By Pastor Arthur “A.J.” Johnson
THERE WAS A TIME WHEN THE CHURCH WAS VERY POWERFUL.
It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed.
In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were a “colony of heaven,” and had to obey God rather than man. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.
Things are different now. The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.
Maybe again, I have been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Maybe I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom [justice] …
Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been kicked out of their churches and lost support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have gone with the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. These men have been the leaven in the lump of the race. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. wrote these words from the confines of the Birmingham jail. “The noble souls” to whom he referred were the precious ones who were willing to lay down their lives for the freedom of others. This group of warriors fought the “good fight of faith” knowing that the victory was won by “loving not their lives even unto death.” The evils of that day were conquered by their undaunted trust in God and by the cross in action. Sons and daughters, parents and grandparents were beaten, ridiculed and scorned, jailed and even killed.
Sadly enough, as Martin Luther King states in his letter, the majority of the church of that day stood by paralyzed by their need to conform to the status quo. And, I might add, paralyzed by their own fears, petty excuses and criticisms of those who challenged the unjust system of that time.
Today, once again, the church is challenged to rise up and fight the battle. Once again, Satan has waged war against the hearts and minds of God’s people. But this time the battle fields are in front of the abortion mills of America where the most innocent are being offered to the blood thirsty gods of this age, convenience and selfishness. God’s most precious gifts to mankind are being ripped apart in their mother’s wombs while the church’s silence holds back the awesome power of victory which the church alone controls.
As a pastor of a local church in downtown Birmingham, “Doers of the Word,” I work a lot with youth. We have several outreaches to the youth of the city, prison (juvenile) ministry, music ministry, etc. I minister to the worst kids in Jefferson County, Alabama. There is gang activity everywhere in Birmingham. In one recent incident, gang members came out and stood in front of our church and tried to stare down some of our young people. Several of them have come into our Bible studies. I have personally seen many of these kids come out of gangs, lay down the gun and pick up the Sword of the Spirit.
On Holy Week of 1994, I saw approximately 50 teens arrested near the University of Alabama for simply praying on a sidewalk in front of an abortion clinic. These kids are the cream of the crop. It broke my heart to see these kids go to jail for praying on the sidewalk. A few days before the arrests, we took our young people on a tour of the Civil Rights Institute here in Birmingham. They saw how the young people in Birmingham were let out of high school and took to the streets in 1963. They were willing to die to challenge the evil laws of their land. Our young people realized that it was the youth who turned the tide of the Civil Rights movement. This really impacted our young people and they haven’t been the same since. Now it’s their turn to take up the standard in the pro-life movement.
God called me to train young people to do the work of the ministry of Jesus Christ. They are the ones who are going to change our nation, not just with regards to the abortion issue, but by closing down a crack house or a pornography shop, or whatever else God has called them to do. Adults have to lead the young people. I took a survey in a youth detention center in Birmingham – I found that 95 percent of the young men don’t have fathers at home. They don’t have role models. My prayer is that God will raise up men to be role models – to be fathers for these young men.
We have begun to see black and white churches in Birmingham come together over the abortion issue. We’ve seen black and white, young and old, come together for the sanctity of human life. In the 1960s, the civil rights movement was mostly black. But today the pro-life movement in Birmingham is about half white and half black – equal representation. We see people from all races and all denominations involved in this issue. It has brought them together like no other issue has ever done in the past.
Statistics on abortion for blacks show that approximately one-third – or 10 million black babies – have been victims of abortion, but blacks make up only 12 percent of the population. Newer studies have shown that now there have been 12 million abortions among the black population and that blacks now make up only eight percent of the population. This is due to 20 years of legalized abortion. This is black genocide.
The motive of Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger, was genocide. Former Planned Parenthood president, a black woman named Faye Wattleton, and abortion advocates, such as Jesse Jackson, do not represent the majority of blacks. The overwhelming majority (statistics indicate over 70 percent) of black people believe that abortion is wrong. But the so-called leaders are really speaking for only a minority of blacks.
I personally went to some of the black civil rights leaders in Birmingham regarding the events we had planned for Holy Week, but we did not get a response from them. They have not come out nor have they made any statements at all in support of what our young people are doing. It is a travesty that the so-called civil rights leaders of Birmingham would not speak up on behalf of the children.
But there is a new generation coming. This generation of young people are the ones who go to school with the drug dealers and the gang leaders toting guns. They know that they are the only hope. These young people don’t have any fear. They don’t have any jobs to lose or careers to protect. When they are filled with the Spirit of God, they will lay down their lives for what is right. The elderly consider what they have to lose, but young people are not afraid. If the youth can band together; if they get a sense of belonging and unity; if they get impacted with the Spirit of God; if there is a group that loves Jesus with all their hearts, then they will believe that they can do anything.
This is the beginning of a new move of God in Birmingham, Alabama. In the 1960s, Martin Luther King was pleading for the church to just be the church – and today we are seeing a group of young people who want to be like Jesus; who want to be deemed worthy to suffer for what they believe; who will risk going to jail for what they believe. It is time for the church to recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church. I have seen more young people respond to this call than adults. There is a real difference in this generation. They are willing to sacrifice for what they believe.
The “gates of hell” cannot prevail against the church. Will we utilize the power of the cross to overcome this present darkness? Who will join the ranks? Victory will only be won through sacrifice. Who is willing to take up the cross and run toward the demon giant of child sacrifice? The victory is ours if we heed the call to battle.
Pastor “A.J.” serves as a full-time minister of a youth congregation in downtown Birmingham, Alabama.