The Need for the Church to Address Racial Injustice

Everyone agrees there is a racial disparity problem. Only people on the fringes deny the problem.

I believe the Bible teaches that Christians who seek to follow Jesus as he followed the Father should be as earnest in doing justice as they are in preaching the Gospel. The Gospel and justice go hand in hand. The evangelical church, however, has fallen short on the justice side of the equation.

I believe the evangelical church has left a void in the area of justice that has allowed new, competing philosophies to take over the cultural space. Critical race theory has become the loudest voice in that arena.

Many Christians who are justice-minded have gravitated toward critical race theory to give a voice to the injustice they see because the church is not speaking to it. Without realizing that critical race theory may be another gospel that runs antithetical to the true Gospel, they may be embracing ways of thinking that could be harmful.

Critical race theory defines the problem and the solution in terms that do not align with the Gospel and to biblical truth. That is not to say there is no redeeming value to critical race theory, that it is inherently evil, or that people who espouse CRT are wicked or evil.

CRT is a man-made construct, and it’s not the Gospel. Inevitably it’s a solution that doesn’t get to the heart of the problem and doesn’t bring about true justice.

The Gospel offers true justice.

The Gospel says that all humans are made in the image of a holy God. All human beings, therefore, have intrinsic value that cannot be denied. We honor God and do right be each other by recognizing that in our thoughts and actions.

Love God and love your neighbor is the simple formula for recognizing the reality of human value in our thoughts and actions. This simple phrase is the summation of the Law of God boiled down to its essence. If we actually did that, there would be no injustice.

The problem with men is sin (missing the mark), transgression (breaking trust with God and people) and iniquity (brokenness). We often don’t do the right things we know we ought to do. W often want to go our own ways and to please ourselves rather than love God and love our neighbors.

The Gospel teaches that we have all fallen short (missed the mark). We have all broken trust with God and people. We are broken in our own ways, and we need help we cannot provide for ourselves.

Jesus offers the solution to the sin problem by taking on the sin of all people (of all races) on himself and setting us free (ultimately) from the consequences of sin. Jesus does that so we can have relationship with God who, then, begins to work within us to will and to act according to His good purpose.

That reality is borne out in the process of personal sanctification (vertically) and in just relationships with our fellow man (horizontally).

We do not achieve salvation by anything that we do. It’s a free gift available to all of us by grace. We simply need to embrace it. Salvation takes away the shame and the ultimate consequence of sin, which is death (physically and spiritually).

Salvation also frees us up to live as God intended by the help of the Holy Spirit who takes up residence within people who yield to Him. We demonstrate that by our love for God and our love for people. We no longer live for ourselves; we now live for God and others if we have truly been born again and received God’s gift of salvation and His Spirit.

Racism is the sin of partiality. (James 2) In Christ, there is no Jew nor Gentile; no male nor female; and no black, nor white or brown. We are all one in Christ, and the ultimate goal of the Gospel is to unite all humanity in Christ with God the Father. The picture of that ultimate goal was given to the Apostle John in a vision:

“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….” (Rev. 7:9)

Most people can see there is a racial disparity problem in the United States. We might not agree on all the causes or what to do about it. Only people on the fringes deny the problem of racial injustice.

The evangelical church, unfortunately, has had a very spotty track record on the issue of racism. A large segment of the evangelical church supported slavery in our more distant past. It was also a segment of the evangelical church who championed abolition and freedom.

Many Christians with a heart for justice are (rightfully) responding to the voices speaking to the issue of racial disparity, but many of those voices are using CRT as their guide. We have, to some extent, failed to develop a robust, biblical response to racial injustice, so people even in the church use the language that is available.

The loudest voices in the marketplace of ideas are speaking from a platform of critical race theory.  The failure of the church to step into the breach has left room for CRT to come in. We have abdicated the church’s role to the secularists, and some people may have followed those voices out of the church.

The Bible reveals that sin is mainly a personal, individual issue, but laws can be passed that institutionalize that sin. Jesus spoke against sinful (mainly religious) systems in the first century, and we should speak against them in the present time. This is not CRT.

The idea of individual sin and corporate sin is scriptural. We ultimately face God alone and are responsible for our own lives, but the prevalence of individual sin can lead to corporate sin that is characteristic and endemic of a group of people.

When the prophets spoke, they were speaking to the collective “you” of Israel and Judah. When Amos prophesied, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.” He was speaking to the nation as a whole.

