Over the past week, we have seen some disturbing and unforgettable images. First, we saw the unnecessary death of George Floyd, a black man, literally killed by a police officer who used illegal means to control him by forcing him to remain on the ground with his knee on his neck for 9 minutes while other officers watched without stopping it. Floyd’s crime? Passing a $20 counterfeit bill. If I had been in his shoes there is little doubt that I would still be alive.
As the country was brought to the attention of this evil, many people began demanding justice, as they should. See, this isn’t the first time in recent history that a black man died at the hands of white policemen. And while the circumstances or legitimization of each preceding case may be in question, it’s undeniable that there has been a history of targeted enforcement on people of color.
Let me be clear: racism throws away the biblical principle of imago dei, the image of God in ALL of us. Racism is a sin against all God’s people and God himself.
So over the past week, people have demanded that something has to change. And they took to the streets so their voices could be heard. Non-violent protesting has a long history in the Christian faith and in this country. Many martyrs of our faith in have been persecuted and then murdered, without raising a hand of defense. Ghandi, and then MLK Jr., took up non-violent protest to call out injustices in both India and the U.S. It became known as civil disobedience. In this country, in the 60s, it became a powerful tool to change the hearts and minds of Americans about the evils of racism and segregation in this country.
Some are arguing during this time that things have never been better for POC in this country in regards to many metrics. And yet, we still see the effects of racism in many areas of our country. Like my friend, Dr. Stout, likes to say, “In the old days, you could tell who the white supremacists were by the white hoods on their heads. Now, they just hide in the larger public.” I think there’s no doubt that “Things are better!” But better. Isn’t. Good. Enough.
We have to remember where this sense of right and wrong is coming from. The outrage and cries of injustice arise out of our God-given, moral compass that’s found in being made in the image of God. Look, I know sin has marred all of creation and our culture has drifted far away from many Christian values. But the cry and awareness for racial justice isn’t one of those areas. That should encourage us.
So what’s the solution? That’s a complex answer. That’s why I am often hesitant to speak on these subjects. I’m processing all of the information. I’m receiving and the information keeps changing and the images keep getting worse. We see thousands of peaceful protestors…& it just takes a few to ruin the message.
What we’ve been seeing most recently on the news is rioting and looting. The message of justice and racial reconciliation is getting drowned out by those who seek the opportunity to foment further division through violence. That’s not civil disobedience and it often causes a reflexive reaction that provokes white people into discounting the original reasons for protest and the questioning of the motives of those who seek change.
Let’s not conflate the peaceful protestors with the rioters. These are different groups with different agendas–one righteous and the other perverse. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. While righteous anger is of the Lord, uncontrolled fury is a tool of Satan. Rioting and looting have no place in the cause for justice. BUT, while we are quick to condemn looting and rioting, we also have to check our own attitude towards looting and rioting. How angry does that make US? Are we more angry about the original injustice of murder or of the destruction of property? Which makes us more uncomfortable?
Here’s the truth: 1) Our longing for justice and racial reconciliation is from God’s image in us. We cry out for a world that looks different and where Love reigns because we are not of this world.
2) The uncomfortable truth: it will never be perfect. As long as we live on earth there will be racism and other sins that confound us, especially those in our own lives. Maybe that’s why there is so much anger. We realize that we have been working on this as a nation for hundreds of years and we still aren’t there. So our reaction is heightened and when we aren’t guided by God’s spirit we say and do things that multiply the hurt, and injustice is paid with further injustice. The violence of the few drowns out the message of the many and ultimately mocks the principles of justice. It will never be perfect in this life. That’s why our souls long for a new earth and heaven.
3) There is hope. The Christian message of redemption isn’t simply about our salvation and getting to heaven. We believe that through the blood of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit we are in the middle of a reclamation project. Through the blood of Jesus, God has reconciled to us through grace and by faith. The Holy Spirit is in the process, if we let Him, of changing us each day more and more into the image of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ act on the cross of redemption was the beginning of this reclamation project. Maybe a better word than reclamation is renovation. God has reclaimed us and this whole world. He’s renovating it heart by heart, to look more like his perfect son, Jesus. This renovation project has been going on for two thousand years! Demonstrably, there has been immense progress with much more to go. And one day it will end, and all things will be brought to its proper place.
But during this time it means that all of us are called to participate in this renovation project. It’s our job, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to change the way the world works. It will be painful and full of heartache as dealing with sin always is. But it’s also full of joy as we celebrate victories, small and large. We will be frustrated by those who think we are wrong and we will be hurt by those who seem to agree with us but then use means of change that we can’t agree with. But we must never stop trying.
What’s the solution? I don’t have ALL the answers to that question. There are a few political things that should happen but I won’t comment on those here. The one thing in our immediate control, as people of faith, and the one thing God has commanded us to do, is to love our neighbor. Seek racial justice and reconciliation in your neighborhood, in your workplace, in your school, on your team. My white friends, we simply have no idea what it’s like to walk in the shoes of those who are different from us. We just can’t. But because Jesus is our Lord, we must love all people in word and in deed. When we hear about acts of violence or discrimination or racial epithets, we can let them know we stand with them. When we witness those things, we must call out and seek to stop people from doing those things.
Would you take time to pray today and this week, for our brothers and sisters in the African-American community? Pray that God would help them FEEL safe and that God would actually protect them from the effects of racism. Pray for the Holy Spirit to restrain sin against people, simply because of their color. Pray for justice to be done in both the George Floyd case, and other cases of violence in this country. Pray for our police officers, most of whom are trying to do their job to the best of their ability, that they would be protected during this time and would conduct themselves in ways that are honorable and protective of our wider communities. Pray that Jesus Christ would be honored and praised, for He is our Lord and Savior, conqueror of sin and death, and from whom we receive this divine inheritance as his adopted children, regardless of color.