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Then as Now: 1968 and 2021

Dear brothers and sisters,

A recent podcast caught my attention as it compared the cultural upheaval of our own day to the year 1968. I was a senior in high school that spring, and remember vividly the sense of things falling apart. There were violent anti-war rallies, the continuing Civil Rights debates, and the horrific assassinations of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy. Kennedy was a presidential candidate in that tumultuous and divisive election year. And yes, there was a deadly pandemic that year as well.

As then, it is still easy to get disoriented and discouraged, to take sides, and to live in fear and anger. It helps to take a step back and realize that all human conflicts are symptoms of a greater conflict first evident in the Garden of Eden. The apostle Paul challenges us to focus on the great Enemy, the devil himself, and the spiritual forces allied with him. We must clothe ourselves with God’s protection and power: 

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:10-12)

Note that our primary response to the schemes of the Enemy is to stand firm in a world falling down. When we are tempted to accuse and despise others, Paul reminds us to see them as merely human agents, flesh and blood as we are, and not to expend all our energy in battling or belittling them. Rather, as Jesus instructs us, we should pray for and love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). 

In the Jewish world of Jesus, the command to love was primarily understood as a call to action, not to have a warm feeling. Love is to be reflected in our attitudes, acts of kindness, and speech (including what we say online). We can only so love in a divisive world if our confidence is in God’s love, shown in his constant forgiveness, provision, and care.

Are we called to speak out against evil and injustice? Yes, of course, but somehow we must do so in humility, recognizing that we are not sinless ourselves. And our eyes should be focused on the Lord Jesus while being aware of the Enemy, without demonizing others.

In 1968 it was easy to get caught up in fear, anger, and self-righteousness. It is still easy to get caught up in the same temptations today. Ask the Lord to show you, especially through the Scriptures, how to stand firm and act in love in the midst of the spiritual battles playing out around us.

One final thought: the cultural upheaval of 1968 was followed closely by the revival of the Jesus Movement which reached its peak in 1972. As we continue to stand firm in our day, let us also keep our eyes open for opportunities to proclaim the unchanging truth in a changing world.

In the love of Jesus the Messiah,

+Neil
The Rt. Rev. Neil G. Lebhar
Bishop of the Gulf Atlantic Diocese