In my recent conversations about racial injustice, I have encountered some Christians who fit into one of two categories: either they don’t know some truth of God’s Word and need to be educated, or they know the Bible well but find it difficult to connect and apply it to their own contextualized situations.
I am neither a politician nor an academic scholar. I am a pastor; therefore, I think about ways I can respond to situations first biblically and then pastorally. The goal of my counsel is always to teach the truth of Scripture and help people apply it to their lives.
Christian friends, the Scriptures speak clearly to the Church in these days of heartache and confusion. Are we listening? Here are six specific ways that God’s Word transforms our response to racism.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).
If you are spending more of your time watching the various news and social media outlets than you are reading the Bible or listening to sermons, that is a problem. Your thinking is being conformed to the image of this world. It is only the Word of God and the Spirit of God that can communicate the will of God. A faithful reading of the Bible must be our primary source of information as we learn to discern what is acceptable according to God’s standard.
Listen First, Then Act
Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.… Be doers of the word, and not hearers only (James 1:19-20, 22).
Are you quick to get angry over personal attacks? Do you desire to control a conversation by changing the narrative of a discussion shared by others? Do you get defensive when people talk about race or racism? Do you tend to dismiss the fact that racism is pervasive and systemic? If so, you are neither producing the righteousness of God nor acting in the freedom the Lord provides. Friendships with people who look and think differently than you provide a good context in which to practice listening. I encourage you to intentionally reach out to people of a different ethnicity than your own, and invite them to dinner. Seek to build relationships with them by patiently listening to their positions and without offering correction.
Remember Our Freedom
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).
The Church is ethnically and culturally diverse. So, don’t expect everyone to hold onto your personal ethnic or cultural values and practices. Do not make legalistic disciples by seeking to assimilate people into your racially dominant framework. Instead, let us remember that we are no longer bound by the law but have received the grace of Jesus Christ. Christian relationships should be mutually beneficial. One person should never demand that the other think and act exactly like himself. To do so would dilute the beauty and majesty of God’s diverse creation. As God gives grace in our cultural, contextualized expressions, so should you.
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility… that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility (Ephesians 2:14-16).
Church congregations sometimes sing hymns like “The Old Rugged Cross.” Too often we cling to and cherish the old, rugged cross of Christ but fail to cherish and cling to each other. Instead of merely thinking black, brown and white people should pursue racial reconciliation, the Christian conversation must shift. It is the cross of Christ that reconciles us, first to God, and then makes us one unified people group who can experience life together in peaceful harmony. For we are not to be enemies of one another, showing hostility because of our different skin colors. Rather, we are now members of the same body with equal value in Christ, equal position before God, and equal access to a relationship with God Almighty.
Give Honor to Others
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:9-10).
It can be hard to accept defeat, whether in a game of chess, in a difficult conversation, or when facing a very significant loss. Our competitive drive kicks in, and we strive to win our own way in conversations and in relationships. God says our love toward others should be rooted in the thoughtful and purposeful giving of honor. When was the last time you sought to honor someone who had an opinion that was not sinful, yet different from yours?
Stay the Course
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:9-10).
Don’t stop doing what is right because you are uncomfortable or fearful. Don’t give up on the work even though it is hard. Don’t take shortcuts, such as saying, “I’ll pray for you” without knowing what struggles are in the person’s heart. Ask instead, “In what way can I join you in prayer?” Today is a great day to enter the world of a person of color. Learn a new language, celebrate a cultural holiday together, send a birthday or thank you card, and let your brothers and sisters in Christ know that you love them.
People often ask me the question, “What can we do to help fight racism?” I encourage you to start by believing that the Bible’s teaching is necessary and sufficient. There was a time in my life when I believed that the Bible was true but resisted its authority over my life. Now, more than ever before, God’s Word directs my steps on the Christian journey and offers hope of eternal joy in the living Word, Jesus Christ. Knowing and applying the Bible is necessary for the Christian, for it declares the will of God for us, including how we are to address issues of racism. This same Word sufficiently answers our questions about life and should be the womb that incubates all of our theological practices. I pray that you are both convicted and convinced of the Bible’s authority over your life. As you listen to God, may you be transformed by his Word!