Although the dust has settled (somewhat) on racial tensions since the maelstrom that was kicked up in the wake of the George Floyd killing in Minnesota, no one should think that the issue has been settled or will go away without some resolution. The country, including the church community, is divided on the facts, and issues, and measures that should be employed to resolve the racial tension. Even people of good will are uncertain on how to move forward.
A predominant worldview has emerged in academia that is filtering down into local communities that frames the issue and potential resolution in terms of oppression. This worldview divides the world into the oppressed and their oppressors. The people who hold to that narrative are aggressively pushing for change.
They push the people they are define as the oppressors in the racial tension. The people defined as the oppressors are white and predominantly “Christian” in name (at least). As with the laws of nature, so with the laws of natural human tendencies: when someone pushes, people being pushed naturally push back.
So it is today that the predominantly white, Evangelical Church in the United States is feeling the pressure of the desire and demand for change to address the racial disparities and tensions in our world, and we are tempted to reflexively push back against that pressure.
But how should we respond?
I have written on the differences between Critical Race Theory and biblical justice. We should recognize that the worldview based on the CRT framework is not biblical, though many of our brethren of color and more progressive white Christians have embraced it.
I submit, though, that CRT has come to prominence in the African American churches and among progressive white churches because the Church, generally, has left a vacuum, and “nature abhors a vacuum”. We have failed to recognize and address in a biblical way the deep and lasting pain of racism that continues to exist in a society that only recognized equal rights for African Americans in my lifetime.
The failure of the Church to address racial issues left room for a completely secular and unbiblical approach to sweep in. So, other than acknowledge our failure, what do we do now?
It’s certainly not too late. It’s never too late to do what is right.
First of all, I think the pushback is counterproductive. Many people in the church are pushing back against the CRT worldview and spending enormous time, energy and capital distinguishing CRT from a biblical worldview. If we devoted our attention, not in pushing back, but in advancing forward a biblical response to the racial disparities and tensions, we would accomplish our goal of distinguishing a biblical response from unbiblical responses without counterproductive confrontation with the very people who need our salt and light.
As for a biblical response, I note that Christianity was, from the very start, an experiment in “multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, quasi-familial community” (as NT Wright put it in speaking to Justin Brierley recently on the Ask NT Wright Anything podcast). In the earliest Christian community, there was neither Jew nor Greek, neither freeman nor slave, neither male or female – all were considered one in Christ. (Gal. 3:28)
Christianity was and is meant to transcend all the natural barriers to human relationships. Jesus broke down the walls of hostility that exist between people, and he is our peace! (Eph. 2:14) The ultimate destination of all Christians is revealed to us in a vision given to the Apostle John described in the Book of Revelations:
“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, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”Rev. 7:9-10
God’s very purpose is to bring people together from every nation, tribe, people and language into fellowship around the Lamb of God, Jesus, where we will enjoy His company and each other’s company for eternity. Thus, we need to realize, understand and identify with this ultimate purpose of God deep in our own being. We are citizens of heaven, not of earth, and we need to see the world through those eyes.
In looking to the Bible for direction, we should understand that skin color was not at all an issue in the 1st Century. People in the Middle East at that time would have had all shades of skin color imaginable. Skin color simply wasn’t an issue, but there were other issues that separated people (religion, citizenship, class, gender, etc.). The Christian response is to affirm that there is no hierarchy in Christ: all are one.
James is clear at the same time, that “favoritism” is sin. James used the example of showing “special attention” to people wearing “fine clothes”, while ignoring the poor. (James 2:1-4) Favoritism is the same thing as prejudice or bias. If we show favoritism to people on the basis of skin color, we sin; if we ignore the pain of people of color while focusing on exclusively our own concerns, we sin.
We need to realize, though, that we can sincerely maintain an attitude of wishing people of color well but fail to live up to biblical faith:
“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”James 2:15-17
Unlike CRT, which ultimately provides no redemption other than change (a never ending cycle), a biblical worldview offers redemption, forgiveness of sins and true reconciliation, but those things require repentance – a sincere change of heart that results in deeds that accompany the heart change.
We should not fall into the trap of thinking that our salvation depends on righting the racial wrongs, but our salvation should lead us into good deeds that are commensurate with the grace God has given us. That means we will be about the Father’s business in bringing people together.
There is so much more to be said, but I am reminded simply of the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. They have much application to the racial issues we face. How we apply these things may look different for each of us, but following are some of those principals that may be relevant in the order they appear in the text.
Perhaps, you might be moved to pray through them and listen to what the Holy Spirit would say to you, individually.
Blessed are the peacemakers,Matt. 5:9
for they will be called children of God.
“You are the light of the world…., let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”Matt. 5:14, 16
“[I]f you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”Matt.23-24
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”Matt. 5:38-42
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….”Matt. 5:43-44
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…. No one can serve two masters…. You cannot serve both God and money.”Matt. 6:19, 24
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”Matt. 7:21
For some additional consideration, here is a five minute explanation by NT Wright:
For more resources on the subject, you might get the book, Reading While Black, by Esau McCauley.