Witness

Radical Reformation

From the book Following Christ, by Joseph Stowell

The Armitage Baptist Church, one of the leading evangelical churches in Chicago, is positioned in the heart of one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods. One the anniversary of the murder of Dr. David Gunn, a doctor at an abortion clinic in Florida, pro-abortion activists around the country decided to commemorate the moment with what they called a Night of Resistance. The demonstrations planned for the event would make a distinct point for their cause, and would also profile Christians as radical and murderous elements in American society.

For some reason the organizers in Chicago chose Armitage Baptist Church as the focus of their demonstration. I was a guest speaker at Armitage on the Sunday night preceding the demonstration, which was planned for Wednesday—the same night as the church’s weekly prayer meeting. The church members were concerned. Yet they courageously resolved to proceed with the prayer meeting and, in fact, to use it to focus on the superiority of the cause of Christ.

For years Armitage Baptist Church has sought to reach its culturally diverse community both by drawing people inside its doors and by demonstrating good works through multiple ministries outside. The church has unashamedly, yet compassionately, stood for righteousness against powerful forces such as gay activism, the pro-abortion movement, and gang-driven violence. As the church members prayerfully prepared to confront the demonstration, my heart was inspired as I detected an unusual sense of calm and confidence. This would be a rather unsettling event for any church, let alone one in a troubled and volatile neighborhood such as this.

As I was returning from a trip a couple of weeks later, a headline in an airline copy of U.S. News and World Report caught my attention. The banner over a column by John Leo read, AN ANTI-ANTI-ABORTION RALLY. Feeling a mixture of curiosity and apprehension—aware that journalists seldom try to be objective on social issues such as this—I began to read:

Demonstrators were supposed to bring whistles and other noise makers to drown out church services. The Women’s Action Coalition planned to bring its “drum corps.” Flyers posted around town to draw a major crowd urged demonstrators to “Dress to shock and/or impress; Come in costume and show your rage….” This was the pro-choice “Night of Resistance” in Chicago. Rallies were taking place around the country last week to mark the anniversary of the murder of abortion doctor David Gunn. The Chicago demonstration was outside Armitage Baptist Church during its regular Wednesday service…

Now my attention was riveted.

More recently, car tires have been slashed, cars vandalized, and pro-gay or pro-abortion graffiti sprayed on the church. The night before the rally, the slogan “Choice or Else” was sprayed on the church, and the church reported that rocks were thrown at the glass doors. The most common chant was “Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gays/Born-Again Bigots, Go Away!”

Leo added,

The “racist” charge is particularly weird: the Armitage congregation is roughly 30 percent black, 30 percent Hispanic, and 40 percent white. The security forces on the steps seemed about half Hispanic. The churches in the Logan Square area, a neighborhood mixed by class and race, may be 60 percent Hispanic, 25 percent white, and 15 percent black. For “Born-again” bigots,” the congregation has made an unusually successful effort to cut across racial lines.

I wanted to stand on my airplane seat, wave the article for everyone to see, and shout Amen and Amen!

While the crowd chanted about racism, a group of young black men showed up wearing long red jackets that said, “S.H.S. Security.” Whey were from a South Side black Baptist church, the Sweet Holy Spirit, and had come to protect their fellow evangelical church.

Somewhat confused, the women with the bull horn tried to lead the crowd in singing “Little Boxes,” a song about suburban conformity popularized by Pete Seger in the 1960s. It was without a doubt the least appropriate song anyone could have sung about this diverse urban congregation. Next, five yellow buses rolled up and a seemingly endless stream of people poured out… They were evangelicals from a second South Side church, mostly black families showing up for the service. More than 1,000 people were now in the church…The security men had been singing all along, picking fast-paced music that almost matched the volume of the demonstrators. Now, they gave way to a choir of black kids. The demonstrators were done for. The kids were too good and too loud.

In talking to Charles Lyons, the pastor of Armitage Baptist Church, a few weeks later, I thanked him for helping build a church under Christ’s leadership that on that night told a compelling story even a hostile press could not ignore.

Lyons added a P.S. to John Leo’s article. He said that for a few weeks beforehand, organizers of the Night of Resistance had canvassed homes in the community with leaflets, inviting the residents to join in the demonstration. In a neighborhood that is inclined to support both gay and abortion issues, one might have expected a pretty good turnout. But Lyons noted that not one neighbor joined the demonstration. Asked why not, he said that the neighbors have come to know that Armitage Baptist Church cares for them and is concerned about their needs. When the Chicago school system could not open up on tiem in fall 1995 because of budget problems, the teachers who attended the church volunteered their time and started a temporary alternative school to fill the gap. Their compassionate commitment to the needs of the community built a loyalty in their neighbors’ hearts that even the most hostile opponents could not erode.

The people of Armitage Baptist Church demonstrated the transforming power of Jesus Christ—the kind of transformation He desires in each of His followers. He wants those who come to Him to undergo a radical transformation, a process of change that will affect every aspect of our lives. But for many of us, change is not a welcomed concept. Rather, it’s downright threatening.

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