I am an alumnus of the University of Oklahoma (2003). Thanks to Trinity Baptist Church of Norman and the Baptist Student Union, my three years in the Sooner State were some of the most spiritually formative of my life. I have great love for my alma mater—I by far own more clothing advertising the school than any other single thing. Often, walking around where I now live, the clothing is mistaken as an advertisement for OU football. That’s only an added bonus, I am a proud Sooner even when the football team has a bad year.
Needless to say, recent news coverage of my university has not been favorable. This thanks to a heinous chant by members of a now disbanded fraternity and video phones.
Actually heinous is probably too soft a word to describe the chant. Besides multiple uses of a derogatory slur, the lyrics harkened back to the days of lynch mobs and advocated bodily harm, indeed the taking of life due to the color of one’s skin. Let’s not go too far and say that the fraternity brothers singing the song actually promote violence, but their song did.
News outlets have been arguing if the school administration went too far in their punishment; free speech after all… Discipline was warranted. Was that the right call?–that can be debated. Whatever the university’s actions, even better, from my connections on Facebook to my old ministry leaders, I have seen a wonderful Christian response: standing firm for the inclusiveness and redemptive power of the gospel for all peoples and leading conversations on the topics of race and racism.
This leads me to the point of my post: how should we as churches respond redemptively to racism no matter our locale—Oklahoma, Missouri (where I am, which we have Ferguson in the news again), New York, Arizona, etc.?
Some thoughts. First, we must hold high the banner of truth that racism of any stripe is an affront to the gospel and inherently anti-gospel. One of the most beautiful passages in Revelation comes in 5:9-10 where the twenty four elders fall down before the Lamb and sing,
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.
No matter where you look—Genesis 1-2, Genesis 12, Exodus 19, Psalm 67, Matthew 28, Acts 2, etc.—God’s plan has always been global. Through Jesus, he creates a Family of people from every background, skin color, language, and social class conceivable. God is not interested in one particular nation or race, his heart is for them all. Once (not in my current location), I was at an associational meeting where a conversation took place about whether or not to deed some land owned by the association to a Hispanic church plant. One man objected, “It’s my understanding that when that land was given it was meant to be used for one of our churches” aka mostly white and English speaking.
Granted it can be used for social class as much as it can be used for race, but our people is sometimes used to divide. But, according to the gospel, if they are in Christ they are our people. More than that, Paul explained in Ephesians 2 that Jesus came to utterly destroy the dividing walls of hostility between classes of people (Jews and gentiles in focus). He came to make us a diversified one living together as a household and a holy temple.
Christians of different backgrounds than us (whatever us we happen to fall under) are even more than our people—they’re our household, our family.
Truly, through the lens of the gospel, when we look at the world we are to see only two types of people: (1) those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ, our family with whom we have an intimate bond through the Holy Spirit; and (2) those who aren’t but have the potential to become our brothers and sisters in Christ through our love, our self-sacrifice, and our sharing.
Last night (3/11) on CNN, anchor Don Lemon interviewed a member of the KKK. According to the klansman, Adam wasn’t the first man from whom the rest of humanity came; he was the first white man from whom white people came. It’s a perfect display of jaw-dropping ignorance that demands a louder voice.
From one man, every single one of us came. By one man, the last Adam, Jesus, people from every single background may have redemption and a place in the Family. Racism stands against everything the gospel stands for.
Second, we must confront the sins in our camp and disciple one another. As followers of Jesus, we must hold ourselves accountable under the Standard of God’s word. Why are people racists? Because we’re sinners. Why does racism persist even among people who claim the name Jesus? Because we’re redeemed sinners under a long, slow process of sanctification.
As individuals, we have a duty to each other to take care of the planks in our own eyes so we can help fish out the specks in other people’s eyes (Matthew 7). This means, we hold ourselves under the accountability of others; and others hold themselves under our accountability. When we see sin of any stripe, including racism, it is our Jesus-commanded duty to go that person and point it out (Matthew 18). If they refuse to confess and repent, it is our duty to go back with a band of brothers and/or sisters and confront them together. If they still refuse to repent, it is our duty to bring it before the church. And if that still will not sway them, it is our duty to say to them, “Your life does not reflect the grace and values of Jesus. Until you turn from your sin and turn to him, we can no longer consider you a brother or sister in Christ.”
