Racism, Outrage, and the Church’s mission

What happened this weekend in Charlottesville, VA was a shameful, grotesque, damnable display of racial bigotry. There’s no excuse for behavior that proclaims one race to be better than another, that parades under flags representing racial hatred and murder. This behavior is sinful, and anyone persisting in such sin will earn the consequences of unrepentant sin – condemnation.

It feels odd to have to make such strong statements. Not because they aren’t true – they certainly are. But odd because, until recently, I thought it was a given. I thought that saying, “I love Jesus and live to proclaim his Gospel,” would be enough for anyone to assume, “Yep, he’s not a racist.” The Gospel, as a package deal, carries some pretty anti-racism concepts, such as:

  • ALL people, regardless of race, are a part of God’s special creation called “humankind”
  • ALL people, regardless of race, are under the curse of sin, inherited from the first two humans
  • ALL people, regardless of race, are so loved by God that he sent his Son to be the sacrifice for sins
  • ALL people, regardless of race, are treasured by Jesus, who gave everything so we could have everything
  • ALL people, regardless of race, are desired by Jesus to be part of his kingdom and to give him glory

Whether or not you believe in Jesus, the Bible, or trust what the Gospel has to say, at the very least please understand that these are the truths that Christians express when they say, “I love Jesus and I live to proclaim the Gospel.” To any genuine disciple of Christ, the notion that we have to explain why we’re not racist feels like a redundancy. It’s like an AARP member having to state that he likes saving money – it’s just a given!

Then a bunch of guys go marching under Nazi flags and call for racial segregation, while claiming to be Christian. Then we’re told that we cannot claim to be Christian and not denounce them immediately, otherwise we are giving approval and are, in fact, racists ourselves. It’s confusing. You’re sure that the eternal truths you hold to have not changed, yet because of the actions and opinions of a relative minority you have gone from “Disciple of Jesus” to “Closet racist” overnight.

Identity drives purpose

Does that matter? If my black neighbor faces injustice daily because of his skin color, do I really have a right to complain about how people see me?

No, I don’t. However, my reaction to this discomfort does matter, and that reaction is going to be driven by how I see myself. Identity drives purpose, and if I accept the identity of “closet racist” then my behavior will be different than if my identity is “disciple of Jesus.”

This is important.

Yesterday someone sent me this article: How to Tell If You Go to a White Supremacist Church. Here is his basic proposition:

“If your church does not spend a significant amount of time this weekend denouncing, condemning, and speaking out against the actions of the white supremacists gathering in Charlottesville, VA in the strongest possible terms, your church is racist as hell.”

In my church this past weekend, I watched a baby receive the miraculous gift of Baptism, where God pours his Holy Spirit on a child, claims that child as his own, and puts saving faith in the baby’s heart. There was an affirmation of Baptism for two twins who were born early and baptized in the hospital. We confessed our sins and heard the absolute forgiveness of our God. We heard a sermon about the importance of contentment. Having recently accepted a position on this church’s ministry staff, I was received by the congregation, along with my wife and two others who are also serving on staff positions. The congregation prayed for us and encouraged us to faithfully serve them with the Gospel. Throughout the service, the grace of God was emphasized as we gathered around his Word. (Aside, my friend had a pretty good response to this article as well. Read it here. Also, I stole his post picture.)

Now, if I accept the identity of “closet racist” and accept the assertion that my church is “racist as hell,” then my reaction by necessity is to make some major changes. Either I need to find a new church (the advice of the article), or launch a major campaign to fundamentally change the heart and spirit of my congregation. But what would that do? The Gospel is, in and of itself, anti-racism, so why would changing the focus from the Gospel to social action be the solution? It’s like changing a cancer patient’s treatment from chemotherapy to pain relievers in the hopes that feeling better will make him better.

If I see my identity as “disciple of Jesus,” then I want to dig deeper into the Gospel. I gain a better understanding of the great love Jesus has for me, and this translates to a deeper love for others. When I see hatred, bigotry, racism, etc., I am motivated toward action.

How does that action look? That’s up to individual Christians to by led by the Spirit to bear fruit in keeping with their gifts. Some Christians might take to social media to take up campaigns to raise awareness. Some Christians might hit the ground and be involved in their own demonstrations. Some Christians might choose to attend prayer vigils in solidarity. Some Christians might choose to work one on one, helping the disenfranchised and meeting their needs.

Some Christians might find other causes to champion. That’s another side to all of this, and please forgive this very related tangent. I’ve seen many of my Christian friends stating in no uncertain terms that if you are not outraged and outspoken about the racism on display this past weekend, then you are endorsing it. That if you don’t speak up, then you are no better than the racists themselves.

Selective outrage

What about abortion? What about the sex slavery that underlies pornography? What about the hundreds of drug related deaths per day in our country? Why aren’t we outraged about those things? Why aren’t we speaking out about those daily? Are we endorsing abortion, pornography, and drug abuse? Are we no better than the abortionists, sex slavers, and drug lords?

I’m not saying we are. But I am saying that we are being somewhat selective in our outrage here. Talking with a friend of mine today, he put it this way:

“We as Christians are often selectively outraged, and our outrage isn’t God’s outrage. God gets angry. He is furious. And while injustice outrages us, it’s only certain injustices… oddly enough, often the same ones our culture tells us to get upset about.”

One of the focal points of the January Women’s March was the right not only to have an abortion, but the demand that it be provided as a free service across the country. In other words, women were taking to the streets to say, “I don’t just want to be able to kill my child, I want my country to kill my child for me!” Which is worse? To call for segregation of races, or to call for a national program of selective murder? Why are Christians racist if they don’t openly condemn white supremacy, but anti-woman if they do openly condemn abortion?

The problem is the same in both cases, because both are a symptom of our common disease of sin. The solution is the same – the Gospel, which reveals all the wickedness in all of us and offers the same absolute forgiveness for all of it. We need Jesus. And the Christian who uses the Gospel to fight racism is no better or worse than the Christian who uses it to fight abortion, or porn, or drugs, or any other societal problem.

The Church’s Mission

But it must begin with the Gospel. This is the Church’s mission. Not to make a utopia on earth, but to win souls for heaven. Not to make people nice and better, but to give people eternal hope and an eternal future.

Another thing the Gospel is set against is legalism. Legalism is when we declare that, to be a Christian, one must adhere to a certain set of rules or regulations. For instance, it would be legalistic for me to say that in order to be a Christian, you must give up alcohol (something I’d never say anyway, because frankly, I like beer). It would be legalistic for me to say that in order to be a Christian, you must attend worship a certain number of times per month. It would be legalistic for me to say that in order to be a Christian you must make certain statements about racism, bigotry, and injustice.

Certainly, I would encourage you to denounce such things, just like I’d encourage you to attend worship. But to call your faith into doubt because you didn’t take to social media in the most outraged way, or to claim you harbor sinful racism in your heart because you didn’t speak up enough, would be to go against the Gospel. So, Christians… stop doing this. Stop laying burdens on the hearts of your fellow believers.

The same Gospel that has cleansed you of your sins has cleansed your brothers and sisters. Celebrate that. Cherish that. Come together under that Gospel. And yes, go take action where action is needed. Encourage one another to be the disciples of Jesus that you are and fight for change.

Then come together again… and again… and again as a Church to hear the Gospel that motivates your action. Not to hear rousing speeches about how to fight injustice, but to carry out the mission of the Church. To make disciples of all nations. To carry his love to all people of every race.

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