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Michael Brown is your neighbor

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It’s hard not to weep as I watch the continual coverage of events unfold in Ferguson, Mo. Once again, a life was taken by an authority figure. The eyes of our nation turn in one of two directions: toward the injustice or away from it. In the ocean of social media, I’ve noticed waves of Palestinians providing American citizens with counsel on dealing with tear gas while droves of Protestants remain serene and silent.

It’s in these exact moments, when ethnic minority evangelicals are looking for support from other minorities and majority culture brothers and sisters, that we need to come together and minister to the hurting souls in our community. But we often find that many of our brothers and sisters are sitting on the sidelines paralyzed by the fear of not knowing how to engage.

I want to unveil to those saints on the sideline how they can engage in front line participation before, during and after national moments of social injustice arise. The reason why we, as the Body of Christ, must engage is because acts of social injustice are direct attacks on the gospel.

Personal justification is wrong

Luke 10:25-37 is a passage that speaks directly to issues of social injustice and how God expects his children to respond. In this text, a lawyer approached Jesus with a question regarding how one inherits eternal life. Jesus asked the lawyer to provide his interpretation of the law. The lawyer complied, and Jesus informed him to live out the two summary realities of the law: Love God holistically and love your neighbor as yourself.

The lawyer’s follow-up question, “Who is my neighbor?” was one of personal-justification because he sought Jesus’ affirmation of his already-proven love for his neighbor. Being omniscient, Jesus knew the lawyer’s interpretation of neighbor was in sync with the religious community of his day. Neighbor was defined as those who were Jewish and a part of the local religious community. This narrow definition excluded Samaritans and Gentiles.

Jesus masterfully interjects the story of the Good Samaritan and asked the lawyer which of the three responses proved to be neighborly. The lawyer responded, “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus told him to “go and do the same.”

We must personify reconciliation

Jesus’ response rings just as true today as it did during the first century. It seems as if many in the Church are selective in identifying who our neighbor is. With ease, we employ our definition of neighbor as Christians who look and believe like we do, all the while neglecting those differing from us denominationally, ethnically, economically and religiously.

The reasonable response the Church must offer the world today is one that reflects ongoing gospel-centered reconciliation. I believe we will achieve this when local churches implement the following five principles:

1. Remember the greatest act of social injustice is the means to reconciliation.

The crucifixion of Jesus was and is the greatest act of social injustice humanity will ever see. Yet, Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection were all necessary for sinners from all ethnicities to have equal opportunity to be lavished with forgiveness and redemption (Eph. 1:7). Embracing the work of Jesus allows sinners from every walk of life, who are separated from God, to be reconciled to him in a right relationship through Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  

2. Realize the gospel turns conversations from “us and them” to “we.”

The Bible teaches that every human being, regardless of culture or ethnicity, is an equal image-bearer of God (Gen. 1:27-28). Paul added in Acts 17:26 that there is one race–the human race–that traces its lineage back to one man, Adam, from whom we all equally inherited our sin nature (Rom. 5:12). The gospel message places all of humanity on an equal plain; we’re all fallen (Rom. 3:23), we’re in need of a Savior, and Jesus is the only qualified Savior (John 14:6). Sin shows no segregation regarding ethnicity and neither should the stewards of God’s gospel message (Gal. 3:28).

3. Render holistic investment in communities.

After the TV cameras pull out and the trending hashtags are replaced, our cities need churches to remain actively involved in the arenas of community life. Our pastors must help our people realize they are missionaries commissioned by Christ to make disciples of all ethnicities in their immediate location (Matt. 28:19-20). We must engage our community where our lives intersect in the realms of education, medicine, commerce and recreation. When the crisis has come and gone, Christ’s people must remain, making disciples who, in tun, make disciples.

4. Regularly pray for our authority figures.

We’re commanded to pray for everyone, especially those who are in authority (2 Tim. 2:1-4). Our command to do this is not dependent on the attitudes or actions of those in authority. The gospel reminds us that if our authority figures do not know Jesus, it is our privilege to pray for them and present them (if possible) with the gospel message.

5. Refrain from extreme reactions.

The world usually responds in one of two extremes: rioting or remaining silent. On the other hand, we are to contribute solution-based ministry that parallels the reality of Romans 12:9-21 while we work for justice to be given to our fellow humans who are in need and oppressed.

God, in his providence, has positioned us here during this moment of redemptive history. He is calling on his children to represent him well while we steward the gospel message and its implications in our cities, nation and world. For this reason, we must begin to see any fellow human being who is a victim of any form of social injustice as our neighbor and come alongside them with compassion and the hope of Christ.

When this reality is the rhythm of life for our local community of believers, we’ll no longer sit content in silence when unarmed young men are murdered. We’ll no longer see them as names in newsworthy headlines, but rather as our neighbors in need of gospel-centered social justice that’s rooted in a healthy community of believers. And we’ll be committed to doing life with them after the storm is over. Christ has show us mercy and has commanded us to go and do the same.

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