOM, Tom Mc

    >

  3. Carolyn Linder April 7, 2022 — 1:13 pm

    Thank you for your words. You make us really think and I appreciate it.

  4. Charlotte Hendee April 7, 2022 — 2:31 pm

    What a beautiful piece you have given us. Thank you! “And Can It Be…” is, despite the fact it is difficult to sing, one of the greatest hymns ever written.

  5. Jim, first, there is no “Don’t Say Gay” bill, nor is there an “Anti-Woke” bill. Have you ever read either one? Or are you simply parroting CNN talking points? Referring to them as such is inflammatory, inaccurate, and unnecessary. I would be happy to send you summaries of both. That said, it is quite a feat that you could link those bills with lynchings, and then ultimately with our Savior’s crucifixion. That you bring liberal politics into what could have been a meaningful discussion of our place at the foot of the cross. Is it not enough of a profound tragedy that the great United Methodist Church is splitting in less than a month, without hammering in more and more divisiveness among God’s people? Divisiveness that sounds no different that what we face in our culture today. As Christians, shouldn’t we be better than just a reflection of that culture?

    I pray that we keep our eyes on the cross this Easter, rather than the liberal politics that divide not only our nation, but also the Church (with a capital “C”).

  6. Jim, thank you so much for these thoughts. I am appalled at what is happening in Florida and am made sad knowing that there people I considered friends who support Desantis and the Republicans in the state legislature, especially those who identify themselves as Christian.

    1. David, I suggest that you also read the two bills that you are so appalled by, and recognize that they are primarily designed to preserve parental rights over their children’s education, prevent radical indoctrination of our children, and to minimize the divisiveness that many on the left seem committed to in all aspects of our culture. I also suggest that you be very, very careful about questioning the sincerity of Christians who don’t hold the same radical leftist views as you. Believe me, they are undoubtedly questioning how YOU can support killing babies in the womb, same-sex marriages performed in the church, gay clergy, gender identities, and so much more, when the Bible is pretty clear on those issues. The difference I have observed is that liberal Christians, like yourself, are much more likely to immediately question the faith of conservative Christians, than we are to question yours. Think about that…

  7. Jim, thank you for this. I am somewhat chagrined that in all my musings, activism and discussions about history being active in the now I had blithely missed this, the most powerful and perfect example of history being active in the now. And, as you point out, what applies in our experience of the Divine in history and the present, both personally and communally, applies equally to other aspects of human history. In the best and worst senses we are our history.

  8. Thank you, Jim. Again, you have helped me cope with the political insanity of our time.

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