Over the past month, nearly all of my church, charity, business, university and social media connections have issued public proclamations of their strong opposition to racism in any form. We are all appalled by what was done to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Christian Cooper – to name just a few. But horrendous treatment of African Americans is certainly nothing new. The sordid history of slavery and systematic racism in our nation is well documented. Yet nearly 60 years after the Civil Rights Act became the law of our land, we are still seeing unacceptable poverty rates, wage inequity and unemployment gaps between white and black citizens. Everyone knows racial profiling exists today. We’re all aware that blacks continue to be viewed by many white Americans with more wariness than their caucasian counterparts.
Yet given those longstanding realities, where were those voices of shock and horror two months ago or two years ago? What were those organizations and individuals doing to support the oppressed and fight for justice before it became politically expedient to announce their official positions against racism? Those jumping on the bandwagon with no prior track record of addressing widespread, obvious discrimination were either grossly misinformed then or disingenuous now. Suddenly, companies that rarely if ever featured African Americans in their advertisements ensure every ad includes at least one. Their sudden attention to racial injustices that have persisted for decades calls into the question the sincerity of their carefully-crafted statements, particularly during the Coronavirus pandemic when profits and revenues are down. On the other hand, white executives who have championed diversity and fought for racial justice when it was costly or not in vogue carry far more credibility today.
My concern is that if we simply pay lip service to the defense of human rights while racism makes the headlines, we will wind up back where we started and see little lasting change. That’s likely how division and inequality remain so long after slavery ended. We talk about justice, but the Bible calls us instead to “do justice” (Micah 6:8) Doing is about taking physical action, not just expressing verbal opinions. James 2:15-16 says “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” For example, a corporation may have a policy stating that racism will not be tolerated, but that alone won’t alter the underlying belief systems and actions of its employees outside of the workplace.
As Christians, we know Jesus and His command to love our neighbor as ourselves is the answer to ending racism. But most non-black believers and predominantly white churches are not sure what they can do right now to affect meaningful change. Most only see two possible options – join the protests or speak out on social media, both of which are verbal in nature. However, we must get beyond words. Hearts must genuinely be transformed, otherwise a new issue will soon take precedence in our nation’s fickle, short attention span culture. Tweets condemning racism are already becoming trite. Facebook posts by those joining the fray at this late date come across as posturing. Protests are beginning to diminish in impact. The message has been sent. The time for symbolic gestures has passed. It’s time to stop saying what we’re not, and to prove who we are. It’s time to do something.
Together, as the body of Christ “LET’S END RACISM”.
How You Can “Do” Justice
For every believer, Knowing Jesus and Being in a relationship with Him should translate into Doing His will. Similarly, Knowing the harm caused by racism by Being in relationship with those suffering should translate into Doing what is necessary to help them.
L Love – Loving your neighbor as yourself means making others’ problems your problems. Our fellow Christians are brothers and sisters regardless of the color of their skin. Jesus stopped whatever he was doing to help those in distress. Jesus died for us – are we willing to sacrifice our lives for our spiritual family? Racial reconciliation begins when we form deep, loving friendships with those who don’t look like us on the outside but are identical twins on the inside.
E Engage – Getting involved at arms-length by joining mass protests or posting to a broad audience on social media has brought racial inequalities to the surface, but now we should move forward toward more active, personal engagement. Call friends and colleagues of color to learn from them and offer support. Approach your pastor to ask why your church isn’t more diverse and what can be done about that. Talk to your city or business leader contacts to discuss how to narrow income and wage disparities between whites and minorities.
T’ Teach – Ultimately it’s the next generation who will determine whether racism will dissipate or escalate in America. Most adults were raised to hold a set of entrenched beliefs about whites or blacks. To build bridges and serve youth in Jesus’ name, Meet The Need co-founded a ministry that provides Christian mentors and tutors to students in African American middle schools.
S Share – The abuses and structures that led to the racial inequities we’re still experiencing are too complex to unravel with human solutions. Jesus is the answer to overcoming our differences by focusing on our similarities as brethren in Christ. Jesus’ model for evangelism was serving through Loving, Engaging and Teaching – letting compassion open doors to sharing the Gospel.
E Employ – If you’re a business leader, don’t stop at mentoring but take personal responsibility for providing the disadvantaged with opportunities to change the trajectory of their lives. The most dignifying and honoring path to success for those struggling is not handouts and dependency but equal access to quality education and gainful employment at comparable salaries.
N Notice – Look for chances to do acts of kindness for those that others pass by. Last week a broken-down vehicle was pulled off on side of the road near my house with three young African Americans on cell phones trying to find help. The experience of serving my new friends, reaching out to a towing contact and paying for the tow may have a ripple effect on those within their circles of influence for years to come.
D Disciple – Disciple-making is cross-cultural, and not optional. Yet few Christians or churches today take the Great Commission seriously – or even understand what discipleship entails. Following in the footsteps of Jesus and obeying Him no matter what the cost means never showing partiality, having a genuine interest in learning from those who’ve experienced challenges we’ll never face, and investing in helping them realize their full potential in Christ.
How Churches Can “Do” Justice
Corporate gatherings of believers have a collective role to play as well in ending racism. But statements, sermons and social media do not comprise the entirety of a church’s responsibility to act…
R Repent – Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words in 1964 still ring true today: Sunday morning church services remain the “most segregated hour” of the week in America. Most churchgoers are too segregated Monday through Saturday as well, not seeking diversity in their social circles. Paraphrasing Ephesians 2:14–15, Christ knocked down all dividing walls and abolished enmity between differing cultures and ethnic groups to form one new people. We belong to a group of leaders in Tampa Bay that for 5 years has modeled “church” as a united body across racial lines.
A Adapt – Finding common ground for interracial worship may require some give and take. Like denominations, predominately black and white churches are separated in part by their organizational differences and cultural preferences. We may worship the same God in somewhat different ways, but both must adapt to promote diversity because division is not from the Lord. Compassionately serving brothers and sisters of another color will also go a long way toward showing all are welcome at your church on Sunday morning.
C Confront – Scripture calls us to deal with sin in our pews. There’s no need to pretend your church is color blind, but never tolerate actions that fail to recognize everyone as a child of God regardless of pigmentation. Rather than sweeping discrimination under the rug, root it out and work for justice in your congregation and community.
I Invest – To ensure the sin of racism doesn’t rear its ugly head, teach members the importance of proactively doing the “LET’S END…” steps we laid out above. Sins of commission dissipate when churchgoers are held accountable for sins of omission, like missing opportunities to alleviate suffering in the name of Jesus. When their efforts lead to new justice ministries, reallocate budget to support those causes, following the example of New Testament churches who gave generously to help persecuted believers.
S Serve – Develop trusted partnerships between white and black churches, encouraging occasional joint worship services and service projects. Walk alongside one another in seeking justice when discrimination is evident anywhere in the city, modeling racial unity to a watching world. Never position those relationships as the “rich” coming to the rescue of the “poor”, but as equals with no superiority in Christ.
M Mediate – As purveyors of peace in Jesus’ name, pastors should build bridges by making connections with African American leaders and law enforcement officials, providing a forum and safe space for meaningful discussions. Who better than the church to be on the front lines of healing and restoration in the midst of strife and animosity?
It’s Your Turn…
Please share stories of actions you have taken beyond posts and protests that have been effective in combatting racism. How has your church engaged successfully in racial reconciliation in your community?