When Amos spoke the word of God, to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” he was urging the nation, individually and collectively, to do justice. When people don’t do justice, and when a lack of justice becomes prevalent, it can be said to be “systemic”.

Systemic racism exists in the US, and it can be seen in cultural, legal, economic and other structures that result in unequal outcomes. For instance, black men are sentenced more often, for longer sentences and spend more time in jail than white men for the same crimes. This exposes  what sociologists call “systematic injustice”.

When sin was prevalent in Israel and Judah, it became normalized, and the prophets God sent to warn them of impending judgment were seen as men who were out of step and were ignored. In that sense, injustice became endemic and systemic (to use modern terminology). What were, perhaps, once conscious choices to deviate from God’s law became habitual and normalized over time.

Abortion is an example of systematic injustice that began with conscious partiality. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, made it her express goal to reduce the black population by promoting the abortion of black babies. We no longer think of abortion today as targeting the black community, but the impact of abortion on the black community today continues to be far greater than the impact on the white community proportionally.

When Christians express concern for racism, and especially systemic racism, they sometimes get labeled Marxists and heretics out of fear that doing justice means subscribing to unbiblical ideas. Justice, however, is at the very foundation of God’s throne! (Psalm 89)

Justice couldn’t be more biblical!

As Christians, we have to call out false gospels, but we also need to speak into the space where injustice, including racial injustice, exists. We need to emphasize the beauty of diversity and the end goal, which is people of every tribe and tongue singing the praises of God. (Rev. 7:9)

When we saw George Floyd being mistreated, we saw the image of God underneath someone else’s knee. It was deeply offensive to justice. We should be deeply offended by what we saw. We should also be sensitive to other incidents of similar actions and unequal outcomes that reveal a subconscious partiality against the black community in the way they are treated and the white community responds to them.

Too often we find ourselves simply disagreeing with the voices that are speaking out just because they are not Christian voices. If they are speaking to actual injustice, we are turning a blind eye. It doesn’t matter who is pointing out injustice. Distancing ourselves from them (and from the injustice) falls miserably short of doing the justice God calls us to do.

“This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor.” (Zech. 7:9-10)

Biblical justice on the horizontal plane includes justice in our legal, cultural, social, educational and other arenas  (systems) and personal justice in our relationships with each other. We need to deal with the poor and rich, male and female, black and white, equally. We need to do this individually and strive for such equality and fairness by our influence in the broader, cultural context of the systems in which we participate.

We need to recognize that people may define racism differently. Thus, we often talk past each other without realizing it. Critical race theory frames racial prejudice in terms of power. Christians can recognize that power is a component of injustice, as injustice rarely flows from the weak to the strong, or the powerless to the powerful.

Thus, Christians should be able to acknowledge that critical race theory is (at least partially) correct in diagnosing the problem source for systematic racism – centers of power that are corrupted by some inherent unfairness that disproportionally impacts people of color. To the extent this is true, it is evidence of sin (missing the mark), transgression (breaking faith and trust with people) and inequity (brokenness).

Critical race theory asserts that only the powerful are capable of racism (because only they have power and privilege), which ignores the reality of sin and personal accountability. They ignore it to the detriment and harm of individuals who need the salvation Jesus offers with the healing and transformative power of forgiveness and freedom from sin.

CRT is not evil, in and of itself, but it is not the Gospel. We don’t need to demonize it, but we do need to be mindful that only the Gospel has the power to save. When CRT tools identify areas of unjust partiality, we need to be able to recognize it and agree. When CRT tools depart from biblical solutions, we need to offer the Gospel in its place.

Christians need to recognize injustice and respond to it, but we need fix our eyes on the truth. Only God has the power to save and transform lives. Only God has the recipe for true justice.

We need to Pray!! Before we speak or do anything, we need to pray!

We must not shame each other. If that is our impulse, it doesn’t align with the Holy Spirit, and we need to check ourselves. There is no condemnation in Christ.

Still, we need to speak out. Though Jesus said he didn’t come to judge the world, but to save it, many people were self-righteously indignant at what he said and took offense to it. People still react that way today.

We can affirm that black lives DO matter. We can say that black lives matter while distinguishing ourselves from the organizations that operate on platforms and principals that are antithetical to the Gospel. We can acknowledge areas of common ground (identifying injustice, for instance) without giving ourselves to heretical positions.

We can, and we must, stand for justice and stand against injustice when we encounter it. If the church won’t stand for justice and won’t stand against injustice, other people will. If the church abdicates that space to others, the result will not be true justice, and God will not be fully or accurately represented and to the world by the church.

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