The fog that prevents many of us from seeing the issues of race clearly as I argued in last week’s post in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer in Minnesota, became thicker just a week later, after an officer shot and killed a 27-year-old African American during a routine sobriety check that went wrong outside a Wendy’s restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia.
Unfortunately, a peaceful demonstration the day after the incident again turned violent when protesters set the restaurant on fire, further inflaming public and national calls for social justice and aggressive police reforms if not the abolition of local police altogether, demonstrated in the current standoff between protestors and law enforcement officials in Seattle, Washington.
There, under pressure from protesters, police have virtually ceded control over part of the city’s downtown area (CHAZ — Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone) to activists who are practically holding that zone under siege.
The fog was dense enough already to weave through both the reality and complexity of the issue of race in our COVID-19 infected country before this latest police related death, further drove American race relations to the precipice of a cliff that is even harder to see through our cultural fog.
Sin not Skin
In part one of this post, I began to make a case for Christians to lead a way through the fog with a Bible-based vision that centers around gospel reconciliation (Eph. 2:13-16). It is the idea that those that turn to Jesus Christ for salvation can find the peace and cultural diversity that most desire, through the unity found at the foot of the cross of Christ (Gal. 3:28), where everyone: “red, brown, yellow, black and white are all precious in his sight,” by virtue of being equal image-bearers of God (Gen. 1:26-27; Acts 17:26) who differ more by their national or ethnic roots, rather than their level of melanin – the tone of their skin.
Those that follow Christ as disciples, understand by their call to color-blindly love their neighbors (as the Good Samaritan did) is that there is a danger in falling off either side of the cliff of extremism with respect to race.
The extremism exists between those that claim discrimination and prejudice are no longer an issue or problem in America due to the elimination of legal and institutional racism, and those that insist that systemic racism is alive and pervasive in this country, to the extent that ‘white privilege’ is brutalizing, or at least dehumanizing and oppressing blacks and other minorities in the face of data suggesting otherwise.
Neither view will do for Christians holding to a biblical worldview. Therefore, what are we to do and how can the church of Jesus Christ lead the way?
Grace not Race – 4 Steps to take in Biblical Reconciliation:
- Study (“be an approved workman” 2 Tim. 2:15)
It stands to reason before anyone- Christians in particular, begin to speak about the issue of race or ethnocentrism, that they would strive to know what they are talking about. In other words, Christ followers need to develop a theology of race or ethnicity according to God’s word and to follow the biblical admonition to be “quick to listen and slow to speak.”
Indeed, believers need to think about the nations, tribes, tongues (Rev. 5, 7) and even economic classes of people as God does, who is no, “respecter of persons.” Half of the second chapter of the New Testament book of James, declares the sin of showing partiality (discrimination or bias) illustrated by the prejudice which even took place in the early church, where Hellenistic Jews (Greek widows that converted to Christ) were being neglected in the benevolence feeding of the church in Jerusalem, necessitating the ministry of Deacons to serve them.
What we find in scripture interestingly enough, is that race is a social construct that does not exist as a legitimate human distinction, since we are all members of only one, human race. That fact is why our nation’s problem is sin, not skin. As notable black preacher and author Voddie Baucham said, “The concept of race is not a biblical concept. It’s not a biblical idea. It is a constructed idea. You won’t find the idea of races in the Bible unless you find it in the proper historical context where we see, number one, that we are all the race of Adam. One race, one blood.”
2. Listen (Pro. 10:19c; 18:13)
My views of ethnocentrism took greater shape- clarity in my own racial fog, after speaking at some length with an African-American friend of mine – a brother in Christ, whose perspective I sought and received as to what has taken place of late. His desire was that a White-Hispanic man like me, would focus on the need right now to display empathy and engage in real dialogue. That essentially was it.
He didn’t want to talk about the Floyd case in any detail or crime statistics of black on black violence, things that may be germane and relevant to the greater issue at hand and public policy, but rather to just understand right now, what everyday life can be for a black man.
In other words, he just asked me to listen to his story in the wake of Floyd’s death, including what it felt like to be seen as an alien from another planet entering into certain stores or being pulled over on more than one occasion while driving, not having broken any laws, traffic or otherwise.
Subsequent to that meeting, I was shaken in reading the powerful and gripping testimony of Christian hip-hop artist, Reformed preacher and writer Shai Linne, who powerfully detailed his own testimony in recapping his email response to a white sister in Christ seeking his post-Floyd views.
In wanting to share the “opportunity to ‘bear one another’s burdens’ and ‘mourn with those who mourn”to the body of Christ, Linne in an excerpt from an essay that related at least seven experiences he’s had as a black man in America, wrote: It’s about being told to leave the sneaker store as a 12-year-old, because I was taking too long to decide which sneakers I wanted to buy with my birthday money and the white saleswoman assumed I was in the store to steal something….
Linne added, It’s about intentionally making sure the carseats are in the car, even if the kids aren’t, so that when (not “if”—it happens all the time) I’m stopped by the police, they will perhaps notice the carseats and also the wedding band on one of my visible hands on the wheel (which I’ve been taught to keep there and not move until he tells me to—and even then, in an exaggeratedly slow manner) and will perhaps think to himself, This man is married with a family and small kids like me. Maybe he wants to get home safely to his family just like I do.
Sadly enough, my friend, a black attorney, was told by his Law School professor that having a ‘Baby on Board’ sign visible on his car would serve the same useful purpose to him.
Linne in another account said, It’s about having to explain to my 4-year-old son at his mostly white Christian school that the kids who laughed at him for having brown skin were wrong, that God made him in his image, and that his skin is beautiful—after he told me, “Daddy, I don’t want brown skin. I want white skin
Conclusion? Racism- subtle as it may be and more overt for some, exists.
3. Seek (justice- Pro. 24:11-12b; 31:9)
Although the social justice movement has been radicalized in the name of “virtue signaling” and “intersectionality,” it may be argued that ethnic majorities or non-minority citizens in this country have too often failed tocall out real injustice when they see it and call for biblically based justice in our society and communities.
God is a God of justice and demands that his own children reasonably seek it for others. When the prophet Micah wondered what the Lord wanted from his people during a time of strife for Israel, their solutions might have called for more Sabbath worship or sacrifices. Instead…
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Mic. 6:8)?
The prophet Isaiah, in rebuking and calling the nation of Judah (then separated from Israel) to repentance in a time of wickedness, wrote, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause (Isa. 1:17).
That is our justification to enter into the fray of true social justice in at least interpersonal dialogue. Would that justify Christians joining in protests for racial justice? Opposing ‘police brutality’ and joining the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movements? Traveling through that fog is for another post.
So, what do we say or preach today? After studying, listening and seeking to understand, we can talk about both God’s law and order and gospel grace. Yes, we can correct the dangers of extremism while telling others that rioting and looting is wrong, and yet call for justice for all at the same time – as well as the respect for law enforcement. That’s all biblical.
We can also tell the truth in love as I have preached this month, that we can only ‘bring about a semblance of peace and justice to our country and its communities, because a utopian form of perfect, social justice and peace cannot and will not exist in this sin-cursed and fallen world.’ Not yet, until Jesus comes back. Our struggle now to find racial peace and justice, is what beckons us to cry to God for mercy.
Until then, Christians must speak about the peace of reconciliation with God that can be found only by his grace, a grace that supersedes issues of race found in the forgiveness of sins by the gospel of Jesus Christ.