I am taking a break from considering the difference between “the righteous” and “the wicked” in Scripture to return to a related topic that erupted publicly in recent weeks: racial injustice. It is related because God’s character is righteousness and justice at His core.
As an attorney, I have had the privilege (and sacred duty) to devote some time to a local organization known as Administer Justice that serves the poor, vulnerable and under-privileged in communities around the country. A great many of “those people” are minorities, immigrants and “the working poor”. I’ve had the honor of getting know some real servants of the Gospel in the process, like Bruce Strom, the founder and executive director of this organization.
I am reading through his book, Gospel Justice. I’ve owned the book for a long time, probably years. I started it a long time ago, and I am still not through it yet. I hate to admit that other more “interesting” subjects and diversions distract me easily from the seemingly mundane subject of justice.
If I truly want to know God’s heart, to follow Jesus and to work out my salvation as God works within me to will and to act according to His good purpose, though, justice is at the very core of all of these things – because it’s at the foundation of God’s throne. (Psalm 89:14)
We can’t talk about justice in the United States in the 21st century without talking about the issue of racial disparities. The recent events following the killing of George Floyd (and others) have focused national attention on the issue. As the national dialogue continues, though the fervor is waning, we in the Body of Christ need to continue our dialogue..
I am reminded, again, of the issue as I read and of the great need for the Body of Christ collective to participate as God would have us get involved in the discussion, action and changes necessary to address it. My own neighborhood in the Body of Christ is the American evangelical church. Thus, I write this with my evangelical brothers and sisters in mind.
This particular passage in Bruce Strom’s book inspires my thoughts today:
“The division between Jews and Gentiles was the great divide of the first century.
“In America that great divide is race, and it remains a leading contributor to injustice. In their book, Divided by Faith, Michael Emerson and Christian Smith examine the role of white evangelicalism in race relations. Based on extensive interviews and study, they conclude that the evangelical church, with its focus on individual salvation, not only misses the opportunity to break down the great divide between the races, but also contributes to it.
“This view is shared by my friend Ed Gilbreath, who wrote Reconciliation Blues. ‘A sad tendency of evangelical faith is to elevate the act of evangelism over the humanity of the people we want to reach…. Apparently, any time an ethnic minority speaks out against race-related injustice, he risks being branded a malcontent in need of therapy.’
“Racial injustice is real….
“We must not walk on by [like the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan] as if racial injustice does not exist. We should listen to our neighbors of color who understand well the injustices in their community. And our friends of race should not give up, but seek opportunity to lead by example.”
I am reminded that the evangelical tradition is informed by people like Wycliffe and Luther. The championed the principal that salvation is by faith in the grace of God, not by works that we can do. That and the primacy of Scripture and the need for individual members of the Body of Christ to read Scripture for themselves and to pray to God our Father, not through some intermediary, but directly one on one.
These things have driven the evangelical church to seek and save the lost, bringing them the Gospel with the message of salvation to all individuals who believe, repent of their sins and put their faith in the lordship and salvation wrought by Jesus on the cross. These are hallmarks of evangelicalism. They are indeed central to the purposes of God.
I am reminded that, when Jesus stood up in the Temple to announce the beginning of his ministry in Luke 4, he read this from the Isaiah scroll:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel…. (v.18)
When the evangelical church considers the Great Commission – “[G]o and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20) – preaching the Gospel comes primarily to mind. Evangelicalism has been a champion of preaching the Gospel.
But, I think that sometimes we forget that Jesus he didn’t stop there. The passage in Isaiah from which Jesus read continued (quoting from Isaiah 61:1):
He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.