With the white nationalist rally and domestic terror incident in Charlottesville, race and racism is once again in the headlines. It is easy to respond in a couple of different ways. First, ignore it. But here’s the thing, John Stuart Mill is right, “bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”
If you have chosen to be silent, because you believe folks know you aren’t like them, maybe you aren’t but that should be all the more reason you are moved to action. Make no mistake, church, the world is watching to see how we respond to those claiming white supremacy under the cause of Christ. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel put it this way,
“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe.”
The second type of response is whataboutism. Yes, they were wrong but what about the counter protesters. But here’s the thing, the both-sides-wrong rhetoric is a time-honored tradition. Historian Kevin Kruse points out that in the 1950s segregationist politicians condemned extremists on both sides in reference to the NAACP and the KKK. Defending the basic rights of minorities and calling for their removal, death, or oppression is not the same thing. Moral relativism has put both the left and the right on a slippery slope, where we are loathe to name things as wrong because we would rather point out the wrongs of our opponents. Christians cannot be afraid to name evil because a person votes the “right” way.
The third type of response is to denounce white supremacy as evil, but then do nothing to root it out of the public square. Speaking up is an important first step, but we must also be moved to action. We think our simple denunciations are enough, but at this moment in history, they are not. This demonic ideology has infiltrated our churches, our businesses, our communities, maybe in our homes. It has not done so passively; it has used tactics both overt and covert. In the same way, the church must be active in our fight against it.
We must be willing to do more than denounce with our lips, we must denounce with our actions. We must be willing to count the cost, which may mean a loss of influence, a loss of power, a loss of financial support, a loss of family. Jesus says those who are willing to leave behind “houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29 NRSV).
This is not a political issue; this is a gospel issue. A failure to stand up and say that in Christ there is no Greek or Jew is to limit the good news to white people, as false a gospel as the prosperity gospel.
As we think about our role in fighting racism and demonstrating the unity that is only possible through Christ, here are some tips we’ve shared previously on active steps believers can take to demonstrate Galatians 3:28, John 17, Ephesians 4:4-6.
Reach out and let your friends of color know you care.
For many in the majority culture the recent events are alarming, but minorities have been concerned about dangerous white supremacist rhetoric for years. Dylan Roof is just one in a long line of white supremacists who’ve taken their anger out on black churches and innocent black lives. A student of the civil rights movement recognizes the similarities between Heather Heyer and Viola Liuzzo, who was killed by white supremacists for driving marchers back to Selma after a voting rights march.
The increase in arrests of undocumented immigrants has many families terrified. Children who have lived in America most of their lives fear being sent to a country where they don’t know anyone. Or parents are planning for what happens when their kids come home from school to find that they have been deported. Save the debate about immigration laws for another day, and just sit with a family that is facing uncertainty.
Even a message that consists of something as simple as, “ I just wanted to let you know my heart grieves because your heart grieves.” Sharing your concern over racism, racist violence, the killing of unarmed men, helps people of color realize that they do not have to shoulder the burden alone, their brothers and sisters in Christ are with them.
Don’t negate their feelings.
After the shootings in Dallas, Matt Chandler, lead pastor of the Village Church hosted a discussion with three of the African Americans on his staff (Justice and Racial Reconciliation). At the end of the talk he gave a great analogy about marriage that is applicable in this situation. If your wife is upset, you don’t argue with her about her feelings, you don’t tell her she is wrong to feel that way, you don’t come up with 1,000 reasons she should not be upset with you (at least not in a healthy marriage). If you respond to feelings with facts, it says to the other person that his or her feelings do not matter. In this case you are dealing with your friends’ feelings and rather than trying to argue or negate their feelings, just listen.
Understand the heart behind the term, “black lives matter.”
Some hear “only black lives matter” when in fact it is “black lives matter, too.” If you went to the doctor with a broken arm and the doctor said in response to your specific complaints about your broken arm that “all bones matter. “Most people would get up and find another doctor who would address their specific issue. The same is true for the statement of black lives matter, those who use the term are talking about the specific issue around the unequal treatment of black lives in America. For a better analogy on black lives matter, readthe importance of black lives matter.
While as believers, we cannot endorse everything black lives matter stands for. We should be able to affirm their desire to end systemic racism. Systemic racism uses the values, procedures, and policies embedded in an institution to discriminate against people based on race.
As explained by Pastor Jemar Tisby, systemic racism is subtler than personal racism because it does not depend on a single actor. Instead, many well-meaning and professedly unbiased people passively cooperate in an invisible complex of principles that work against a certain demographic group.
Black lives matter is not a church-based movement the way the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s was, but the two movements are connected by their desire to see the equal treatment of African Americans in all areas of American life. For more on the connections and differences, readis Black Lives Matter the New Civil Rights Movement?
Black Lives Matter groups has emerged because of a vacuum within our faith community. Rather than criticize, let’s reclaim our critical role at the center of the conversation on racial reconciliation and justice.
Build intentional relationships with those who do not look like you.
Many of those who argue that concerns about racism are overblown are without close personal relationships with minorities. If you have not had them in your home and you have not been in theirs you are not friends. You need to move beyond superficial connections. Proximity is important to the ability to feel empathy. You cannot effectively understand or love your African American or Hispanic neighbor if you don’t know them.
Read books, watch documentaries, and listen to minority speakers. Sit through things that make you uncomfortable. Wrestle with these difficult questions.
Make sure you understand American history. Do you know about “black codes”? Do you know the stories of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers? Do you know the number of African Americans who werelynched between 1877 and 1950? Do you know what “red-lining” means?
An easy response is to say those things are ancient history, but if history has no importance why do we celebrate the Fourth of July?
Winston Churchill once said, “when the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure. There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the sibylline books. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong–these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”
Or more simply, those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.
Prayer is active. Before we begin to do any work, we should discipline ourselves to stop and ask God what his plans are for us. So before you do anything, ask God what role you are to play. Often times we get overwhelmed with the magnitude of the problem, when God has called us each to one specific action.
Racism is at its root a sin problem. It has twisted into many facets of life and created systems of inequity. It won’t be solved overnight. It took African Americans 100 years to get from the Emancipation Proclamation to the Civil Rights Act. So pray and ask God what role you are to play in the pursuit of racial equality and justice in your church, in your neighborhood, in your city, and in this world.
If you are interested in learning, here are some resources.
Sermons (will include links)
Eric Mason: Race, Justice and the Gospel
Matt Chandler: Justice and Racial Reconciliation
Andy Stanley: Skin in the Game
Faith & Race Books
Divided By Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith
United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity by Trillia Newbell
Oneness Embraced by Dr. Tony Evans
Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for Changing Church by Soon Chan Rah
Generous Justice by Tim Keller
Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King Jr.
Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland
Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone
African American History & Culture Books
Slavery by Another Name by Douglas Blackmon
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
Race Matters by Cornel West
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E. B. DuBois
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
"Eyes on the Prize"
"African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross"
"Ken Burns: The Central Park Five"
"Slavery by Another Name"