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3 ways Christians should think about racial justice in America

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June 10, 2020

This is a year a lot of us would rather forget. In my lifetime, I cannot remember any other period that had so many individual disruptions to our normal ways of life, much less the kind of disruptions we’ve faced in 2020. The year began in the U.S. with the impeachment of the president and a contested primary battle for the Democratic presidential nomination. Then, COVID-19 dominated our lives. We watched death tolls rise, our economy crash, and most of ordinary life come to a halt. But even as some states began to take steps toward reopening and hopefully recovering from the multifaceted complications wrought by the coronavirus, our society was confronted once again with the cold reality of racism and injustice in America. 

A few weeks ago, a video surfaced showing, in real time, the death of Ahmaud Arbery. It was unspeakably horrible—a vivid picture of injustice, and one that seemed undeniably connected to broader issues of race in America. Only a few weeks later, before the public outcry over Arbery’s death had even begun to fade, another video surfaced showing the death of George Floyd. Floyd’s death, however, did not come as a result of some kind of vigilantism. Instead, Floyd died under the weight of a uniformed police officer’s knee, which put pressure on the back of George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, in view of public witnesses who were crying out for mercy. 

Even as the threat of the coronavirus remains, citizens by the thousands have taken to the streets of America’s cities to protest against injustice, against the misconduct of law enforcement, and against all forms of structural racism in America. Ultimately, crowds of thousands gathered to seek justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others whose names we may not know. Many of the protests have been peaceful and marked by incredible expressions of humanity and faith. We’ve seen protesters and police officers come together to lament and weep and hug. We’ve seen sheriffs and politicians stand among the crowds to express solidarity and support. In many places, we’ve seen people make the best use of their constitutional rights to gather, speak, and protest. 

But not all protests have been peaceful. In many cases, what began as peaceful attempts to draw attention to a righteous cause devolved into chaos. Clashes took place between crowds of people and armed police. Buildings were set ablaze. Property was destroyed. Stores were looted. And police, protestors, media, and bystanders were injured in the midst of violent confrontations. Yet, despite the fact that looting and displays of violence have occurred in many cases, it seems that only a small percentage of those who gathered to protest have participated in these activities. 

Let us strive together for the sake of our fellow image-bearers to promote the cause of justice and to bear the burdens of our neighbors.

In the days since the protests began, important issues have entered the public conversation, especially among evangelicals. Many are wondering—some for the first time—what to think and how to respond to racial injustice in the United States. Others are uncertain whether condemning the violence is the same as condemning the protests as a whole. Some wish to see the eradication of systemic injustice but earnestly believe that the vast majority of our country’s public servants are good people. And with these and many other issues, the proposed solutions are often murky and the path forward unclear. 

Engaging racial justice issues

But even so, some things couldn’t be clearer. Below are three ideas for Christians to keep in mind as we engage issues related to racial justice:

First, pleas for justice should resonate with Christians. Justice, after all, is about fair and equal treatment. The people of God believe that every person is an image-bearer, possessing inestimable worth and dignity (Gen. 1:26). This means that all people are worthy not only of respect, but equality. Our nation, though it has often failed to live up to this promise, was established upon the very same idea. And at present it seems that our society is primed to take positive steps forward to address issues of racial justice. Christians should readily embrace this important task.

Second, proper remedies for injustice will accord with, not contradict, Scripture. For Christians, the biblical witness should be the greatest encouragement toward action against injustice. Across nearly 1,000 pages, the Bible testifies that the God we serve is a God of justice who abhors partiality (Psalm 11:7; Is. 61:8; Deut. 16:19). Christians should hate racism and bigotry because God does. And Christians should look to the Scriptures as a guide when considering solutions to matters of racial justice.

Third, Christians should be involved in efforts to bring about racial justice. For Christians, especially for white Christians like me, we must not stand by and expect only those who are most affected by these issues to bear the burden (Gal. 6:2). As we’ve witnessed so clearly these last few weeks, people of color in the United States are crying out for relief. And so, just as the Scriptures instruct us, we should take the opportunity to bear these burdens. We must not only be concerned but involved when and where we can to confront racism and promote racial justice in our families, churches, and communities.

There is so much work ahead of us. None of us are equipped to meet every need, shoulder every burden, or propose every solution. But even so, let us strive together for the sake of our fellow image-bearers to promote the cause of justice and to bear the burdens of our neighbors. We cannot afford to stand back and watch like the priest and Levite who passed by the man on the road (Luke 10:25-37). Let us, like the Samaritan, act for the sake of those around us who are tired, who are hurting, and who are suffering mistreatment. To do so is nothing less than following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester serves as the Chair of Research in Christian Ethics at the ERLC. He is also pursuing a Th.M. in Public Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Josh is married to McCaffity, and they have two children. Read More by this Author