1/20/12 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)

Systematic Evil

A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.



Amos 5:20-24

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., June 6, 1961: “So let us be maladjusted, as maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, ‘Let justice run down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’…I believe that it is through such maladjustment that we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.”



Micah 6:1-8

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., March 25, 1965: “Let us march on ballot boxes, until we send to our city councils, state legislatures, and the United States Congress men who will not fear to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with their God. Let us march on ballot boxes until all over Alabama God’s children will be able to walk the earth in decency and honor.”



Matthew 5:1-12

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., November 6, 1956: “Don’t despair if you are condemned and persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Whenever you take a stand for truth and justice, you are liable to scorn….I still believe that standing up for the truth of God is the greatest thing in the world….The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may.”



Matthew 5:43-48

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., December 24, 1967: “Agape is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return….This is what Jesus meant when he said, ‘Love your enemies.’ And I’m happy that he didn’t say, ‘Like your enemies,’ because there are some people that I find it pretty difficult to like….I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself…every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear.”



Luke 10:25-37

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968: “The first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ Then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’ That’s the question before you….The question is not, ‘If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?’ ‘If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?’ That’s the question.”



Psalm 30:1-5

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his book The Strength to Love: “I read these words: ‘The United States Supreme Court today unanimously ruled bus segregation unconstitutional in Montgomery, Alabama.’ My heart throbbed with an inexpressible joy….The dawn will come….’Weeping may endure for a night,’ says the Psalmist, ‘but joy cometh in the morning.’ This faith adjourns the assemblies of hopelessness and brings new light into the dark chambers of pessimism.”


To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his book The Strength to Love: “I read these words: ‘The United States Supreme Court today unanimously ruled bus segregation unconstitutional in Montgomery, Alabama.’ My heart throbbed with an inexpressible joy….The dawn will come….’Weeping may endure for a night,’ says the Psalmist, ‘but joy cometh in the morning.’ This faith adjourns the assemblies of hopelessness and brings new light into the dark chambers of pessimism.”


To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.



Lord, we thank you that, in our lives and in the life of our country, although difficult times continue to appear, the worst thing is never the last thing. We pray that you help us to put others ahead of ourselves and that we avoid hate, replacing it with your never-ending love. Help us to work to bring about truth, justice and peace in a troubled world. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.


CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

In your opinion, what was the most troubled time in American history? Do any of the problems encountered during the Civil War period endure today? Why have these problems not been completely eliminated by now?



 Read Amos 5:20-24. Read aloud the quote from Monday on page 1. The scales of justice can swing both ways. Do you ever have difficultly deciding what is just and what is unjust in a given situation? What can we do in cases like that? Why is justice an essential Christian practice? When in history have Christians been broadly unjust? Did other Christians stand in opposition to that injustice? Did this dissension, although painful, result in a more just world? Dr. King said that we should be “maladjusted” like the prophet Amos. What did he mean?

 Read Micah 6:1-8. Read aloud the quote from Tuesday on page 1. Micah said some in his day were “skilled at doing evil.” Do you find this still to be true today? Where do you see this kind of evil in the world? Why do some people practice evil? Do we, as Christians, need to be reminded to do what’s right, or does it come naturally? What influences us to do what is right? Have you ever taken an unpopular stand for justice? What happened? Were you ever blessed because someone else took a stand for justice? Do you think there were times when someone stood for justice for you, and you never knew about it? Under what circumstances has God himself suffered for people who never realized it?

 Read Matthew 5:1-12. Read aloud the quote from Wednesday on page 1. Is our natural tendency to seek first God’s approval or to seek first the approval of others? How can we overcome our basic nature? What will drive us beyond seeking popularity for ourselves toward true righteousness in the eyes of God? Do you admire the accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln? Was he universally admired as he struggled to have the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution ratified? What does that tell us about righteous acts as viewed in the present vs. as they are viewed by history? If you are old enough, have your views of Dr. King and his work changed with the passage of time? If so, how?

 Read Matthew 5:43-48. Read aloud the quote from Thursday on page 1. C.S. Lewis defined agape as a selfless love, a love committed to the well-being of the other (even our enemies). Do we have to “like” someone to be committed to their well-being? Can we attack someone if we are committed to their well-being? Can we defend ourselves against someone if we are committed to their well-being? Can we defend or even attack if the well-being of others is threatened? These are the difficult questions that men and women who are considering opting out of military service on religious grounds or as “conscientious objectors” face. Even if our answers are “yes” to these last three questions, must we also hate?

 Read Luke 10:25-37. Read aloud the quote from Friday on page 1. The Salvation Army’s highest national civic award is The Others Award. It dates back to when The Salvation Army’s founder used the word “others” to describe the non-profit’s selfless mission. It recognizes the people who first think of others before themselves. Why could the word “others” describe the mission of all Christians? How do we shift our thinking from ‘what will happen to me” to “what will happen to him (or her)”? Although “pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps” was a common philosophy of American pioneering heritage, was unselfishness also a part of that culture? Is it still true today?

 Read Psalm 30:1-5. Read aloud the quote from Saturday on page 1. Does everyone’s life contain at least some times of terrible sorrow, weeping, pain and agony? Do these times always seem to come to an end? When they are over, does that pain make the freshness of the new day seem even sweeter? Do you liken these transitions to going from darkness into light? As Christians, do the difficult times seem to end sooner with God’s help? How do we call upon God’s help? Are we being selfish by asking for God’s help? Has going through tough times strengthened or weakened your faith? Why?

From last week: Did you watch for evil trying to do its work in your life and in the lives of others? Without being judgmental, how did these battles seem to turn out? Are there situations that you might be able to tell the group about, without mentioning names?





