In a word…I truly appreciate you @SeanO for broaching this topic on this platform. Sincerely. We as a beautiful collective of thoughtful, generous, wise and intelligent Jesus-followers, have all created a safe and supportive space to engage in topics that may potentially challenge us spiritually, theologically and personally along with provoking a bit of discomfort along the way. For example, when wrestling with some of the tensions we see in scripture – especially the ones that personally affect us – discomfort can be healthy, motivating and dare I say necessary for resolve and thoughtful responses. So with that…thank you, again.
I appreciate AND agree with what everyone has posted, so far. I know that we would all agree that racism – or any negative ism – at its core is certainly and unequivocally, primarily a sin and heart issue that the Gospel speaks to and affects. To view anyone, regardless of the reason, as beneath you or in any way less than; to systematically disenfranchise a group of people – particularly because of a God-given attribute is a failure to view that person or persons as bearers of the image of God. The ultimate antidote to racism is when people yield hearts and wills to the reality of imago Dei. To this we all agree.
When I was reading through this thread, I was reminded of this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s address at Western Michigan University on December 18, 1963, that says,
"But we must go on to say that while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law [judicial decrees] cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.
It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also. So there is a need for executive orders. There is a need for judicial decrees. There is a need for civil rights legislation on the local scale within states and on the national scale from the federal government." (emphasis mine)
Dr. King as well as myself as well as I believe for most of us would agree that rather than having an “either or” or “vs” approach when looking at the notion of social justice vs prayer, I think the correct approach or the better way is to approach it with a “both and” mindset. We use a similar approach when reconciling percieved “tensions” in Scripture, ie:
- justice and grace
- love and wrath
- God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility
With each of these “tensions”, the truth is in BOTH. Both are equally true! Pray AND fast. Interestingly, they ALL require a dependency and trust in the Lord to ultimately see things accomplished. And THAT’S how our “activism” or whatever you wanna call it is different from the world’s. There is no God-dependency with the world’s activism. It’s a reliance on will and force and strength and intellect and speaking the loudest and trusting in “the overall goodness of man”, etc. While their approach IS misguided, it is disheartening when you see the world have the appearance of empathy and care and concern that the Body of Christ is commissioned by God to have. Our care for the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, etc IS AN APOLOGETIC in and of itself. It’s faith in action and on display. You cannot lead the people if you don’t love the people. And you cannot save the people if you do not serve the people. But I digress…
That balance of seemingly opposed approaches (ie preach the gospel vs social activism) is how we should approach racism…systemic or otherwise. While the Gospel is indeed heart transforming, Scripture is clear in its instruction that AS BELIEVERS that WE bear the responsibility of renewing OUR MINDS.(Rom. 12:2) We are responsible for changing our mindsets. Heart issues are God’s responsibility. Issues of the mind are ours (with the help of the Holy Spirit, of course).
George Whitefield – one of the greatest, most widely respected preachers and religious figures of the 18th century and of the Western world – knew the Gospel. And yet not only did he own slaves but was also an avid proponent and advocate for the perpetuation of slavery in UK as well as America. Never changed his view.
Ironically, he also was quoted as saying in his sermon Marks of a True Conversion
“No, the religion of Jesus is a social religion […] that we are (to be) engaged in it […] obliged to be serviceable to the commonwealth.”
Johnathan Edwards – one of the most oft-quoted Reformed theologians; who penned one of my favorite sermons, Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God – knew the Gospel. Yet he and his wife owned several household and farming slaves throughout his lifetime and, at least, one up until his death. He knew the Gospel but both he, George Whitfield and plenty others continued to have HUGE blindspots when it came to viewing their fellow man as fellow image bearers.
Now, for me, this doesn’t diminish the God-truths and insight that they’ve shared. However, what it does tell us is that knowing the Gospel - even preaching the Gospel, alone - does NOT account for the blind spots that sanctification doesn’t touch. Knowing God and being redeemed by the blood of His Savior, Jesus doesn’t take away from the real responsibility of renewing our old minds. There are many God-loving, gospel preaching and otherwise decent folk who have LARGE blind spots when it comes to issues of race and race reconciliation. We can be knowing rightly in 5 areas and yet be lacking and a mess in a 6th. As Dr. Paul Tripp astutely pointed out,
“Based on Jonah 3&4 it is possible to preach the gospel and still hold racial/ethnic prejudice in your heart.”
Search our hearts. Renew our minds. Keep mindful of blind spots. And all that is much easier to do when you purposely surround yourself with people who don’t look like you; come from the same cultural, socio-economical, doctrinal place as you. You tend to break out of the bubble, (cultural, socio-economical, doctrinal) and see people as people…image bearers from a God-given myriad of different hues and shades, upbringings and cultures and not simply “others” or “that group”, etc. You potentially get to recognize – some for the first time – your own flaws in your thinking or misconceptions you may have unknowingly held. With regard to Sean’s title of this thread, “How to live as a Christian in Light of Systemic Racism?”…I think diverse community, a renewed (and renewing) mind AND a compassion and changed heart made so by Jesus Christ and The Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel are a great place to start.
May God continue to shed His righteous Light on our own hearts, uncovering our deep blindspots…so that we may be brighter lights; lighting up the darkness in a fractured world. Amen.
What are your thoughts?