I’m swimming in it, guys. I know you are too. First it was COVID-19 and all the shifting and adjusting and crying. Today it is day 5 after the news about the killing of George Floyd and riots are raging in our backyard of Minneapolis, St. Paul, and surrounding areas.
Everyone is screaming and those of us trying to listen are drowning in confusion and fear. And yet I can’t for one second pretend my confusion and uncertainty even touches the emotions felt by my brothers and sisters of color throughout our country.
So let me just say it now- I am unqualified to speak to the subject of inequality based on race. The thousands of slights, let alone blatant racist treatments, endured by my black, brown, asian, sisters and brothers- I have not felt those. As a woman, I have been preyed upon and disregarded, but I will never pretend that means I am a survivor. I am simply a human who has occasionally fallen victim to the cruelty of others.
And I am a human that has afflicted all that and more. Maybe not in action, but in heart, and that alone was enough to send Jesus to the cross.
What I have found unsettling, more unsettling than the actions of protestors, is the response of some Christians. I won’t call them out because I cannot for a second blame them for their words. They are angry. Just like everyone else.
Only here’s the problem: we aren’t called to be just like everyone else.
While some call for justice, others cry out for vengeance. And the world burns.
We forget that the world works better when we work for justice and check our hearts for vengeance. Because vengeance is the sole property of God.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”Romans 12:19
We would do well not to rob Him of that property.
So what do we do? This is the question I believe a lot of us are asking. What can we do? Are phone calls enough? Is social posting enough? The stakes are high and I don’t want to look back on this and realize I didn’t do all that was in my power to make right this terrible wrong.
How do I carry Christ into a situation marred by hurt and hatred?
Well here’s some good news, folks. He’s already there. And this isn’t His first rodeo. He’s been there. We just have to step in.
And the first step is repentance. The battles raging are fueled by self-justification. Christian brothers and sisters, just like the rest of society, climb over each other in the struggle to be morally superior and, in the process, play “King of the Mountain” on the broken bodies and feelings of fellow members of the body of Christ.
For Christ’s sake (literally) can we just pause and stop the self-justification long enough to remember that Jesus’s death on the cross was for our sins because we aren’t good?
I’ll say it again: We aren’t good. I am not good.
I may not think I am superior to you based on our skin tones, but give me a five minute discussion and I could probably find some other way I am superior. Because that is the game we play. That is the game humanity has been playing since we assumed the role of our own personal god in the Garden.
I would not have murdered a helpless man on the street, but I have murdered countless people in my heart and with my words. And while the physical repercussions are widely different, the spiritual ones aren’t so different at all. Christ died for both. Christ died for me, just like He died for George, just like He died for the cops who killed him.
Only in a spirit of repentance can we bring Christ into the conversation in a meaningful way. We’re all running around trying to beat specks out of our neighbors eyes when we can’t even stand upright for the plank jutting out of our own. No wonder we are shaking our heads at the ridiculous, murderous actions in our midst. This is what life looks like when we remove the One True God. And still He is faithful.
I can’t pretend I know all the steps to peace and reconciliation, but I know without a doubt that it involves climbing off our high horses and scrambling onto the altar. We can’t get onto that altar fast enough.
There is only One who has ever made perfect reconciliation between sinful, venomous humanity and the pure, righteous God. More unlike any two people on earth, more enemies than any people groups could conceive, and Jesus Christ perfectly and completely accomplished reconciliation on behalf of those that were 1000% in the wrong. And His instrument of choice? The cross.
Giving His life. There was no other way. And for those of us who follow The Way, we are expected to pick up our crosses and offer ourselves, for everyone.
But it is impossible to carry our own righteousness and the cross at the same time. We may fool ourselves into believing we are capable. I have had good practice at that. But sacrifice, the kind that trusts in and glorifies God, requires emptying ourselves of our right to be angry, and being filled with the Spirit of peace.
After that the steps aren’t necessarily spelled out, but at least the fog can clear. We can offer our hearts and minds to God in prayer and ask for His renewal and transformation, and will (Romans 12:2). We can spend time listening and understanding. We can pause long enough to season our words with salt and act wisely to those within and without the body of believers (Col. 4:6). We can simultaneously abhor what is evil while clinging to what is good (Romans 12:9). We can genuinely love.
I can go on and on, really, but the truth is you should just read Romans 12 to see all that you are capable of with the Holy Spirit. It is remarkable what God can work in and through His people.
I will share this part of Romans 12 with you, though, because it is astounding how active these verbs are. There is no passivity in the life of a Christian in community. Sideline commentating might be more comfortable, but in the end it is the ones who play the game who affect the outcome.
And just so you can more easily digest all the morsels of wisdom, I am formatting it so each exhortation stands alone. (And P.S. if you think this was written to people who didn’t understand prejudice and racism, I can assure you that the melding together of “all nations” under the Gospel probably didn’t happen overnight. Check out Acts, and Romans, and 1 Corinthians…)
Let love be without hypocrisy.
cling to what is good.
Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters.
Take the lead in honoring one another.
Do not lack diligence in zeal;
be fervent in the Spirit;
serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope;
be patient in affliction;
be persistent in prayer.
Share with the saints in their needs;
Bless those who persecute you;
bless and do not curse.
Rejoice with those who rejoice;
weep with those who weep.
Live in harmony with one another.
Do not be proud;
instead, associate with the humble.
Do not be wise in your own estimation.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes.
If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.” But if your enemy is hungry, feed him.
If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.
Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.Romans 12: 921 CSB
We may or may not have personal experience with the racism of those around us, but our Savior does. Every act is done to Him. Every sin, every affront to His holiness, He carried for us to the tree.
We can learn from Him. We can learn more from that Jewish carpenter who lived over two thousand years ago, half-way around the world than we can learn from the news or our neighbor or social media, or even our own hearts.
So church, let us stop spinning and let us anchor ourselves to the feet of Jesus. Let us learn from Him. Let us put on His armor.
And then let us fight the battle knowing that, in the end, we will be victorious.
So much love and so many prayers are being poured out for you right now, Friend. May the peace of God be with you in our Savior Jesus Christ.
Photo: Taken at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The site of Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965.
For a more eloquent article about race and the church written by a beautiful black sister in Christ Sherri Lynn, click here.
Adult Books on Race (Disclaimer: I have only Read Same Kind of Different As Me so far) Thank you to Dan Zanes and MaryBeth Nicol for your suggestions:
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Same Kind of Different as Me (Strong Christian Memoir full of Hope) by Ron Hall and Denver Moore
Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X Kendi
Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverley Daniel Tatum
The Education of a Wasp by Lois Mark Stalvey
Middle Grade and YA (Disclaimer: I have only read the last two books so far):
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Cole
How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
The Watsons Go To Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis (anything by him is good)
A Documentary: The Color of Fear on YouTube. Thanks for the recommendation, Erica Mack. (Disclaimer: I have not watched this yet.)