The third installment of “Love is the Why” features the next great issue that American Christians must meet with love – or fuel with inaction.
Most Christians are not racists.
Which is, of course, a very good thing, considering that few things are so diametrically opposed to the Gospel as racism.
But there are some racist “Christians.” And some “Christians” who use Christianity to justify racism.
And many Christians are racenorant (too ignorant to be just racist, too racist to be just ignorant). And just about every single Christian (including this writer) suffers from some degree of subconscious racism.
American Christians live in a nation that is racist. And racial tensions are as high as they have been in some time. The last 300 days have seen the rise of a powerful movement of protesters that has especially focused on police brutality against black Americans. Their efforts have shed light on systemic injustices that go well beyond the guns of the police.
Race will be one of the most important issues in America in 2015 and beyond. And my heart longs for my generation be the one to finally be the change I wish to see.
American Christians are a part of this struggle. How will we acquit ourselves?
Because, so far, our participation in this issue has been pitiful. And unless we act, the 21st Century Church of AC will stand next to slaveholders and the KKK in a tradition of Christians that chose which people counted as their neighbor.
This topic, like gay marriage, is worth considerably more than a couple thousand words. Again I find myself needing to narrow the scope of my writing in order to take on something a little more manageable. In just the first 250 words of this post I have already set off numerous alarm bells and made many statements that might need clarification or justification.
First thing’s first: this Scandinavian-American perspective will comment on white American Christians and their place in this issue. Obviously black American Christians can also be racist and can also fail to live out the Gospel in race relations, but it’s not quite the same. I hope I don’t have to explain this any further.
Second, we can’t dwell on the history for now. It’s just important that you understand that, while the Christian message is unequivocally anti-racism, Christianity has in its history had some pretty big racial issues. Your idea of Christianity’s place in history might be just a tad misguided (for instance, John Newton didn’t give up slaving right after his conversion. Yikes.).
And, lastly, it’s important to understand that this is, in fact, a big deal/problem/thing/issue.
And it’s because many white American Christians either refuse to believe this is a problem or ignore the problem altogether that brings us to our place in this discussion.
Christians facing this issue have tended to use five different responses:
- “This is just a bunch of media fodder. There’s not really a problem to worry about.”
- “There’s a good explanation for all this.”
- “Those people have problems.”
- “Christ is the answer.”
- “My brothers, sisters, and neighbors are crying out in pain and I must listen and act.”
The fifth option is the only acceptable response. Walk with me here.
“There’s not really a problem….”
This the response in which the Christian avoids showing love by denying that an object in need of love even exists. The person who ignores this issue and pretends racism doesn’t exist somehow manages to be blithely ignorant of their surroundings. Or, they truly do live in a bubble that appears free of racial tension, and when some tension is introduced to that bubble, they react by playing it off as a non-issue. Because this is the most ignorant of the four responses, it is hard to call this type of response un-loving. But it is self-absorbed. I believe Christians should constantly have their ear to the ground. While we are supposed to have our beliefs and convictions, some of which we would gladly die for, we should also be always listening and considering the views of others. For an individual to think that their view of the Gospel, the Bible, God, and the rest of the world is the immaculately correct view is all sorts of obtuse. Christians should always be listening for voices that sound different from theirs, while also seeking close community with people echoing what they believe to be true. So, as a Christian, if you hear a black person saying “I’m being oppressed because of my skin color” or “The police are unfairly targeting me,” shouldn’t you take some time to listen and consider? Might there be a problem even if you hadn’t ever given it much thought?
“There’s a good explanation….”
It seems to me that white Christians are quick to explain away or justify racial injustices, perhaps especially when it comes to police brutality. Where is the love in rushing to the side of the people holding the power and the badges and the guns? How is it loving to use mental gymnastics to explain why the young unarmed black man lying dead on the street was in the wrong? Why does a crime make someone deserving of death? I wonder: if Jesus was walking through a park in Cleveland and saw Tamir Rice dying on the ground, what would he have done? I can’t speculate, but I don’t think he would have brought up how much the toy gun looked like a real one. I think he might have John 11:35’d.
“Those people have problems….”
