How to live as a Christian in Light of Systemic Racism?

(SeanO) #1

Another topic posted about the origin of races got me thinking of living as a Caucasian in the US and the reality that racism existed even among my friends and family, many of whom went to Church, growing up. It was not overt, but it was still present through comments and attitudes. As I got older and my walk with Christ moved forward I had to decide how I would respond to this undertow that I felt when among certain groups of people.

I found a few videos describing white privilege, systemic vs individual racism and a potential way forward through living in diverse community all from a Christian perspective. How have you navigated systems of injustice in your own life? Has diverse community played a role in helping you to see life from other perspectives and embrace those with another background? How do you stand up against those undertows of racism when you encounter them?

I think it is so important for us as Christians to set an example of humility and love in these areas that can be very controversial. We should be trendsetters in learning how to love one another and in that way be a light that leads others to Jesus through our example of love.

What is ‘White Privilege’?

Systemic Racism vs Individual Racism

Living in Diverse Community - An Answer?

(C Rhodes) #2

I am a black American. I am a woman. I am an older person. I am single and abstain. I lean towards obesity if I don’t watch myself. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. And there is more, but those or obvious tags I encounter on a regular basis. To fat, not fat enough, homophobic, rightwing nut, liberal democratic mud flake, repressed and yet too secular. Too churchy and not churchy enough. It is enough to make me do Bugs Bunny impressions. "Ba di, ba di, ba di, that’s all folks!

When I moved to Eastern Colorado two years ago, some of the most spirit-crushing behavior I experienced were from people who claimed to be Christians. Everyone loved Jesus, but they were sure I did not belong out here. Things would happen. Most frighteningly, violent knocks on the windows of my home at odd hours of the night.

By spring of the first year, I found myself often in tears and despair. I am a fighter, but, for goodness sake, it was the 21st century! I begin to petition Heaven. These people did not know who they were dealing with. My Sheena warrior stood up in me; then I inadvertently brought a garden snake into the house. We found him, but afterward, I was crying and listening to PJ Morton’s “Alright” over and over again.

What the Lord gave me in reply, has altered my mind and my living. While I was praying fire and damnation upon my tormentors, the Lord whispered. “How do you not love, whom I love?” Now, you guys know it is almost inconceivable to love in the face of hateful behavior. I don’t care what the skin color is, or the political thinking, GOD hater, or God in them. Our go-to, our basic reaction is not to love.

But that is the question I must answer in the face of all human failings. In the face of my own failings. It changes everything. I might not like you or appreciate you, but I love me some GOD. If GOD loves you there has to be something I’m missing.

Because I love the Lord and like Him just as much, I am okay with allowing Him ownership of all His children. But I am careful to ask for the mind of Christ, cause living on this planet; is a task of divine proportions. I can’t see your value with my naked eye. I must let that mind be in me, or I might smack somebody.

I believe that systemic racism is a symptom of a fatal disease. Social activism is a band-aid slapped across the face of open infected wounds. The answer lies in the heart altering, mind-changing power of GOD. Until the heart is changed, our systemic misbehavior will be the inheritance we bequeath to our children and the generations of our future. And that misbehavior lives within all cultures, even in the church.

That, the systemic misbehavior will always encamp our world, is no reason to not do your best to eliminate it from your point of contact. But we are being deliberately naive if we think our social activism will ever do more then shift the infection. Racism like all sin must be excised from the heart. That takes Jesus.

(Bill Brander) #3

From a ‘white’ South African perspective, your last paragraph is (in my mind) oh so true. Our country needs to return to God. But instead we are following materialism, greed and selfishness.

(SeanO) #4

@cer7 Thank you for sharing your experience. I agree our default reaction is not love when someone mistreats us - especially through violence. I am encouraged by your desire to love your enemy and to share the grace of Jesus Christ through your prayers and life - may God grant you victory as you stand up as a light for Him in the midst of a broken world!

(SeanO) #5

@billbrander From your perspective in South Africa, how do you think the Church can show the world the love of Christ through the way we love each other across racial divides? I agree that the world needs God, but how do you think we live in such a way that they will be drawn to Him in the midst of the brokenness that already exists?

(Bill Brander) #6

I like to think that the church in SA is trying to show Jesus. But some habits are deeply entrenched.

We shout that, “We are one and undivided.” But are we? Not yet is my response. However, there are small pockets of change. These are fostered by a culture of acceptance. Can I accept you for who you are?


(Aracelis Diaz) #7

I loooovveee everything you stated here. You’re right, social activism isn’t really the answer, only Jesus can change hearts.

(SeanO) #8

@adiaz @billbrander @cer7 So, one really common theme that seems to be coming out in your responses is that social justice is not enough and I agree! Social justice cannot change the heart - only Jesus can change the heart. But I still think we should pursue justice in our society. So here is a great interview by Sean McDowell with Thaddeus Williams on how we can pursue Biblical justice in society. I thought one helpful thing he did was to point out what types of justice movements are not Biblical and how we can be part of a Biblical movement towards social justice.

