The discussion of racism in America has once again moved towards the top of the list in media, blogs, friendly conversation, and churches. What is a very delicate and hot button topic for many persons, has been brought into the public square because of the events in Ferguson. This is a discussion that we shouldn't run from in fear but seize as an opportunity to examine our hidden prejudices, embraced stereotypes, and lifestyle.
The Christian church has much to say on the matter of racism in America. The Church is the visible representation of Jesus Christ on earth and in that respect; she is to be the world’s vocal conscience and active servant. The Church unlike any other entity is the people of God to the world, moving throughout the world in the power of the Holy Spirit, prophetically announcing truth, binding up the broken hearts of people and prompting nations to bring their glory to God. The beauty of the Church is that she is made up of diverse ethnic groups, united in Christ and by virtue of this eternal bind is made able to display to the world the unity and diversity of the saving God.
Where do we as the conscience of the world begin the discussion on race? The discussion begins with the colorless God, who created diverse ethnic groups in his image and likeness and did not despise humanity but became one of us to create a diverse unity for his glory.
Humanity with its unique design reflects the unity and diversity of God. The God who is spoken of in Scripture, reveals himself as the “LORD...God, the LORD is one” (Deut 6:4). We see the supreme importance of God’s revelation as the one God who is to be worshiped alone (Ex 20:3) and the prophets declaration that there is no other than God (Is 45:18). Yet this is not the only thing that is revealed to us concerning God. We observe that God reveals himself in three distinct persons, Father, Son and Spirit. In this revelation of the Trinitarian God, we understand the Father as the one who gives Christ his church (Jn 10:29); Christ obtains this church with his own blood (Acts 20:28) and the promised Holy Spirit seals the church (Eph 1:13).
In God’s creation of humanity, in which Father, Son and Spirit all participate, God in his wisdom creates one race of people who reflect his image and at the same time, are diverse in language, culture, and skin complexion. We are a reflection of what is theologically termed the Trinity. We are one at our core and simultaneously diverse in our expression in the world.
We have to grasp another truth, that regardless of our “physical characteristics [we] bear and obscure the image of God who created”[i] us. The obscuring of the image of God is due to the sin nature that all men and women are born into. It is without contradiction that within every ethnic group there exist a brokenness, despair, and darkness which harms not only those within that ethnic group but spills over into other groups as well. It is here that we arrive at the root cause of racism and its fruits of prejudice and stereotypes, slavery and oppression, war and genocide. Sin is the root cause of racism.
Racism occurs when an ethnic group defines its distinctiveness as the highest quality over all other ethnic groups. This is more than just economic, social, religious, and political power. Each ethnic group has been guilty of elevating its God created distinctiveness above another group and in turn uses that distinctiveness as a tool to unjustly seize economic, social, religious and political power, at the expense of others. Therefore, we find the horrors of the Crusades, the degradation of Native Americans, the dehumanizing process of trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the genocide of Hitler, the eugenics of Margaret Sanger, the vitriolic language of the Klan and the Black Panthers, the brutality of Bosnia and Kosovo. Humanity takes its God given distinctions and elevates those distinctions above its Creator and the results have been devastating.
Bonhoeffer states in his Letters from Prison that “God himself did not despise humanity but became a man for men’s sake.” How great is God who is one and diverse? God enters into humanity as Jesus Christ, using a specific ethnic group that he created to tear down walls, unite diverse groups, and extol him as God.
God in Christ crushes the power of racism over humanity by tearing the down walls that separate ethnic groups. The power of the Gospel revealed in Christ eradicates the dividing walls by which we seek to separate ourselves from our human brother and sister. The ruling distinctions of skin color, dialect, and customs are now subjugated to Christ who by his Spirit leads us to see those distinctions as means to glory him and not ourselves.
God in Christ crushes the power of racism uniting diverse groups in him. In the body of Christ, diverse men and women become one because the walls have been broken down and abolished “that he might create in himself one new man in place of two, so making peace” (Eph 2:14-15). Christ Jesus crushes the power and principalities of racism in order that we would be in peace with each other and with God. It is the picture of the Jewish teacher sharing a drink with the Samaritan woman. It is church leaders of all ethnic stripes calling for restraint and a fair hearing for the victim and the victimized.
Finally, God in Christ crushes the power of racism in order that this unified group in Christ, who has been brought together in Christ, would extol him as God. God’s new creation work which he inaugurates at the resurrection of the Jesus, ushers us into an age where men and women unified in Christ are also acknowledged as distinct around the throne of God. “Worthy are you to take the scroll and open its seals, for you were slain and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation...” (Rev 4:9). Christ is exalted because through his blood, he ransomed distinct ethnic groups to be one people, to sing one song about the one God. Therefore, God does not eradicate our distinctiveness but uses it as a means to sing his praises.
