Two open letters addressing racial injustice were recently published in the Christian Chronicle:
- An open letter to members of the Churches of Christ -ministers, scholars and thought leaders within the fellowship
- Speaking Up on the Issue of Race in America – from Harold Shank and Robert Solomon
These were accompanied by an article including interviews with some of the authors.
The letters were, of course, inspired by the current controversy regarding the Black Lives Matter movement.
There is a rebuttal argument, of course. Let’s consider it briefly: Because the church loves its neighbors, and because the victims of illegal police shootings are our neighbors, shouldn’t we do something to help protect them from illegal police violence?
Shouldn’t we then do what we can now, rather than waiting the decades it would take to clean up the church’s internal racism?
No. Because the solution is Jesus, and we have no credibility to make that claim until we’ve allowed Jesus to defeat our own racism.
But we can still put social pressure on the police and local government to clean up their messes.
Not really. After all, we have no credibility with this massive log stuck in our eye. And we have no solution that the government isn’t already pursuing. All we can say to the Justice Department is “Atta boy! We agree that this needs to be fixed!” which will assuage our consciences but contribute nothing toward an actual solution.
And that approach risks the worst of all possibilities – the delusion that we’ve really helped and therefore can deal with racism by telling non-Christians to please stop being racists – while not preaching Jesus and continuing our internal racist practices.
No, the authors of the open letters are entirely right to point out the racism that remains within the churches. Fixing that, though, is not a step toward a solution or part of the solution. Jesus is the solution, and our job is to become credible to preach his gospel to those who desperately need it.
But can’t we preach the gospel today? Can’t we talk about Jesus in the public square?
Of course, but those who’ve not submitted to Jesus are under no obligation to obey Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to re-order the world. He came to establish the Kingdom and to invite the world into the Kingdom. And those in the Kingdom are not allowed to be racists.
Those outside the Kingdom are subject to a very different set of rules.
(Rom. 1:28-2:1 ESV) 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
Paul describes those who do not acknowledge God as given by God over to dissolute lives, including murder (v. 29). This is what happens to those who deny God. The solution to murder, therefore, is to acknowledge God (which includes Jesus as Messiah, of course).
Therefore, we have nothing to offer the world when it comes to ethical living besides submission to God and Jesus. We don’t have a better system. A better morality. A better set of rules. We have a better God. A better Savior. A transforming Spirit. And a better society — except we’re doing a very poor job of building our faith communities on Jesus and everyone knows it.
Remember that one of the major themes of the Bible is that we cannot circumcise our own hearts (Deu 10:16) and so must have God change our hearts for us (Deu 30:6, and many other verses we’ve covered a great many times).
So what should we do?
- We really need to clean our own houses. Yes, black lives matter to us — so much so that we can’t imagine continuing to segregate black and white in God’s church. It’s wrong. Immoral. Sinful. And it deeply undermines the witness of the Kingdom. We have to change, and we have to change soon. There’s no room for delay.
- We need to preach Jesus to the lost. To the police. To the rioters. To the politicians. To the victims of police overreach. To the criminals. To those who’ve lost family and friends. To those wrongly accused. To the media. To the rabble rousers. To the entire world. I mean, isn’t it obvious that we are seeing the fruit of rejecting God? Aren’t the dreadful things we see on TV and read about in the news obviously exactly the sorts of things that Paul describes in Rom 1? Then why would we attempt a solution other than the gospel?
- I might add that most of the police who are guilty of racist practices and most of the black rioters and assassins are only a few generations removed from Christianity. If their parents didn’t go to church, their grandparents did. Therefore, it’s not outrageous to see the whole problem in terms of the church’s failure to be the church God calls us to be. But doing church as we’ve always done church would seem guaranteed to lead to contraction of the church, a further erosion of Christian values, and even more societal breakdown. It took years for us to get this messed up, and it’ll take years to clean up the mess — but make no mistake: It’s our mess. We have failed countless families by being nearly indistinguishable from the world in our attitudes to race, wealth, etc. So there’s your problem, and there’s your solution.
- We have to resist the temptation to think in worldly terms, to offer worldly solutions in the name of Jesus, and to thereby reduce the gospel of Jesus the Messiah to a civil religion that sanctifies the work of the principalities and powers. We are not them. They are not us. And our job is not to shout “Amen!” as the secular powers offer their impotent secular solutions. No, our job is to demonstrate a better community, a better way of living, because we serve a better King who, through the Spirit, empowers us to live the gospel.
This, by the way, is exactly how the church overcame the Roman Empire. The church didn’t offer its blessing to sanctify the use of Roman power to bring about the Pax Romana (Roman peace). The church didn’t lobby the Roman senate to enact laws that would ensure peace. The church offered a Kingdom in which could be found a better peace.
No, it seems to me that if the church could do something that really makes a difference, it would not be the usual forms of civic engagement at all. It would be something very Jesus-like. (Continued.)