Here are some questions for you guys - Does the Church sometimes throw the baby out with the bath water when we use the fact that only the Gospel can change hearts to not engage on issues of social justice? Is there a place for social justice in the Church as long as we practice careful discernment to understand what types of social justice movements are not Biblical?

We all want to see slaves set free and oppression cease - so how do we engage in that process as a Church community?

Christian Tradition of Social Justice

Here is Thaddeus’ summary of the Christian tradition of social justice:

"There is a long, beautiful history of Christians who lived out the biblical call to justice. The early church proclaimed the Gospel in a way that subverted the mutual racism between 1st century Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles. They brought reconciliation and real community where there had been hostility and division for centuries.

When Romans tossed their so called “blemished” babies away like garbage—often simply because they were female—our ancient brothers and sisters went to those human dumps, rescued, and raised society’s unwanted as their own cherished sons and daughters. They knew God had rescued and adopted them, so they did the same until the human dumps were no more.

When a plague ravaged the Roman Empire, most people ran for the hills away from the sick and dying. It was countercultural Christians who ran to the bedsides of the plagued (most of them non-Christians who didn’t abide by Christian ethics, sexual or otherwise) to treat them with dignity, getting sick and dying right along with them. (Contrast that with the church’s response to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s!) Then there was Wilberforce, John Newton and the Clapham sect in the UK, along with Fredrick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, and others is the US. Their own experiences of redemption from sin inspired them to abolish the dehumanizing slave-trade. Christians like Charles Octavius Boothe and Dietrich Bonhoeffer used good theology to combat white supremacy. You might not know it from today’s headlines, but this long and biblically propelled justice tradition continues today all over the world."

What Biblical Justice is Not

Here are Thaddeus’ remarks regarding what Christian social justice is not:

  • If a view of justice blames all evil on external systems of oppression while ignoring Solomon’s pride-deflating insight that our own hearts are full of evil and moral insanity (Ecclesiastes 9:3 ) then it is not biblical justice
  • If a view of justice deconstructs relationships in terms of “power-differentials” and argues that all such hierarchies are evil and must be abolished in the name of “equality” then it is not biblical justice
  • If a view of justice interprets all truth, reason, and logic as mere constructs of the oppressive class, if it encourages us to dismiss someone’s viewpoint on the basis of their skin tone or gender, then it is not biblical justice
  • If a view of justice encourage indignation toward people-groups as a motivator for social activism then it is not biblical justice
  • If a view of justice breaks people into group identities, generating a spirit of mutual suspicion, hostility, fear, labeling, offended-ness, and preoccupation with one’s subjective feelings then it is not biblical justice.
  • If a view of justice seeks behavior modification, often through intimidation, speech codes, and ideological re-education, then it is not biblical justice.
  • If a view of justice teaches that the human telos (i.e., our ultimate purpose and meaning) is defined by the creature, and that anyone who challenges our self-defined telos is an oppressor, then it is not biblical justice
  • If a view of justice sees one culture borrowing from one another as the oppressive act of “cultural appropriation” then it is not biblical justice.

(C Rhodes) #9

Wonderful questions @SeanO. Please know that I do not mean to trivialize the Church’s responsibility. At the point of contact, we must be Biblically correct in our reactions. However, like satan did on the occasion of the story of Job, the enemy of righteous living assembles with the gathering of the sons of GOD. So, the church indeed has a history of tossing the baby out with the bath water. We bring many of our social prejudices with us in the assembly of GOD’s people.

We are indebted to stand against unrighteousness whenever and wherever we see it. But, if history is any indication; we take too many of our clues from the social climate of the day. Ultimately, the Church must be vigilant for the heart of the ostracized and the ostracizer.

We have a ministry for the hurting, but we devalue the pain afflicter. So, if we are to be beacons of Justice, there must be a ‘Balm in Gilead" for everyone. Whether, Black or KKK. Whether, male or female. Whether young or old. Whether Single or Married. The Church is the place of Lively Love. That again requires a synchronized life with Christ. That type of witness is as varied as the ways humans hurt each other. If we are not asking, daily how to do so; we become as ineffective as our Society. Jesus’ reaction to the injustice of His day, was to sometimes beat the money changers out of the erroneous places they occupied. But with love and tenderness, He continues to draw us all.

That can be a frightening thought. The love of Jesus is a two pronged attack against evil. It saves the life and the soul. It redeems the hated and the hater. I suppose for the bearer of such love, it could very well take our natural lives. Still, greater love hath no one than to lay down their life for a friend. Are we really GOD’s friend to the World He longs to save?

