By Mark A. Taylor
Dr. Frank Smith Jr.’s sermon, “Bear Witness Boldly,” began quietly, almost academically Thursday morning at the North American Christian Convention. With the style of a professor he set the stage and provided the background for the message he wanted to bring.
By the time he had finished, though, his tone, and the reaction of his audience, was anything but quiet. In the spirit of legendary African-American oratory, his sermon ended with a driving cadence and rhythm that brought a chorus of clapping and amens from the crowd.
Tucked in the middle were challenges that must not be overshadowed by the power of his delivery. Brother Smith asserted that our “bold witness” dare not be limited to words we speak, but must also be seen in what we do. And those actions, he said, should be characterized by imitating the concern of Jesus for the suffering, the hungry, and the underprivileged.
He began with an appeal to our pro-life position. “We must be pro-life not only before the delivery room but also after the delivery room,” he said. He ticked off a list of problems:
In the classroom: “Our children are dying with failing grades and low reading scores.” He asked, “Who will invest the time and the mentoring and the support resources” for the educationally underserved?
In the “family room”: addictions, abuse, and neglect.
In courtrooms: disproportionate sentencing for people in different situations and recidivism among those convicted.
Urban poverty: “We have a whole batch of people who can’t eat healthy,” he said, citing the scarcity of full-service grocery stores with fresh fruits and vegetables in many neighborhoods. “But when they get sick, we say, ‘Deal with it!’”
He challenged CEOs and business managers in the church with the need for employment, mentoring, and second-chance opportunities for ex-offenders. “You know Jesus. It doesn’t make sense for you to sing about forgiveness on Sunday, but you won’t hire an ex-offender on Monday.”
His challenge included a plea for those suffering because of widespread human trafficking and the “poor and the disenfranchised and the suffering” in every community.
“In our quest to be missional, along with making a difference on foreign soils we cannot afford to fly over local urban mission fields, neglecting and forgetting about the mission fields in our own communities.”
He reminded us that these issues involve principles and priorities that are above political opinions. “Lack of concern and lack of advocacy doesn’t match the Jesus we preach. . . . The gospel is too big and too universal to fit in the Republican or the Democrat bucket. We aren’t worried about presidents and the Congress; we’re dealing with the King of kings and Lord of lords!”
This September CHRISTIAN STANDARD will feature the stories of several Christians setting an example of Christlike concern in the cities. But the cities need more who will heed brother Smith’s exhortation. “Our eyes shut, our ears shut, and our mouths shut eventually lead to communities that shut down.”
See my interview with Frank Smith here.