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Three Thoughts on the Church and Racial Unity

I have shared a few thoughts below on the church and racial unity, for what it's worth. I am no expert, and I only have my little perspective from which to share, but I feel strongly that Christians have been too silent on this issue. Even though we agree that racism is a sin, we often do not confront it like we do many other sins, but the truth is, standing up for justice and unity is a calling from God upon His people - it always has been. And when we are willing to speak up for the marginalized or oppressed, we advance the gospel and live in obedience to the call of God. Here is why I think so:

1) The gospel is relevant

The gospel is relevant. Paul knew this to be true when he talked about becoming all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). He knew that the message of salvation through Christ mattered to actual people, right where they were. The word of God is powerful, but its power is amplified when people realize that it actually applies to their life, it speaks to their concerns, and it offers help for their problems.

Martin Luther said, “If you preach the gospel in all aspects with the exception of the issues which deal specifically with your time, you are not preaching the gospel at all.”

Luther elucidates the same truth that Paul lived out: the gospel is never outdated, the word of God applies to all times and places, and the people of God can help bridge the gap between His message and the world we live in. The gospel has the power to change hearts, no matter when or where it is proclaimed, but if the body of Christ does not apply the gospel to real life, then we shortchange the message.

In the case of the current race crisis, the world is concerned right now with issues of justice, oppression, unity, and the value of life, but they miss out on what we already know - these things only really matter because God says they matter! The world is currently concerned with things that Christians have always known to be true, but if we don’t “make the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:16), we miss out on a chance to show how “a secular worldview fails to explain what everyone is saying they intuitively know: that every human life is valuable, that there are things that are objectively wrong, and that justice matters. None of those things fit with a godless worldview.” (Natasha Crain, “5 Ways Christians are Getting Swept into a Secular Worldview in this Cultural Moment,” http://christianmomthoughts.com/5-ways-christians-are-getting-swept- into-a-secular-worldview-in-this-cultural-moment)

2) Many false gospels and secular solutions are being exalted

If the church doesn’t offer solutions that are centered in faith, you can be sure people will learn about these issues from other sources (i.e. the internet), and we miss a key opportunity to make a real life application of the things we believe.

There are narratives like Critical Race Theory which suggests that “whiteness” is, in and of itself, wrong and oppressive, or “wokeism” which lumps together a slew of social issues that often do not reflect the heart of God. There are also narratives that say we live in post-racial America, racism isn’t really happening, the civil rights movement is done, and that racial injustice is a myth. If the church will not lend her voice to social issues, then people are left to choose from a plethora of secular worldviews, all of which fall short of Godly justice.

Even the most well-meaning Christians can go about seeking justice in ungodly ways, especially when we inadvertently conflate secular worldviews with Godly callings. If we don't stand up for a better way, then culture will influence the church more than the church will influence culture. People will instead be informed by social media about the way things are, and then they’ll either pick a side and run with it, or they just won’t say anything at all. We can show them another option and a better way.

Politicians would love for people to have to choose one side or the other - politics thrives on the idea of picking sides - but racism, racial justice, social justice, any kind of justice, is not essentially a political issue; it is essentially a spiritual issue, and this is a chance for us to pull this out of the political realm and re-claim it as a spiritual issue. The church can show the world that relationships are of prime importance in bringing unity, that God has a lot to say about justice, and that the Bible speaks to real issues, not just elevated theological ideas.

In scripture, the Pharisees thought that you either followed all the rules or you cared about people. But we don’t believe that way - we can tithe our mint and rue and herbs, while also caring about the justice and love of God (Luke 11:42). We can break down a mindset that says you can either be concerned with focusing on heaven and what needs to be done to get there or be concerned with justice and love in our world here and now, and instead ask ourselves and others: Why not both?

3) Following Jesus and seeking justice are inseparable

The notion that we can divorce following Jesus from standing for justice is perplexing, inexplicable, and I think impossible… Jesus did not try to separate these things - he did not divorce the spiritual from the social. For him “it’s not soul work or social work… it is soul work and social work… The transformation we experience internally should produce a desire to make a difference externally.” (Dharius Daniels, “The Church has Left the Building,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmYqfmCvx0I) What Jesus knew is that there are both vertical and horizontal relationships, and both are important. The highest commandments? Love God and love others. We trust in God and rely on Christ alone for bringing vertical justice - for justifying us before a holy God; but at the same time, Jesus calls us to do something about issues of horizontal justice - he expects his followers to feed the hungry and visit those in prison; to correct oppression, to seek justice, to do good - to love God and love others. Jesus did more than solve sin problems, he also solved social problems. Are we going to follow Jesus, or just talk about him?

Jesus found the people who felt like they had been trampled and left behind by their society, and he sought to right those wrongs. Well right now, black people in our society feel like they have been trampled and left behind. We can debate about whether or not those feelings reflect reality, we can talk about how politics affects these narratives, we can have conversations about whether or not we should be involved - or, we can be the Samaritan, set aside our own stuff, and give of ourselves to help the one in need (Luke 10:25-37). Are we going to be the parable’s priest and Levite, going about our business as usual, doing what we know and feel comfortable with, or are we willing to get our hands dirty for the sake of others?