Same with our fellow churches, especially those that we associate with in our conventions. When we see racism expressed on a church-wide level, we must confront it, call for repentance, and disfellowship those refusing to repent.
On the positive side, we must disciple better. Redemptive discipleship will address this issue because the Bible addresses the issue, and because it continues to be a blight in our culture. This is more than teaching our kids in children’s church songs that go, “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” This is bringing the realities of Revelation 5 and Ephesians 2 to play in our churches, homes, workplaces, and schools. This is teaching each other and teaching our children to value diversity because Jesus is the Savior of the world, and teaching that everyone we see and meet is either our brother and sister in Christ or our potential brother and sister, with all of God’s glorious creativity on display.
Third, we must extend grace to the broken and repentant. Paul says something beautiful and grace-filled in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Such were some of you, but…
Paul’s list is representative and not exhaustive. You could add racist without violating the meaning of God’s word. The Kingdom is a place where there is no room for sin. None of us are fit for God’s Kingdom then, at least on our own. Every single one of us fit somehow into the such were some of you. Yet, through the grace of God in Jesus, we have the hope of the but.
As those now washed, sanctified, and justified we have a two-fold duty to reach out. We reach out to those hurt by the sins of others, the victims of racism (in our present case). We shine the grace of God and the light of acceptance. We make clear the call: there is a place for healing.
And, we reach out to those who are the racists. There is hope of forgiveness, redemption, and transformation in Jesus. Even if they are the face of negative press, we make clear the same call: there is a place for healing. We invite them into the glory of such were some of you.
As one of the beatitudes says, we are to be the peacemakers. Our King is the King of peace—peace between the sinner and God, and peace between redeemed sinner and redeemed sinner. We are to be the hands and the voice of the hope of reconciliation.
Fourth, we must listen with the most open ears and speak with the clearest voice. The politicians on both sides tend to be the loudest voices in these situations. Far too often, conservative Christianity has rested in the pockets of a particular party, trying to be carried along for the ride. The problem is, though, political parties have their own agendas and it isn’t Jesus.
Most talking heads when it comes to this issue lack in the ability for rational thought. On the one side (typically the left), there are those who chase after racism under every rock and ignore the realities of racism which occurs in the reverse direction we typically think. On the other side (typically the right), there are those who seem in denial about the reality that racism is still rampant. They seem to think that some legislation of the sixties and the election of an ethnic minority to the office of president solved everything. Any occurrences, then, are spot fires and not indicative of a systemic problem.
Both sides are wrong.
Racism will always be a systemic problem to various degrees, because it is a sin problem and sin is THE systemic problem. On the other hand, no, that does not mean that every criticism of politicians who are of an ethnic minority are inherently based in racism. Further, yes certain legislation and avenues of education are necessary to combat the problem; but they will not fix the problem. Then back to the other hand, no matter what us Caucasians may think about various situations, the fact is that our brothers and sisters of other ethnicities at the very least feel various systems in our society are against them; and they feel this because their experiences have verified it.
James says, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak” (1:19).
Are we quick to hear? Are we in the present ethnic majority quick to put the talking heads of pundits out of our minds and actually listen to those who feel marginalized and hurt? Are we willing to weep with them when they are weeping? Are we willing to call out for justice with them when they feel wronged and robbed? Are we quick to place ourselves among the marginalized and say, “Tell me your story”? Are we quick to hear and slow to speak any lines that marginalize their feelings and experiences of marginalization?
And then when we do speak, do we speak in a way that shows we understand them and desire the best for everyone? Do we speak in a way that shows grace and hope, avoiding dismissiveness? Do we speak in a way that lets the glory of God in Christ rule the day?
Let’s deal with the issue. Let’s say to racism: not in our church! Let’s bring the Balm of Healing to the marginalized and hurting.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb… ~Revelation 7:9