Shawshank, Selma and the Church of Christ

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It had been a few years since I watched Shawshank redemption. I noticed it was coming on and recorded it a few weeks ago (the made for TV version…the unedited version is hard to watch for me). Missy and I finally had a couple of hours the other night to watch it. I am sure most of you are familiar with the movie but for those who aren’t, there is a rich banker named Andy who is in jail for the murder of his wife. The truth is that Andy is innocent and yet there he sits in jail…day after day, year after year. He endures abuse and punishment. This is not the easy life.

Then one day a new guy gets locked up with Andy. His name is Tommy. As they get to know Tommy and are sharing stories of their exploits, Tommy shares a story about an inmate he knew who killed a lady and the man she was having an affair with…”She was some rich banker’s wife.” Andy realizes, this is the story of the murder of his wife. He realizes someone knows the truth and it is exactly what he needs to be set free!

Just one wrinkle…Andy had been using his banking skills to his advantage in jail, getting in good with the warden (a seemingly pious man) to embezzle money. Andy knew too much. He knew enough to bring the whole system and the warden to their knees. The corrupt power systems in the prison were safe as long as Andy’s life sentence was lived out and they were willing to do whatever it took to keep him there…including killing the man who knew the truth, Tommy. So Tommy is killed for trying to “escape” in order to keep Andy behind bars. The powers that be maintain their position by suppressing the truth.

Corrupt power systems play that game. They must put down and suppress the truth because when truth speaks into their world it is a threat to their power, their throne and their kingdom. Truth sounds a lot like loss and deceit sounds a lot like gain. That is the way the world works. In John’s Gospel, from first chapter to last, is how Jesus came into the world and why Jesus died.

A few days before watching Shawshank, we watched Selma. The same thing. Corrupt power systems from the Sheriff to the President. People who are set on maintaining their status, their power, and their privilege. Truth is suppressed because truth challenges their power.

The tipping point in the movie came when truth finally entered the picture and images of what was happening on that bridge were broadcast all over the country. Images of helpless, harmless Blacks being beaten by whites on a bridge all because they wanted to be treated like everyone else. The truth was out. The tide turned. Change was inevitable and unstoppable.

We see this same thing throughout the pages of scripture. We see it in foreign powers like Rome and Pilate’s famous question “what is truth?” The crucifixion of Jesus was a testimony to the fact that Caesar doesn’t like competition…especially from those who speak truth because that is the biggest threat of all. We see it from Pharaoh to the Philistines…from Egypt to Assyria. Even more problematic…we even see it in Israel & Judah…and if we are completely honest with ourselves we see it in church and in our very selves.

The antidote is for someone to stand up and tell the truth. Someone must stand up and state reality…speak toward the “elephant in the Rome”…point out the emperor has no clothes! It shouldn’t take children to say it…grown adults must be willing to tackle this head on. People hesitate because it feels like the cost to do that is too high…I believe the cost of not doing it has already cost us much.

There are people who lose jobs for speaking the truth. There is a great risk in challenging the systems because the system also keeps those who speak employed. That can result in self-perpetuating systems that have little room for challenge, truth, or change.

This article has laid the ground work for a follow up post that I am going to post that will give specific examples of this in churches today. I hope to hear from many of you on how you have experienced this to help shine a light or share a prophetic word against what ought not to be but will not be reversed until truth is spoken. Only then can we clear the way to experience Christ free from the unnecessary burdens that institutional systems tend to create over time. Speaking truth on difficult subjects is a lot like digging our way out of prison. It is hard work, tiring…but necessary. Speaking truth on difficult subjects is a lot like crossing the bridge in Selma…it is going to come with bruises, scars and horrible memories…but it must be done for those who will follow in our steps. Let’s walk through this together and dream about a better way.

PS – No matter what “better way” we want to envision…it will always come with the tendency to go right back to the problems of the past because people are involved. There is no perfect system but there is always a need for truth to be spoken and for people to be willing to listen and change where God calls for it.

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