So what can we do, practically, when it comes to issues of justice? I have three suggestions:

1) PRAY

If you aren't sure where to start, prayer is always the first resort. Scripture is full of both commands to pray (1 Chronicles 16:11, Philippians 4:6, Colossians 4:2, 1 Timothy 2:1) and promises for those who faithfully rely on God in prayer (2 Chronicles 7:14, Psalm 145:18, Matthew 7:11, 1 John 5:14-15). In Psalm 17:6, the Psalmist says, "I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer." We pray because we truly believe that God hears and listens to us. Even when we don't know where to start or what to pray, Romans 8:26 says the Spirit intercedes for us. Prayer is a powerful tool and a frontline missional activity. When praying about justice in our world, we can ask God to help us see things through His eyes, to open our hearts to areas of injustice, and to use us as part of the solution.

We also can pray to God that He will deliver justice. We can join the Psalmist of Psalm 72 in crying out, "May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!" God can do far more than we can, and abundantly more than we can even ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20), but at the same time, He calls us to be part of His "ministry of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:18). God is the one who is truly good, just, and holy, but 1 Corinthians 3:9 reminds us that we are co-workers with Him.

(This video offers a deep look at a common prayer, "The Serenity Prayer": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUIe8xFg7AA)

2) EXAMINE

First Corinthians 11:28 tells us that, each time we take the Lord's Supper, we should examine ourselves. Second Corinthians 13:5 says, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves." Even the Lamentations author writes, "Let us examine our ways and test them." (Lamentations 3:40) The importance of self-examination is clear in scripture, but it is much easier said than done. Proverbs 21:2 says, "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart." God knows our own heart better than we do! This is why it's so necessary to sit with Him and ask Him to reveal the part of yourself you don't even see. It can be so easy to have our heart overtaken by the concerns of this world, so it will take some intentionality and digging to examine ourselves.

As one author puts it, "I fear we have reduced this issue down to politics and forgotten that we are Christians first and foremost. Stop thinking about how this affects your life as an American. Stop thinking about how different political parties will use this to their advantage. Stop looking for secret hidden agendas. Our allegiances lie with God, not our political parties or personal liberties. Instead, 'seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.' (Isaiah 1:17)" (Jack Dodgen, "Thinking Differently About Race Relations," https://www.strongchurch.org/single-post/2020/06/11/Thinking-Differently-About-Race-Relations)

There may be a lot to strip away as we examine ourselves, and the challenge may be amplified by the fact that we are scared about what we might find in there. But obedience to God and His work necessitates that we deeply consider what biases, prejudices, angers, worries, and fears we hold onto, and turn them over to our Father (Psalm 55:22, 1 Peter 5:7).

(Here is an excellent video about examining oneself with God: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhfUzodLRvk)

3) LISTEN

In our world of microwave meals and lighting fast Google searches, listening is not a strong suit. We want to get to the point, get there quick, and do it our way. But in scripture, listening is highly important. Jesus's conversations nearly always involved dialogue, rather than just instruction. Elijah had to listen carefully for God's still small voice (1 Kings 19:11-13). James 1:19 says that we should be "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry." Too often, we get this backwards.

I remember in grade school teachers saying something like, "God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason, because we need to listen twice as much as we talk." That simple wisdom have proven true over the years, and while I occasionally wish I had spoken up about something, but more often I say something and then wish I could grab the words out of the air and shove them back into my mouth. Nobody has ever gotten themselves in trouble for listening too carefully, but how often are messes started when someone speaks?

And as we strive to listen, let's practice listening to understand, not just listening to respond. Too often, we hear part of what someone says, then we go into planning mode to find out what to say back to them. In doing this, we shortchange them on being heard, and we shortchange ourselves on learning. Listening to understand is modeled for us throughout the life of Christ - He hears people's cries and concerns, looks at them, loves them, makes contact with them, and then replies or heals. If you want to get better at listening to understand, try practicing "active listening" or "empathic listening" - be sure you are understanding the other's perspective before you respond (https://www.smallgroups.com/articles/2011/power-of-active-listening.html).

Lastly, the most important thing about listening is that it builds relationships, and relationship is a key component of God's work and our's. If we are willing to hear someone else's perspective on life, to listen deeply and sincerely to them, to be a friend to that person (even if we don't always see eye-to-eye) we can be part of a positive change, and more importantly, we can reflect the heart of Jesus.

(This is a short video that may help with active listening: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5NmBZUj5tU)

 

This is not a comprehensive list, but I can tell you what is: LOVE GOD, LOVE OTHERS. (Matthew 22:36-40)

 


You can access other resources about this subject at www.sscofc.org/racialunity

 

6 Responses

  1. Mighty fine!
    Listening & patience are my “works in progress”!
    Thank you brother

    • Thank you, Gary. Anyone working on listening & patience is in good company and on the right track!

  2. Chris,

    Well said! Outstanding! I appreciate all you do at Southside. Since I am temporarily preaching for the Denton Church of Christ, Jan and I don’t get to see our many friends and brothers and sisters at church there. We also miss sitting every Sunday morning with Scott and Heather. Blessings!! Tom

    • Thank you, Tom! You and Jan are missed at Southside, but glad that the Denton church is blessed by your presence and preaching

  3. Excellent article Chris, thanks for sharing this.

  4. One thought I have is racism is rebellion against God. It is questioning God’s creation. Genesis 1:26 tells us man was made in God’s image. 2 Corinthians 5:15 tells us Christ died for ALL. When we oppress people and are indifferent to their suffering we are saying God made them inferior and that He made a mistake. Either we believe the TRUTH or we ignore it. Who are we any of us to question God’s creation ?

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