The people of the United States are being wracked by grief and anger once more over the prevalent issue of racism; in this hour, how can followers of Christ respond?
The death of one man in Minneapolis has become the poignant reminder of lifelong and often ignored discrimination that many American citizens of color face every day. From this moment there rose a cry for justice to be done.
Croatian theologian and professor of Systematic Theology at Yale University, Miroslav Volf wrote, “To remember a wrongdoing is to struggle against it. The great advocates of ‘memory’ have rightly reminded us of that. But it seemed to me that there were so many ways in which I could remember wrongly that the injunction verged on being dangerous….
“Instead, the central question was how to remember rightly. And given my Christian sensibilities, my question from the start was, How should I remember abuse as a person committed to loving the wrongdoer and overcoming evil with good?”
Answering this question is inherently complicated, but it feels exponentially more complex when we take recent events like George Floyd’s death and the widespread outcry against this gruesome offense.
We cannot and should not forget these events. We cannot and should not let discomfort or fear keep us silent. We must not grow weary of fighting for what is right.
What would Paul, the writer of “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, ESV) and “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10) say in these current times?
What would the ultimate author of our Bible say, he who asked, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10).
To bear another’s burden, we must remember rightly.
Hearing the Cries for Help and Justice
For many who are not directly impacted by the issues that have brought others into the streets to protest, it may be easy to ignore news reports or dismiss the social problems that are being pointed out.
Claude Houde, lead pastor of Eglise Nouvelle Vie and a World Challenge board member, challenged listeners, “In one of his books, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian, told this story that shook me profoundly because it is a true picture of the modern Church. Bonhoeffer was a pastor during the Second World War, at a time when the Nazi holocaust took the lives of six million Jews….
“Bonhoeffer wrote of a conversation he had with a fellow pastor shortly before he was arrested. The pastor confided in him, ‘It was horrible. Our church is right beside the railway tracks. We can hear the trains going by carrying Jews toward the camps. At first it was rare, but now they go by several times a day. One Sunday several weeks ago, something terribly embarrassing happened. We were right in the middle of our service and the noise from the trains was deafening. Then, just as we were singing worship songs, we heard people crying out, “Help us! Help us!”’
“Bonhoeffer, horrified, asked him, ‘Well, what did you do?’ The pastor answered, ‘For a moment I wasn’t sure what to do, but then I told the church congregation, “Brothers and sisters, let’s sing louder!”’
“Are we, too, ‘singing louder’ so we won’t hear the cries for help so near to us?”
We must not ignore the pain, grief and suffering of others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ who face daily challenges and injustice. This is not optional in God’s eyes, that much the Bible makes clear.
Paul wrote to the church struggling with divisions and prejudices, “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26–28).
A bit later, he added, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:13-15).
The Broken Ones and the Contrite Heart
Speaking through a bullhorn at the site of where his brother died, Terrence Floyd cried, “I doubt you’re half as upset as I am. So if I’m not over here, wilding out, if I’m not over here blowing up stuff, if I’m not over here messing up my community, then what are you all doing? What are you all doing?”
These are haunting words, even without his broken voice or tears.
The sad truth is that base human nature is all too happy to benefit at the expense of others. We fail to see others as beings with equal value to us. We look away when we feel like we can justify their loss or when restraint and honor are inconvenient to us.
When we fail to love one another as we love ourselves and our own, we will justify their pain and our gain. This shows in the long history of economic oppression and unequal service and harassment, the unwarranted cruelty to an arrested and handcuffed man lying on the pavement, the brutal attacks on our police and civil servants whose jobs are to protect the public, the destruction of businesses owned by those barely keeping afloat after the lockdowns closed shops. Injustice is layered on top of injustice.
Shortly after the riots began, John Piper wrote out his prayer for Minneapolis and the people in this city where he served as a pastor for 33 years.
“May our leaders love the truth, seek the truth, stand unflinching for the truth, and act on the truth. Let nothing, O Lord, be swept under the rug. Forbid that any power or privilege would be allowed to twist or distort or conceal the truth, even if the truth brings the privileged, the rich, the powerful, or the poor, from the darkness of wrong into the light of right.
“For the haters and the bitter and the hostile and the slanderers — of every race — we pray that they will see ‘the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:4). We pray that the light will banish darkness from their souls — the darkness of arrogance and racism and selfishness. We pray for broken hearts, because ‘a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise’ (Psalm 51:17).”
We must not ignore the voices of those crying out for help; we must let our hearts be broken at the injustice and pain that is spreading across our country.
If we do these two things, we will not stop there either.
Becoming the Change We Long to See
David Wilkerson worked for years in neighborhoods of New York City that he was told he had no business in as a white man. He labored tirelessly to introduce people, regardless of race or background, to the Holy Spirit whose work could change hearts and heal the terrible divides between people.
He said, “I believe the Lord is especially enraged against those who hold racial prejudices. God help the man or woman who worships alongside a person of another race while carrying a deep prejudice. And woe to that believer if he participates in ethnic jokes. The Lord will become his enemy. And his prayers will be an abomination in God's sight.
“We may not be able to serve in a reconciliation ministry, but God does call us to look at the prejudice in our own hearts. Maybe you grew up disliking certain political figures, whether white or black. Maybe you grew up in a prejudiced home, whether white or black. Or, worse, you attended a church that taught racism.
“You may not be able to apologize to the entire community you've been prejudiced against. But if you know a believer of a different race, you can go to that person and say, ‘I want to say to you before the Lord, I'm sorry.’”
Once we allow the Spirit to address these hard areas in our hearts toward one another, only then can we begin to become the change we so desperately want to see in our neighborhoods and churches
Danté Stewart, a preacher studying at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, wrote about his belief that hashtags and protesting in the streets will not ultimately bring the solutions we so badly need to racial injustice and violence. “I’m more concerned with how we’re advocating in our congregations, families, and board meetings, and with what happens in the ballot box. It is those places where the integrity of love meets the demands of liberation.”
Our love for one another must result in reaching out, speaking to one another, hearing one another truly and taking positive action to bring justice and help communities heal.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I” (Isaiah 58:6-9).