When Heaven and Earth Collide; A Review of a Book and a Pastor
I just finished reading "When Heaven and Earth Collide ... Racism, Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus". Its Author is Alan Cross, a pastor in Montgomery, AL, who happens also to be a personal friend. But before my observations of what I saw in the book, a few notes about the author.
I met Alan in 2006 or 2007, as we were involved in some mutual projects involving Bloggers and the SBC. Shortly after, in February 2007, Alan slept on a cot in our hotel room ... at a Baptist Identity Conference at Union University ... that CB Scott and I had reserved. Alan had gotten there late and found there was no room in the inn.....
Not long thereafter, my nephew John, from Indianapolis, mentioned he was going to be spending many months at the Command & War College at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, and asked if I knew a good church he could attend while he was there. I told him about Alan and Gateway Baptist; he soon went to Montgomery to see if he could find an apartment, and visited Gateway.
The next day, he signed a lease on an apartment a block from Gateway, and became an integral part of the church for over a year. In fact, John had been in an AG Church, and was amazed at the love and grace he found at Gateway. It changed his life.
Alan and I have visited any number of times, we've been to Gateway ourselves, and I can tell you with certainty that, despite his youth, he's the real deal.
His book was prompted because he's a pastor in Montgomery, a place most important in the reforming of race relations in the USA, and the longer he was exposed, the more he wondered how the Evangelical community there could have stood silent in the face of many of the things ... both reported and unreported ... of which he kept learning. Hence, in 2010, he started writing about it.
The book itself: Divided into two general parts .. "Part 1: Earth; The Story" and "Part 2: Heaven & Hope: The Kingdom of God".
Part 1 begins with the story of the Freedom Riders coming to Alabama, and the things that took place immediately. It is, frankly, uncomfortable reading about some of those things, perpetrated by folks who were ostensibly in their own churches the following Sunday. And as evidence of the scope of the book, I offer the Chapters themselves:
- Part 1:
- Freedom Riders
- Evangelicals and Southern Civil Religion (and yes the title is accurate)
- The Subversion of Christianity (again, accurate)
- Southern Religion: Greek Philosophy or Christianity (an eye-opener)
- Civil Rights: Broken Trust and Missed Opportunity
- What If the Church Had Been Different?
- Five Cultural Platforms
- Part 2:
9: The Better Way of Jesus
10: The Church
There's also an Epilogue, "Freedom Riders and Praying Christians, Fifty Years Later", and also a Foreword by Dwight McKissic (which ought to tell you something).
In general, the book is extremely interesting. It sheds so much new light on old problems that it took me some time to plow through it and make all the connections.
Also, Part 1 is very "dense", packed with an abundance of information I hadn't known, before reading the book. I'd sit down to read and find that I'd read 4 or 5 pages and then have to put it down and just ponder it for a while. Reason: I simply could not proceed without examining my own life, my church involvement, and compare it with the truth revealed in it.
More specifically, Chapter 1 was pretty much a news report on the events associated with the Freedom Riders, but was punctuated with the 2 separate realizations: that white evangelical (supposed) Christians were in the mob trying to exact blood from the riders and their protectors, and: the Church ... the Body of Christ ... stood by and largely did nothing. I'm ashamed to admit I'd never thought of that, before.
Chapters 3,4, and 5 explain, in plain English, how that happened. And in the doing, largely explain what's wrong with the Church today.
The SBC leadership would do very, very well to read this book. It'll be a tough row to hoe, trying to "fix" the SBC with its declining baptisms, unless we know what's really wrong with the whole society, and the whole societal church in general.
Chapters 6 and 7 set forth how things might have been, and still should be, done.
Part 2 is an easier read, as he paints a picture ... accurate, to me ... of what Jesus would have done and how His way was, and certainly is, today, the Better Way mentioned in the title. And if many readers are like me, they're going to think "How on earth do we get there from here?"
On a personal level, I have asked one of our key Sunday School leaders ... a bright young black lady ... to help me start some sort of outreach program to the black community, for people who might find our Bible Study interesting. In reading the book, I was convicted that I could scarcely criticize the abuses perpetrated by the white Southern Evangelical community, if I wasn't willing to do something ... something ... myself.
As they say, all that's necessary for evil to triumph is for enough good men to do nothing.
Personally, I believe every Pastor should read this book, Southern or not. It reveals so many things about the church and its condition today, that will be mandatory to know, if those guiding the church ever hope to fix what's wrong today. Including the things they don't even know are wrong.
I'm not a professional critic, or analyst of journalism. But I've read a fair number of books in 76 years, and can tell you I don't read many of them twice. This one, I will.
Density and all.
p.s.: Read this book and you'll probably never say, hear, or read the "Lord's prayer" the same way, again.