This summer ( and let’s be honest – the past few years even! ) has been one of increasingly tense race relations in our country. Sadly, many black men have lost their lives in recent months at the hands of police officers – both black and white – whom the media would like to vilify as being racist and staunchly anti-black. News reports feed the fire and fan the flames of racial tension, supposed prejudice, and attacks against black people. Meanwhile, many whites are belittling the outcry currently arising among the black population, believing them to be making mountains out of molehills, to be guilty of excusing black men who were actually in the wrong, to be failing to realize the great freedom and respect they, as blacks, have gained since the days of the Civil Rights Movement, and to not be expressing adequate gratitude for how far they have come.
Sadly, the Church at large has been largely very quiet about this whole issue as of late. If anything, the consensus seems to be either the extreme side of belittling and disdaining the blacks who are crying “Foul!” or else the extreme side of those wanting to rise up in arms against the “oppressive white folk”. Neither stance is helpful, neither stance is Christ-like. And though many in the Church are failing to take advantage of it, I believe that the racial tension going on in our country today is a prime opportunity to share the Gospel, to shine a spotlight on the characteristics of the true Body of Christ, and to spread the love of Jesus around to all folks, both to those families of police officers who are hurting as well as to those families of black victims who are hurting, and to everyone in between.
There are four main points we would all do well to consider in light of the racial unrest existing in our nation today, and they are as follows:
We are all One in Christ Jesus
Unfortunately, racism, towards both blacks and whites, is alive and well in our country, though we would like to sweep the issue under the rug and choose not to believe it is so. There are whites who think they are better than blacks. There are blacks who think they are better than whites. Both are wrong. The idea of there being different races as well as the concept that one or more races are better than others are inherently evolutionary in their foundation. So, let’s instead turn to the Scriptures today and allow God’s Word to speak for itself on this issue:
“Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:26-27
“And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,” ~Acts 17:26
“…where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” ~Colossians 3:11
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” ~Galatians 3:28
So, you see, we – no matter what the color of our skin may be (which is a ridiculous thing to base someone’s inherent worth on, anyway!) – all have a common father, Adam (Acts 17:26). Likewise, we were all made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and when we are saved, we each become a member of the body of Christ and of the Family of God, are all one in Him, and have Christ in each of us. Do we have different skin color? Yes. Do we have different cultures and practices? Yes. Do we have different histories and preferences? Yes. But our inherent worth, our very dignity itself, do not stem from any of those things. Those are all merely secondary, outward characteristics. At the end of the day, we – each and every one of us who walk the face of the earth – have been made in the image of God and that is what gives us our inherent worth, an inherent worth which is deep, ingrained into our very being, and completely equal in all of us.
People of all Backgrounds Will be in Heaven
Though thankfully not as pervasive as the racist thinking was centuries and even mere decades ago, there are unfortunately still professing Christians in this country who are so steeped in racial prejudice that humanly-speaking, they would be in for a rude awakening when they get to Heaven! Now, I say humanly-speaking, because we know that, in reality, we will be finally freed from all our sinful attitudes and actions in Heaven. But were this not the case, both black and white supremacists alike would find Heaven hard to stomach, for the Word of God says:
“9 And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,” ~Revelation 5:9
“9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” ~Revelation 7:9
Heaven is going to be this amazing conglomeration of people from every kind of background imaginable, each of whom the Lord died for, redeemed, sanctified, and glorified. I think that’s pretty awesome! And you should, too.
We Need to be “Swift to Hear”
“19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” ~James 1:19-20
“16 Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. 17 Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” ~Romans 12:16-18
“16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” ~James 3:16-17
A big problem I see today in how we as Americans respond to these incidences of black folks being shot by police, is that we fail to seek to understand the feelings and perspective of those on the other side of this issue from us. We automatically think we are right – oftentimes without full study of the facts of the particular case and without having witnessed the incident ourselves – and then we get all up in arms over the apparent prejudice or outrage of the other side. If we are white or we have a close personal connection with a member of the police force, our tendency can be to belittle what the blacks are going through, to call them immature or ridiculous for having the feelings that they do, to automatically view them as the primary root of the problem or the instigators, and to think them ungrateful cry babies in our culture today where they at least have more freedom and respect than they used to. We immediately jump to speaking of how hard the police have it, the hard choices they have to make, what they are required and trained to do, etc., without first considering the pain and difficulty which exist on both sides of the issue. If a person is black, likewise, the tendency in these situations can be to automatically lament each of these shooting occurrences as somehow resulting from racist mindsets, to instantly view the police as the main problem, to think the police force all prejudiced and anti-black (even the black police!), and to, again, think only of the pain and difficulty suffered by they themselves rather than thinking of the heartache experienced by folks on the other side. Both responses are wrong. Both are a jumping to conclusions and hasty emotional responses which are not healthy and do not lead to unity, but rather to further divides between these various groups of people.