This year and every year, can we be the people of God, who will be the vocal conscience of the world? We have a sure word to prophetically speak. We have a sure word that uproots the tree of racism and in its place, plants oaks of righteousness that glorify the LORD.
[i] Josiah U. Young III, Theology and the Problem of Racism; Bonhoeffer and King: Their Legacies and Import for Christian Social Thought, Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 72.
The African American experience from its earliest days was characterized by the Exodus narrative. From the African slaves to the Negros who struggled with Civil Rights, these men and women looked to the events of the Israelite deliverance and found in that historical narrative an experience which expressed hope in a God who hears, an event known as liberation, and a long march to the Promise Land of equality. The African American grounded his or her experiences in song, long groans, prayers, and the expectation that the foreign land in which he or she dwelt would be transformed into a land flowing with milk and honey.
In the middle of the Israelites long journey from the darkness of Egyptian slavery to dwelling in the bright shining light of God’s presence, the nation’s disobedience took them around a mountain. Forty years, God disciplined the people through wanderings in a wilderness and circles around a mountain. Imagine day after day, year after year, seeing the same bush, observing the same landmark, never arriving at the destination you heard so long ago. “Where is this place the prophet spoke of?” “Have we come out here only to die?!” “How many times must we go around this mountain?”
Last Saturday, a young Michael Brown tragically lost his life at the hands of a police officer. I can’t imagine what his parents are experiencing. As a father of a young African American male, I know I would be sad, angry, and full of questions. Beyond that, I can only sympathize with the Brown family and pray that God’s healing grace would envelope them. As with all previous events in which an African American male has been killed by a non-African American, the usual statements begin to erupt that America hates blacks, cops want to kill blacks, so on and so forth. Surely we’ve seen it before. Surely we have heard it again and again. We only see and smell this bush when one of our own is killed by another ethnic group. And strangely, we remain silent (including myself) when there is interracial violence. We will see angst and despair in Ferguson and within two weeks move on.
We will travel around this mountain and never reach our destination.
I debated putting data and citations in this post concerning interracial violence as it relates to African Americans and contrasting those numbers with how many African Americans are killed by cops and non-African Americans. Why? People don’t want to hear objective data right now. A person only wants to read data that confirms his or her presuppositions. What needs to happen is a dissection of our hearts. What happened on the streets of Ferguson and what happens on the streets of Chicago, Los Angeles or here in the last two months in Conway simply reflects one person’s disregard for the life of another. We continue to wander around this mountain, as media promulgates a narrative that seeks to divide ethnic groups. We wander around this mountain, as persons advocate for riots and agitate a sensitive situation. We wander around this mountain, as police play a role in excessive force. We continue to travel around this mountain and we don’t realize we are being hustled by the sinful desires of our own hearts.
The Israelites were hustled by their desires for Egypt, food, drink, and idols. These men and women had tasted the first fruits of deliverance and started what should have been a short journey to the Promise Land. Instead, they complained, rebelled, and made a god of their own liking which contributed to their wandering. African American people I ask, “Are we any different?” We long for and affirm so many things which have been detrimental to our progress. We are angry about the violence of Michael Brown or Trayvon? When will we demand Worldstar HipHop to stop broadcasting our sons and daughters beating one another? We are angry about violence? When will we stop sharing violent videos on Facebook? We are angry about how African Americans are viewed, when will we demand of our own artists to stop portraying themselves as whores and misogynistic pimps? Do we truly regard ourselves as people to be valued?
God has been gracious to us. He gave us a prophet who led us to seize a dream. We have seen many of our people become business owners, professors, Secretaries of State, and yes, the President. At the same time, we have forgotten the Prophet. The singular person whose name characterized our ancestors hope through the long suffering of slavery to the Civil Rights Movement was Jesus Christ himself. When will we stop traveling around this mountain? When we heed his voice “to turn northward” and proceed up to the freedom he has prepared for us.
When we turn northward and follow after him what will we do?
Let’s stop going around this mountain and move northward up the mountain. For on this mountain is a luxurious feast prepared for all people. It is a feast of rich food and rich wine for all to enjoy. It is on the top of this mountain that we have circled around for generations where our sorrow will be wiped away and we will rejoice and be glad in his salvation.
If you live in Conway join me Sunday at 4:00 p.m. at Simon Park and Kris Allen Stage where we will pray for our own city, our citizens, law enforcement, and all authorities.