As originally printed in T.D. Jakes’ MegaFest 2015 Souvenir Magazine:
With violent assaults on historically African American churches resurging in recent months, many in the Body of Christ are searching for a faithful response from Christian leadership and community. Attacks on these churches are not a new thing; the Emanuel African Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina had experienced its own violent history nearly 200 years prior to the June 17 massacre of nine people. White residents in Charleston burned down the same church in 1822 after Denmark Vesey, one of the founders of Emanuel, organized a slave revolt that was later thwarted.
Between 1825 and 1850, six churches were razed in Philadelphia. Between 1954 and 1968, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, African American churches were subjected to arson every week. We remember the death of four girls in a Birmingham church that were killed when Ku Klux Klan members bombed the church during Sunday morning services in1963. A little over 50 years later, 21-year-old Dylann Roof would also violently disrupt a weekly worship service, his bullets shattering the sacredness of the space after spending an hour listening to the Word of God. He would later admit that the kindness of the parishioners there almost made him change his mind.
But despite tragedy, the Church has found its way from the remnants of hate realized to rebuild itself as the cornerstone of community. As an architectural term, a “cornerstone” is the first stone in a new building laid with considerable care to ensure a straight and level foundation. If the cornerstone is not laid properly, if there’s any shifting or unevenness in it, the entire foundation of the building will be in jeopardy. In Scripture, Jesus is named as the cornerstone of the Church; Ephesians 2:19-22 reminds us that we are “members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”
Just as the Apostles and prophets were the foundation with Christ as the cornerstone, we become interlocked with the mission to build the Church up with love and justice as its calling. And, when the Church acts as the cornerstone for the community, we can embody God’s call for reconciliation and hope in settings like MegaFest where people of all faith traditions, social and geographical locations, can come together in the name of Christ and justice.
But what is our calling as a Church in a society where there is a need for social reform and a push for equality for all people? How do we begin to advocate for the needs of the marginalized outside of solemn prayers? Jesus provides an example for us in Matthew 25:31-40 when he advocates for the needs of others with the Believer’s response as the marker of true justice in action:
“ I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’ “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’”
How will we respond when the literal and metaphorical acts of hate and violence come pounding on our church doors, to our members, in our communities? We cannot shy away from the hard work of laying a foundation that will support the call for liberation and action in the time of adversity. The Church acting as the cornerstone during moments of instability and uncertainty is the expression of the work of Jesus Christ and the work we do as a Church relies on Christ’s ability to liberate us to be His hands and feet. On Christ, our cornerstone, we hang our agendas, our intentions, or motives and pick up his call to do the work for the “least of these” until the fullness of God is realized in every community across the globe, so that we build a Church where God dwells for even the “least of these.”
Alisha L. Gordon, M.Div. is a sought after writer, religious educator, and scholar activist whose work intersects faith and culture. Learn more about her at alishagordon.com.