In the case of any event such as the deaths of black men this summer at the hands of police officers, we need to first take a deep breath, calm our emotions, and seek to understand. We – no matter what side we come at this from! – need to seek to see things from our brother’s point of view and extend a hand of sincere concern, compassion, understanding, love, and grace to them, putting away all lofty thoughts of ourselves or beliefs that we are automatically right and they are automatically wrong. When tragedies like this take place -and that is what these shootings are, regardless of whether or not the victims were at fault; loss of life is always a tragedy- we need to first realize that there are people deeply affected and hurting on both sides. It isn’t easy for an officer to pull his gun and take a person’s life. Some have nightmares from this. It isn’t easy for a police officer’s family to see their loved one’s name dragged through the mud on national television or to see riots and looting result from said officer’s actions. It isn’t easy for these families to watch as their family members in the police force are viewed as racist simply because of their jobs. It isn’t easy for police departments such as those in Dallas to see members of their own gunned down in the streets. Likewise, it isn’t easy for a black Mama to loose her black son. It isn’t easy for a black girlfriend to see her boyfriend gunned down in their car, all the while knowing that her 4 year old daughter also witnessed that horrific moment. It isn’t easy for blacks to feel like there are still folks in this country who view them as less-than, as objects, as stupid, as lacking in importance or worth in comparison to whites. Nobody in the racial unrest in this country has it easy and nobody on either side has it right all the time or wrong all the time, either one. The love of Jesus compels us to love others and to seek to hear their pain, understand their pain, carry their burden with them, and help them to rise above, not to roll our eyes at them or belittle them. If we truly want to heal the racial tension beginning to rage again in our country, we would all do well to ignore the emotionally-charged media presentations and instead seek to listen to the hearts of those involved. May we never forget to “above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.'” (1 Peter 4:8).
Understand that there is Nothing Inherently Wrong with Cultural Differences – They are Something to be Celebrated!
Another part of the problem which leads to racism and racial tension is that, oftentimes, we end up fearing or disliking that which we do not know or understand. Let’s face it – the cultural backgrounds and practices of whites vary greatly from that of blacks which also vary from that of asians, and so on. I believe that is a good thing! So long as we are not talking of practices which go against Scriptural teaching, our own unique cultural practices can – and should!- be something we delight in and embrace (and give others the freedom to do so, as well!). They illustrate the uniqueness and creativity which exist among the body of Christ as a whole. 1 Corinthians 12, though primarily referring to the topic of diverse spiritual gifts, nevertheless celebrates – and speaks to the importance of! – diversity (and yet unity) in the body of Christ. It’s a good thing! How dull would our world be if we were all the same. Instead, the myriad skin tones, cultures, and histories of all the many people groups in the world clearly and beautifully point to the immense creativity of our God. It’s amazing! For example, I, for one, love how worship services are oftentimes conducted in black churches – you have the black men dressed to the nines, black women in their spiffy hats, and joyous celebration and shouts of “Amen!” and “Praise God!” scattered throughout the service. They put their all into their worship of God and it’s an awesome thing to behold. And this is just one example. So, the next time we are tempted to look down on someone because of their own unique cultural background, let’s pause and instead rejoice in the beauty of creativity and diversity amongst the peoples of the world whom God has created. For, just as I said two weeks ago that God is not an American, so today I say, [clickToTweet tweet=”God is not white. Likewise, He is not black. ” quote=”God is not white. Likewise, He is not black. “] We best stop acting as if He were and realize that no people group is inherently better or more important than another. This realization would go far in healing the kind of awful racial tension, prejudice, and misunderstandings we see all too alive and well in America today. We are all equal and we need to start treating each other as if this is the case!
Having said this, I do think it important to, at the same time, balance out our embracing and celebration of our own unique cultures with the important understanding that God hates pride and it does no one in this cultural climate any good when we place actual pride in the color of our skin – regardless of what it is! – or in the culture of our heritage or in the history of our people group, at the expense of our humility. Cultural differences can be a beautiful thing, but when we place too much pride in them, this does nothing but further the racial divide. Can and should we embrace our uniqueness, our cultural vibrancy and our own unique heritage? Most certainly, so long as they do not go against Scripture. Different does not automatically mean wrong or bad or less-than. But in so doing, we must also be careful to not actually become arrogant and prideful based on these differences or think our culture supreme to another. There is a balance to be had here.
Lest we think otherwise, much is at stake in this racially-charged current culture of ours. We have a crucial choice to make. Are we going to show the watching world that we are Christ’s disciples by loving one another (John 13:35) and considering one another more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3)? Or we going to serve as Satan’s helpers as he seeks to sow disunity, hate, and discord in the Church and to tarnish our witness in the world? We cannot let the Devil divide us! He is currently seeking to steal, to kill, and to destroy (John 10:10). He is working overtime to weaken the influence of the church by bringing in disillusionment, prejudice, and ugly pride (which we know does nothing but stir up strife -Proverbs 28:25). He is seeking to keep our focus off of the main thing -that being Christ and His wonderful salvation freely offered to all, regardless of skin color- and to put it instead on earthly, passing-away things, such as racial differences. Don’t fall prey to his schemes, brothers and sisters. Love one another. Seek to understand the feelings and viewpoints of each other. Serve one another and consider others more important than yourselves. View everyone you meet as someone made in the image of God and show them the honor and respect due someone bearing God’s image. This is the answer. Christ is the answer. The answer is not found in protests, sit-ins, rallies, looting, or riots. The answer is not found in debates and in representing the other side in an awful light. The healing answer is the Savior. May we never forget that and may we seek to spread the Good News to all with whom we come into contact. And, in the midst of all this unrest, may God’s name be praised!
Until next week,
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*** NOTE: For further excellent reading on this topic, check out the article entitled, “#AllSoulsMatter: 7 Reasons Why My Faith, Not My Race, Comes First” here! ***