Like many of you, I am saddened and angered by the events of Charlottesville last weekend. Not only was this event sickening in its own right, it also serves as a mirror exposing the flaws in our own society that we sometimes ignore. Turning on the news or logging in to social media over the past week prevents us from pretending that this ugliness does not exist. Like a person who has had food in their teeth all day, but did not realize it until looking into the mirror, so these events remind us of a blight that still mars our society and darkens the hearts of way too many men and women. I have spent a fair amount of time over the past few days pondering this issue, and want to share a few thoughts here.
First of all, I want to acknowledge that this problem is big and this blog post is small. I am not trying to be comprehensive here. Much has been written about the topic of racism that is far superior to my comments . . . I merely want to add my perspective to the conversation, and attempt to shine some light from Scripture on this issue.
All that said, I want to share 5 thoughts with you here:
Thought #1: Racism is Sin.
Racism is wrong and counter to the will of God. It is not primarily a matter of politics or history or sociology (though it impacts and exposes itself in those things). Racism is primarily an expression of humanity’s rebellion against God. God created ALL PEOPLE in His image, regardless of race, gender, or any other expression of diversity (Genesis 1:26). We were created in His image and in His image equally. It is this revelation that informs us that all human life has equal dignity and value from conception to the grave, regardless of the color of skin.
We also know that because sin has entered the world, so ALL PEOPLE have equally fallen short of the glory of God regardless of skin color (Romans 5:12). There is no superior race. All have sinned (and keep sinning). When it comes to a “righteousness” beauty pageant the Bible would say that it is a 1,000 way tie for last (“no one is righteous, not even one” – Romans 3:9-18). It is this revelation that informs us that all human life has equally fallen short of the glory of God and is in equal need of God’s grace to transform, regardless of skin color.
Additionally, we see God’s desire to redeem people from every race based on His grace (not our performance – Ephesians 2:8-9). This redemption (that is found only in Jesus Christ) has global implications. Jesus commissioned His disciples to go “into all the world” and make disciples in His name (Matthew 28:19-20). We know that this great commission will ultimately yield people from every race populating heaven (Revelation 5:9-10). Heaven would be hell for a racist, as they would be in the presence of people of all skin colors forever. It is this revelation that informs us of God’s desire to redeem by His grace in Christ people from all races.
At its core, racism seeks to elevate one race over another, and in the process denies at least one of these three core truths. Racism is sin, and it is a particularly divisive and destructive sin with far reaching societal implications. It should not be tolerated and should be rebuked everywhere it is found by Christians.
ACTION: Search your own heart to see if the sin of racism is hiding in any corners. If so, repent of that sin.
Thought #2: Racism effects Real People.
I am a white man. I live as a member of the majority race in my country. Try as I might, I will never fully know what it feels like to be a member of a minority here. But the best thing I can do is to listen to those who are suffering. As I listen to those living as minorities in our TOWN, much less our country, I realize that racism hurts. I think it is partly because of this that it hurts the heart of our Heavenly Father. I heard the spoken word artist Propaganda (an African American Man) recently at an event and he said something very powerful. He was asked what he thought about people who say “All lives matter,” when asked about “Black lives matter.” Propaganda said, “We need to stop and think for a moment about a society where it is necessary to have a movement reminding people that black lives matter. No one needs to be reminded that white lives matter, but we need to remember our country’s history and the attitudes still harbored by some, denying that black lives matter as much as white lives.” Propaganda’s comment has stuck with me. We need to remember the pain that racism has caused and is causing, listen to the experiences of others and try to understand them, and respond with compassion to those who are feeling its effects. Too often people talk about racism like it is a subject in school like Algebra. Algebra never hurt anyone. I can complain about “x” and solve for “y” without hurting anyone, but I cannot escape the emotional component of discussing a topic like racism, so I must proceed with grace, compassion, and a listening ear. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” – James 1:9. Racism sins against and hurts our neighbors, which is a direct violation of the greatest commandments (Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind AND love your neighbor as yourself) – especially when we see how Jesus illustrated who our neighbor was with a story (The Good Samaritan in Luke 10) that focused on people of different races being “neighbors!” Let us love and listen well.
ACTION: Talk with a friend from a different race and ask them about their experience. If your friendships are mostly with those of the same race, reach out and begin to get to know someone new!
Thought #3: Racism is a Symptom of a Problem all of us Have.
Now I am not saying that all of us would grab a torch and join that mob in Virginia. As a matter of fact, a very small number of people (thankfully) would be added to their number. However, racism is a symptom of a much larger root problem: sin. Romans 3:23 tells us that “All” have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All means all. Sin shows up in the adulterous spouse, the wall street embezzler, the self-reliant church goer, and the racist protester. It is the same sin nature that has enslaved us all, yet expresses itself with diverse (yet consistent) ugliness. Interesting enough, Romans 6:15-23 pictures our flesh like a slave master forcing us to works unrighteousness. I need to remember this, because as I watch this ugliness play out on television, I am tempted to feel self-righteous and morally superior to these racist protesters. I can be repulsed by their expression of sin, but I also can be reminded the ugliness of their behavior shows up in me in other ways and areas. We all are in need of God’s grace and a total transformation.
ACTION: Confess your sin to God and find forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
Thought #4: Jesus is the Answer.
There is an old story about a child in Sunday school who always wanted to give the right answer. The teacher asked the child, “What is small, brown, and furry and eats lots of nuts?” The little boy (wanting to be right and righteous) blurts out – “I think its a squirrel, but I’m going to say ‘Jesus.’” Given the complexity of race relations, it may sound trite to you that I would suggest “Jesus” as the answer to the problem of racism, but this is exactly what the Bible tells us.
We sometimes think that racism is an American problem, or that it is a new problem. Racism is not a new or American problem. It is an old human problem.
In the first century, Jesus came as a Jew, and ministered His entire earthly ministry inside of the nation of Israel. Was there a “racism” problem there? Why yes, there was. There were two groups of people: Jews (ethnic Israel plus a few proselytes) and Gentiles (everyone else). This divide was very real and revealed itself in a variety of ways in their society. When Jesus called the disciples to go into “all the world,” it took a while for His followers to “get it.” In fact, it took a few decades. Jesus gives His disciples the great commission at the time of His ascension. 15 years later, there is still a strong divide between Jews and Gentiles, so Jesus gives Peter a vision in Acts 10 and guides him to Cornelius’s home to witness the conversion of a Gentile. Yet Peter still struggled to understand (the preconceived notions he had been taught from youth were hard to “unlearn”). Five years after the events of Acts 10, Peter still was treating Gentile converts in an inferior way and has to be confronted by Paul in Galatians 2. It is in part because of their struggle with this particular form of racism that the Spirit prompts Paul to write “He Himself is our peace, who has made us both (Jew and Gentile) one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross thereby killing the hostility (Ephesians 2:14-16).
The hope for the divisions of people in the first century was found in Jesus Christ . . . and that is the same today. The hope for peace and unity is found not in government (though they should be pressed to establish fair laws and keep the peace.) The hope for today is found in Jesus Christ. Let us not allow the sinfulness of this season to distract us from the true answer to life’s biggest dilemmas. Like Paul in the first century, we know the answer to this question. Let us call people to Jesus (with grace and boldness) and see Him unite us in one body. This is the only ultimate peace and unity that will last.
ACTION: Pray for unity among Christians in your community, regardless of race. May the divisions of race NOT divide the church in heart or spirit. We are a part of the same Body! Read John 17 and the book of Ephesians or 1 Corinthians as reminders of this truth, and be a bridge builder in your community in the name of Jesus.
Thought #5: There is Hope for All (If We Trust in Christ)
One conviction I have concerning sin is that I never want to talk about it as a “them” issue. Sin is an “us” issue. As we have previously established, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Therefore, I want to acknowledge that the mirror of these past few days may have revealed some racism in our own hearts. In fact, you may be reading this right now and coming to grips with your own sinfulness. If so, what are you to do? Too often, in posts like this, Christians feel the need to simply point out the sin, without also pointing out the Savior. I do not want to do that. Yes, racism is sinful. BUT, if even the most ardent neo-Nazi or KKK member turned to Jesus, they too could find their sins forgiven and their lives transformed. There is hope for all of us, and it is not found in our righteous past or present, but in Jesus’ righteousness and grace.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said, “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, not thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).” Paul could just as easily have added “racist” to that list. If this is a sin you have struggled with, hear the Word of God . . . “And such were some of you. But you were washed. You were sanctified . . .” Hope for all sinners is found in Jesus Christ. As fellow sinners, let’s pray for the salvation of those enslaved by racism’s nasty yoke.
ACTION: Pray for the salvation of those who do not know Christ, and (as God gives you opportunity) share the good news of Jesus with those around you.
Daily newscasts are like a mirror revealing to us something about ourselves. Let’s allow the truth of God’s Word to shine brightly on us and reveal any blights from which we need to repent. Then, let’s walk away and (in the words of James 1:22-25):
“Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”