NOTE: The 2015 ERLC Leadership Summit will address "The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation" to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families, and their churches. This event will be held in Nashville on March 26-27, 2015. To learn more go here.
Confusion and dismay barely express the emotions of people everywhere as news spread that a grand jury in New York did not bring any charges against the police officer after his confrontation with a man resulted in the man’s death. That man was Eric Garner, and his apparent crime was selling unlicensed cigarettes. Garner was an unarmed African American male who was surrounded by officers, did not pose any threat, and was eventually placed in a choke-hold and strangled to death (read the story and watch the video of the incident here).
All is Not Well in America
This case, along with Ferguson, is yet another reminder that all is not well in America. It’s a reminder that racial tensions and divisions are high. It’s a reminder that there is a glaring racial disparity in our justice system.
There comes a point when excuses of not knowing or caring become just that—excuses. All people must care. As Russell Moore has said, "For those of us in Christ, we need to recognize that when one part of the Body of Christ hurts, the whole Body of Christ hurts."
Now is not the time to hope this will go away.
Now is the time to engage in conversation about race and how we view others.
Now is the time to ask the hard questions about racism.
The Hard Truth of Racism
Racism is a painful word. Nobody wants to be labeled as such. Many actually believe that because we are 50 years past the Civil Rights era, we are somehow magically past racism. Racism is painful because, by definition, it’s another human being who hates another human being based on the God-given color of their skin. Yet, in God’s economy, we are all created equal. In the beginning, God created man in His own image (Genesis 1:26). So why would fellow image bearers hate one another based on something like skin? Because after creation, sin entered the world and distorted our view of humanity (Genesis 3).
Racism is the result of sin. In order to fight it we have to find the root—we have to do some heart surgery and look for the real problem. For many, I believe racism is rooted in pride. We can often believe that we are greater than others and think they are not worthy of existence. We can be partial and sinfully prefer those like us over those who are unlike ourselves (James 2: 1-13). And at times, the display of racism is not blatant—it doesn’t manifest itself through racial slurs. It can be hidden away in the heart.
The hard truth is that racism and the way it strips man of his dignity will be with us until the consummation of Christ’s kingdom. This is why the Church must be a safe place for difficult discussions about race. We must not only be unafraid to discuss it, but acknowledging that it still exists in many places in our country and can often be hidden away in our own hearts. We cannot be passive. Just like all temptations, pride and arrogance toward others must be confronted and fought with the truth of God’s Word. Don’t make the assumption that it is something you or your friends or your congregations can ignore.
Tragedies like what we’ve seen in the Garner case are a reminder of the presence of injustice in the world. It’s a call to speak, listen and pray. Because we are the Body of Christ, we must learn to mourn with those who mourn. So I ask you, are you ready to join arms with your fellow brothers and sisters to pursue true racial reconciliation that can only be achieved through the cross of Christ?
The Good News of the Gospel
If you’ve realized, as various news stories have unfolded, that you do struggle with racism, that is God’s kindness to you. It’s His kindness that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). If we confess our sin, He is faithful to forgive us and to purify us (1 John 1:9). The good news is that our struggle with sin is not a fight we have to fight on our own. Like with all struggles, God provided a way of escape and a rescue from that sin. He provided His son, Jesus, who gave his life for the racist. God’s love is great for His children, and He does not withhold good things, including continued, transformational forgiveness.
This is the good news for you and for all of us—God provides a way of escape through His son (1 Cor. 13:10). A beautiful aspect of the gospel is that it doesn’t stop giving with salvation. God continues to work in our hearts until we are glorified and with Christ. By His grace and His spirit we can ask the Lord for help during our battle with pride and racial prejudice. We can ask the Lord to forgive those who have sinned against us through racist words as well. Can we pursue one another in love, and can we fight against racism? Yes, because we have the Spirit of God. Is racial reconciliation possible? Yes, and it’s a must because we are the Body of Christ. Let’s pursue it.