From Dr. Myron McCoy’s sermon of January 20, 2013:

First Colored Baptist church of Birmingham, the original name of 16th Street Baptist Church, began in 1873 during the days of Reconstruction in the heart of the downtown. The “city fathers” forcibly relocated the congregation to make way for what they said was the need to make room for expanding retail stores in the early 1880s….The congregation moved as ordered. They built a building of considerable size before others completed their building plans, which created so much angst in the larger community that the city ordered the church to demolish the building in 1908….Determined to please God and desirous of serving the needs of the city’s growing black population’s need for alternative gathering space, a new structure that seated 1,600 congregants in worship and a large basement auditorium was designed and built in 1911. Systemic evil was nothing new for the congregants of the16th Street Baptist Church, and hosting meetings as a community gathering spot was rich in the DNA of the congregation.

While considering the context that led to the bombing on that fateful Sunday morning, I must also remind you that a Methodist layman named George Wallace was inaugurated Governor of Alabama on January 14th, 1963. He threw logs on the fire of hatred with inflammatory words of defiance some 8 ½ years after the historic Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas: “I draw the line in the dust . . . and I say, segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!”…

In April, 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference went to Birmingham at the invitation of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR). They led a massive direct action campaign, coinciding with Easter, the second biggest shopping season of the year, to put an end to practiced segregation…. Faced with a court injunction issued against such protests on April 10th movement, community leaders determined that they would disobey the court order which Dr. King characterized as ‘‘an unjust, undemocratic and unconstitutional misuse of the legal process.’’ King was arrested on Good Friday, April 12th, and while in jail he wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail”….By May 10th, an agreement was reached that called for the removal of ‘‘Whites Only’’ and ‘‘Blacks Only’’ signs in restrooms and drinking fountains, a plan to desegregate lunch counters, an ongoing ‘‘program of upgrading Negro employment,’’ the formation of a biracial committee to monitor the progress of the agreement, and the release of jailed protestors on bond.

Fierce segregationists responded to the agreement with a series of violent attacks that included bombings at the motel room where SCLC leaders met and the home of Dr. King’s brother. President Kennedy responded by ordering federal troops into position near Birmingham and making preparations to federalize the Alabama National Guard. Three months later, America’s racial attitudes and feelings were stirred on August 28th with King’s “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington.

It is in this context of systemic evil with a society going bad that Ku Klux Klan members bombed Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing the four young girls. While giving the eulogy for three of the four young girls, Dr. King said ‘‘the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity’’ have something to say to:

• Ministers of the gospel who remain silent behind the security of stained-glass windows

• Politicians who feed their constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the meat of racism

• Governments that compromise with undemocratic practices and blatant hypocrisy

• Anyone who passively accepts evil systems and stands on the sidelines in the midst of a mighty struggle for justice

As I think about the unhealthy context that allowed so many to be swallowed up in a web of ugliness, I am reminded of the psychological phenomenon known as “groupthink.” Some of the negative characteristics of groupthink (first described by social psychologist Irving Janis) can occur as groups set themselves above the law in almost mob like fashion while eliciting, expecting, and encouraging conformity of opinion.

A troubling modern example would be the report compiled this last summer by former FBI director Louis Freeh detailing the cover-up of child-sexual abuse at Penn State. How could so many respected, upstanding persons fail so miserably in defending young children, while going overboard to protect their own images and a football program? Groupthink sacrificed vulnerable children and protected Mr. Sandusky….The Freeh report also reminded us…to practice resistance to evil by speaking out against abuses of power, as did Dr. Vicky Triponey, the former Penn State vice president of student affairs, who ran up against “the Penn State way” and was fired when she dared try to discipline football players for various infractions from bar fights to sexual assault….

And then there is Jesus, whose life showed the highest standard of integrity and peace. He was, as Gandhi said, “the most active nonviolent resister known to history.” Jesus’ life and teachings help us to resist all that might be wrong. He said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who harass you.” He taught us to pray saying, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Jesus proclaimed a vision of God’s realm, and began a campaign into Jerusalem to confront the empire’s violence. Even under arrest, torture and execution, Jesus practiced resistance, loving and forgiving everyone while insisting on God’s truth.
Appearing before Pilate he said: “If my kingdom were of this world, my attendants would use violence and fight to protect me; but it is not of this world, so they do not use violence.”

Even though the systemic evil of Jesus’ crucifixion was legal in the government’s eyes, the resurrection was totally illegal. Yes, the soldiers were sent to guard the tomb, and put the imperial seal on the tomb as if to say: “We killed you, stay dead!” But, O how grateful we are Jesus practiced some more resistance and in essence said, “No, I am alive!”


Systemic evil

These days, the term “systemic evil” is heard quite often. It refers to moral evil committed by an organization or a social institution or system. Traditionally, moral evil has been regarded mainly as something committed by an individual person, but systemic evil is a social sin coming from a system collectively. An organization or a social institution or system usually has its own culture, and its members tend to be, psychologically, very easily influenced by it. If the culture is dominated by any unhealthy ideologies or thoughts, such as totalitarianism, authoritarianism, institutionalism, mammonism, racism, and sexism, then the organization or social institution as a whole is found to be collectively committing systemic evil, and its members are consciously or unconsciously participating in the evil. Imperialism, Communism, Nazism, sociopathic industrial corporations, inflexible church institutions, and the Ku Klux Klan are some of its examples. This evil was already pointed out by Walter Rauschenbusch early in the twentieth century, who said that it exerts the “super-personal forces of evil”….It is more and more understood that sin is not only personal, but also social and collective. Source: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Evil


Final application:

This week, watch for systemic evil within our society. Make a list of what you find. Pray for our country and for the world that such evils might be contained and eliminated. Pray also that you might be freed from and not be caught up in any evil that might seem that it is “the norm”. Next week, share with the group what you discovered