In recent days we watched our television screens and social media feeds with sadness, confusion, and great dismay. We watched the resurgence of police brutality and racial tension in our country, but with a lasting effect. The tragic murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, to name a few, were unjust and pure evil. Seeing George Floyd’s life taken from him in 8 minutes and 46 seconds struck a nerve with the watching world. People from different walks of life, ethnicities, denominations, economic status, and political sides joined together in solidarity, demanding that justice be served. Major corporations, secular entities, and businesses began to take a stand as well. Why did the death of George Floyd cause such an uproar?
Stop and Look
The issue of racism isn’t a new phenomenon in our country. Racism has been a groundswell of controversy for years. If you are listening carefully, the cries of injustice are screaming through the hallways of history. With the advancement of technology and body cams, racism has been uncovered and brought to light before our eyes more consistently. All this racial unrest in America occurred at the same time as a global pandemic. America’s attention came to a halt, forcing people to see what is taking place and come to terms with the state of our country. In a sense, God stopped time. In order for us to deal with racism in America, we have to stop and look.
Conflicting opinions, views, and methods about the racial tension in America went viral. Believers and unbelievers took to social media to air strong feelings about their views. Some protested peacefully, while others went further, looting and destroying property. But Christians should let sound theology (the gospel) be the engine and our feelings be the caboose. Sound doctrine should inform how we view and engage life, not merely satisfying our intellectual amusement. As the apostle Paul would say, “What does the Scripture say?” The Word of God deals with racism head on. So why don’t we?
The Reason for Racism
The Garden of Eden is where it all went wrong. God created a perfect environment for Adam and Eve to flourish, but that didn’t last long. Their demise came from disobeying God’s original command and listening to Satan twist God’s Word. The enemy used one of his favorite tactics by tempting them to think God was holding out on them.
Our Redeemer, Jesus, came through 42 generations from Abraham to solve the problem, to provide the way of salvation, and to reconcile all things back to Himself. In Luke 4, at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus declares what His mission and ministry would be about:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
—Luke 4:18–19 (ESV)
In doing so, He alludes to a profound implication for His arrival and mission. In Luke 4:25–27 Jesus highlights two key Old Testament stories that the audience would have understood. He states that the Gentile people received help and provision in certain situations (a widow in Zarephath, Naaman the Syrian), instead of the rebellious Jews. Wow! Jesus, at the very beginning of His ministry, was proclaiming His heart, that He was coming to redeem not just the Jews but also the Gentiles. This would have shocked the listening audience.
“When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath” (v. 28). What Jesus talked about did not align with their ideology and practices. The New Testament writers regularly dealt with racial tension (John 4, Acts 6, Acts 10). The apostle Paul gives one of the most profound dissertations on racial reconciliation in Ephesians 2:11–22. Jesus Christ’s work on the cross knocks down the wall of hostility and division, making us all one in Christ. The old children’s song couldn’t be more true: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red, brown, yellow, black, and white, they are precious in His sight . . . .”
So How Do We Move Forward?
As the body of believers and individual congregations, I believe we must do three things:
1. Look within for sin: repent
Sin has affected everything. But it’s not enough to say we have a “sin” problem. We do have a sin problem, and that sin problem makes “skin” a problem. As David asked of the Lord in Psalm 139:23–24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” Be honest about the potential blind spots, prejudices, biases, and racial tendencies that may be in your heart. Repent of them and ask God to lead you in the way everlasting. This will not be easy. You will have to hold friends accountable when they make racial jokes or insensitive comments. It will be hard work; racial reconciliation is messy (Galatians 2:11–14). I’m thankful that Jesus took on our mess via the cross.
2. Look up: find your primary identity
Naturally we love people who look, smell, and vote like us. This is called homogeneous living or tribalism, which has been an issue in our culture for years. When we are placed in God’s family, believing by grace through faith in the work of Jesus on the cross, we become a new race. We become part of God’s royal family. We have more in common in Christ than we do outside of Christ. When Jesus becomes our life, our new identity in Him comes first. This doesn’t mean our ethnicity goes away. However, our new union with Jesus becomes our filter for life. We embrace our differences beneath the banner of the gospel (Ephesians 2:13–18).
3. Look out: pursue relationships and learning
Every Christian has been given the ministry and message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17–21). As believers in Christ, we do not have a license to remove parts of the Bible to fit our own theology. A theology that is not grounded in the biblical truth of Scripture is no theology at all. When believers look out, they pursue conversations with people of color; hearing their story, not neglecting to listen. As James 1:19 says, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”
Who’s sitting at your dinner table? Distance builds walls, close proximity tears them down. Seeing the person and their culture will help you to celebrate the culture and not just tolerate it. Each person has the imago Dei in them (Genesis 1:27). We are created by God and have dignity, purpose, worth, and value. God desires that we pursue conversations on racial reconciliation, so we experience on earth the eschatological promise found in Revelation 7:9–12. It’s a highlight reel of Heaven, where all tribes, tongues, and languages will sing, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Where do we go from here? Start the conversation, be an advocate, and be a multiethnic bridge builder. Don’t put it off. Don’t wait for someone else to begin. God wants to use you.
If we humble ourselves under God’s divine power, we can see the racial strife in America subside. This is a gospel issue, so we must confront racism with the gospel. The church should lead in this in our culture. We can legislate laws, but we can’t legislate love. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39).
Every Christian has the divine responsibility to be a peacemaker and a bridge builder. Perhaps in this glimpse of history we can begin to see an answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Church, let’s hear the Word of God, but also, let us apply it by the power of the Holy Spirit and prayer—and watch reconciliation happen like never before. To Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen!