“Racism and the Gospel”
Brothers and Sisters,
When you watch the news or go on social media do you find yourself refreshed and encouraged or dismayed and frustrated?
I suspect it is the latter no matter who you are.
We are living in a fractured age. Politics, race, religion, and morality are all causing our culture to fray at the seams like a worn pair of jeans. Social media is often presented as a platform to bring people together, but in such an age, it certainly feels like it is only driving the wedge deeper.
Less than two weeks ago the division in our culture became particularly apparent. On Saturday, August 12 a group of protestors and counter protestors gathered in Charlottesville. The sight of Neo-Nazis marching with torches and shouting was chilling. The loss of life at the protest is tragic. Since that night the wedge has only grown with heated public reactions to the President’s statement on the protestors, arguments regarding the continued presence of monuments to Civil War figures, and students from my own Alma matter sending their diplomas back in protest.
Soon after the event I posted an article by Tim Keller on my personal Facebook page entitled “Race, the Gospel, and the Moment”. I would encourage you to read it, pause, reflect, and read it again.
In the last week I have been asked whether at Grace we care about racism. It’s a question that made me quiver. The quick response is, “of course we care about racism,” but the question was asked for a reason. And, it’s not the first time I have been asked it by one of our members in the last year. If we never say or do anything corporately to demonstrate that we care about racism how would anyone rightfully come to the conclusion that we do? I regret taking nearly two weeks to speak out regarding Charlottesville and am thankful for the opportunity to briefly address it now.
What are the people of God to do in the middle of a moment in history that is loudly rife with division all around? How are we to think about these issues?
1-Rejoice! You probably didn’t expect me to say that, so I will do so again. Rejoice! We are living in the very moment that the God who is King over all of human history placed us. “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and boundaries of their dwelling place.” (Acts 17:26) We live in a scary world. Turning on the news it feels like our country is a powder keg that could go off at any moment. But this should not rob us of hope or joy because God is on the throne and He has chosen to place us on this earth at this exact hour for His glory. We are right where God chose to place us.
The fractured America of 2017 is a place of opportunity for followers of Jesus Christ. The moment compels us to ask how we can live in a way that declares and demonstrates the liberating power of the gospel and points people to the love of Christ.
2-Discuss Race. Race and racism are major themes in the Scriptures. The Book of Genesis details the early expansion of people into different races and cultures. The Book of Esther details how racism drove Haman to attempt to commit genocide. The Book of Jonah reveals the racism of God’s prophet, who would rather die than see God extend mercy to the people of Nineveh (Jonah 4:1-11). Some Christian circles seem to have an aversion to talking about race, but as we reflect upon the Scriptures, we see how often race features in relationship to both sin and the redemptive plan of God.
The religious culture of first century Palestine had racist elements. This provides a powerful backdrop to the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. Jesus’ archetypical example of what it looks like to love your neighbor is framed within a context of race and the prevalent racism of the day. All human beings are made in the image of God and possess an inherent worth and value (Gen 9:5-6). Racism is then, at its root, a sin issue that has played itself out in Scripture and history repeatedly. Jesus condemned it when He commanded us to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” God promised Abraham that His seed would bless all of the nations and Revelation 5:9 shows us a picture of heaven that is wonderfully multi-ethnic, featuring the redeemed from every tongue, tribe, and nation. In the Scriptures race provides a powerful backdrop to the glory of God in His work of redemption and a beautiful picture of a diverse body that has been made one through it.
As followers of Christ we understand the cause of racism (sin), God’s hatred of it, and God’s vision of a church where the dividing wall of hostility is to be broken down through the cross of Christ. We have no reason to instinctively shy away when issues of race come up. The Scriptures are littered with them. We have the tools to pave the way for a biblical understanding of race and race relations.
3-Choose the Role of a Witness. Without getting into specific political debates, I think Christians have several ways in which they can, and ought, to respond biblically in this hour.
1. Let us personally and publicly condemn White Supremacy, racism, and anti-Semitism as sinful evils. Most of us probably already do so personally, but there is power to say things publicly. Condemning racism on biblical grounds is a witness to the outside world. It’s an answer to those within our church and community who wonder if Christians care. I’m reminded of the
words of the German Pastor Martin Niemoller, who after he was imprisoned famously wrote:
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
According to a recent poll 9 percent of Americans think White Supremacy is acceptable. That’s around 33 million people! The Alt-Right movement poses incredible dangers to our country. It poses a particular danger to Christians who do not understand its foundation, mixing in theological heresy, idolatry of country, and racism with other values we may share. May the Lord bless the Southern Baptist Convention for recently condemning the Alt-Right at their annual meeting. Let’s speak against these sins on social media and in our conversations so the world knows that Christ’s church stands against the tide of racism as surely as it stands against the tide of abortion and euthanasia. We must not be silent.
2. Let us try to listen and understand the experience of our brothers and sisters from other cultures. It is easy to reject their pleas when they come from an experience we do not understand,
but this too fails to love our neighbor, or to “weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:5) and “mourn with those who mourn.” In the last year I have personally talked to several black Christian
men who described a racism in West Michigan I have not seen nor felt. Loving means listening. We would all be well served to find a brother or sister of another ethnicity to help us
think through current events and help us discern whether or not we have a blind spot there.
We worship a great King who has placed us in the middle of a watching world where we have the hard and excellent opportunity to reflect His light, love, and truth.
Solo Deo Gloria