This is the most unloving response that Christians seem ready to use. This line of thinking attributes the Baltimore Uprising to misguided anger, exploitative thuggery, moral depravity, cultural deficiencies, and urban brokenness. Essentially it seeks to bring up all the problems in the black community, and it uses those problems to mask the issues that protesters are bringing to light. Christians should have open hearts and minds. Rather than criticizing a black person for smashing a window, why don’t we ask what could have possibly made that person so mad in the first place? We can try to understand these things without condoning them. What is the Christian response? “Shame on those people. How dare they break the law.” Or “Those people are hurting and I don’t understand why they’re doing this but I want someone to help them.” Rather than creating this figure of the poor, uneducated, hip-hopping, drug-dealing, angry black person, why don’t we ask “What has made them so upset?” Why do we rush to the side of those in power? Why don’t we sympathize with the protesters?
“Christ is the answer….”
Yes. Of course Christ is the answer. I believe that with all my heart. But what does that look like? What do Christians think will be accomplished by only speaking the Gospel? I believe in the power of the Gospel, and I believe as Paul writes that the Gospel is to be proclaimed first and foremost, and I echo Lecrae’s sentiment “Lord kill me if I don’t preach the Gospel.” But since when does sitting around shouting “Jesus saves” solve anything? I am not, for a moment, minimizing the power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit. I’m maximizing the ability of God to work through Christians who go forth and live out the Gospel in their actions as they preach it. The Gospel has equipped us to join in issues of social injustice with hearts full of love as we live to glorify the name of above all names. Sitting at home and in our segregated churches is not what preaching the Gospel is about. What is masked in this response is a desire to just keep things the way they are and avoid controversy. Where in Jesus’ ministry did he avoid controversy? And, if we are to keep things the same, how is that going to do anything but just make the issue worse? And, finally, being angry is not sinful. We as Christians should get angry when we see injustice. Not rageful or hateful, and our anger should not drive us to sin, but it is okay for injustice to make us angry.
“My brothers, sisters, and neighbors are crying out in pain and I must listen and act….”
“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?” Micah 6:8
“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
If you are a Christian, you should be listening for the cries of the oppressed. And when you hear those cries, you should act. Perhaps this means acting against the government. Maybe it means causing a stir or creating controversy.
If you don’t think there is a race problem in America, you are tragically mistaken either as a result of colossal unawareness or close-minded unkindness. And if you recognize that there is a problem but decide to explain it away when it is inconvenient or just ostrich the situation altogether, then you are not acting in a loving manner.
To my brothers and sisters in Christ: please, please, make racial relations a priority in your life. Get educated in the history of black America. Seek out black perspectives. Become aware of your own racism. See the media’s racial bias. Recognize white privilege. And love. Not just those black people who wake up on a Sunday morning to get dressed up for church, but the ones marching and holding signs and even the ones who smash windows, run from the police, steal, or reach for the officer’s weapon. The Gospel message is so fundamentally opposed to everything racism stands for, and when we refuse to act against racism on the personal and systemic level, evil prospers. And to explain away or ignore an issue when fellow Christians of darker skin speak out is the type of self-centered Christianity that destroys church communities. If a Christian won’t try to believe a fellow Christian about an issue like this, there is something quite wrong.
The battle to defeat racism in America is intensifying and it will endure. No justice no peace. The movement lives. It will continue and, Lord willing, it will one day be resolved. If AC lives out the Gospel, and bears in mind the words of Micah 6:8 and Dietrich Bonhoeffer while trying to follow Christ’s example, Christians will naturally end up at the front of the charge that brings this reign of fear and hatred to an end.
But if AC continues in its current course, others will take our nation to a more progressive and humane condition while Christians waste time chasing other issues. Christians will have failed, but at least the racial situation will be better.
Or maybe the issue won’t get better. Maybe it needs Christians to heal racial wounds and bridge racial gaps with the love of the Gospel. And maybe, when white Christians are needed to step up, they will be nowhere to be found.
Just as Nero fiddled while Rome burned, perhaps Christians will carry on singing Chris Tomlin songs as the body of Black America hangs smoldering on a liberty tree.
Soli Deo Gloria