(Aracelis Diaz) #10

@SeanO I am in agreement with you Sean. When i say Jesus can only change hearts I’m not saying we sit back and let God do the work, I’m saying that Jesus through His Body, the church, does the changing. The church should be involved in standing up for human injustices like racism and also evaluate themselves and how faithful they are to Christ if they have those deep rooted racist feelings in their hearts.

(SeanO) #12

@cer7 Very well said - the Gospel is for both the younger brother and the older brother - the prodigal and the Pharisee. We can stand up against injustice and yet eagerly pursue the salvation of the oppressor. Jesus testified to Caesar and to the woman at the well. Paul to Felix and to Philemon. I think of the Christian leader Richard Wurmbrand told of who went to prison for standing up against an unjust government and yet told his torturer that he was made in God’s image - he had not been created to be a monster. May we love as Christ has loved us!

(Warner Joseph Miller) #13

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 Godknew 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?

(Aracelis Diaz) #14

@ WarnerMiller…very well and intelligently stated, agree with you 100%.

(C Rhodes) #15

@WarnerMiller. Great analogies, statements, and questions. I would only differ by saying, the Word of GOD does not say “make this mind be in you that is in Christ Jesus.” It says “Let.” Our part is the submission of our will, every day, which clears the path for the renewed mind from Jesus. I would also say sanctification is not fully realized if you are only yielding five out of six parts of yourself.

It is kind to say that a slave owner is sanctified, but it is really an indication that such an individual lived beneath privilege. Can we limp our way into Heaven, I suppose so, given that all our righteousness is as a filthy rag. Can GOD use us though we remain flawed, oh yes and He does!

A dependency upon prayer behind or motivating any justice is required. How can we possibly be the heart of GOD for a dying world, if we decide what that means or looks like? Prayer is the catalyst for both our personal solutions and our world’s. Prayer is foremost the act of asking, what works, what comes next. Our only hope lies in the equation of Prayer, plus Word, then action. Relationship with GOD creates remedy and good from our human efforts.

To seek the solution otherwise is to mimic the behavior of Whitefield and Edwards. I don’t assume that because they owned slaves they were racist or liars. Just as I don’t assume that being liberal, conservative, democratic, or otherwise is an indication of freedom from racism or lying. We all are in danger of seeking the comfort of our day and never living long enough or diligent enough to accept the continued discomfort of growth in GOD. That loss is ours and the current society.

I place no confidence in the ability of anyone, myself included, to know how to fix anything or even get most things right. We are so consistently human, and I believe GOD gets that. He will use it all for His glory, ultimately; that is the point.

For me, the mandate is to Let. It is the only way I can be assured my fallibility will never be a deterrent for anyone else. It is the only way to renew my mind and vanquish my own blind spots.

(Bill Brander) #16

Yet another insightful post, Warner.

Thank you

(Melody Dickens) #17

Hi Constance. Thanks sharing. I’m really sorry for the traumatic things you’ve had to endure. I had terrible neighbors at one point (white, like me) and I did the same thing, praying fire and damnation upon them for about 5 years and nothing happened. Then, like you, I was convicted about loving them with God’s love, so I had to change my prayers as well. It was amazing to see God make changes in all of us after that - not total life transformations in their behavior, but noticeable. I really appreciated what you had to share. Thanks for the reminder about loving with God’s love.

(C Rhodes) #18

@meldickens. Just so happy to hear how GOD has worked with others facing the same type of issues. Our enemy seeks to promote a sense of loneliness in our daily walk. You are symbolic of all GOD holds for me. Sisters like you prove the lyrics true. "His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.

(Gertrude) #19

Hey, I’m from South Africa too. The Church have to show the way and Sunday mornings should ‘no longer be the most segregated time’. I think the Church can start by providing/creating safe spaces for people to share, be vulnerable about their hurts /experiences. Last year at my church for a couple of weeks we had a series called EmbRACE (Diversity). It afford opportunity to talk, for many discovering covert racist tendencies and privilege and also unforgiveness . It was absolutely eye opening and started a journey for engaging, discovering, healing and forgiveness! The Church can lead by creating safe spaces to engage about racism and also showing Christ in our living#UNITYInChrist

(SeanO) #20

@klaase.g Thank you for sharing. The idea of a safe space for sharing is great as it allows people to communally process their experiences and learn from each other. I am so encouraged that your Church is taking steps towards oneness in Christ.

(C Rhodes) #21

@WarnerMiller. Greetings and salutations! I was thinking about our discourse earlier in the week. All I can say is that I am glad I did not know you are a certified Apologist. Talk about intimidation! “Weeee and oooo wee” buddy. I sometimes respond to people in a manner that does not rest well with my soul. If I did so, please forgive me. I believe we were actually saying pretty much the same thing.

However, I am sufficiently impressed with your knowledge and journey. I will try and not be intimidated by awe. But I will always try to be respectful of all GOD’s people. Blessings and love!