The Church and Its Response to Injustice: A Helpful Way to Reflect and Respond

To the Brothers and Sisters of St. Rose Community Church on America’s present reckoning with the sin of racism….

Where do we start?

George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arberry. ____________…

America is burning right now. Literally. The issue of race in America is dividing communities nationwide as many helplessly watch, paralyzed by fear, anger, and confusion. Black people are dying at the hands of unjust men and women whose failure to uphold true justice and lack of regard for human life continues to flourish in a broken system. Many of these black people are brothers and sisters in Christ, but at minimum, their status as image-bearers of God ought to be enough to garner our attention and grieve at their unjust killing. The violent protests, riots, and further assault on human dignity and property, could never have been predicted as a hot news topic in the wake of a global pandemic, but they do not come as a surprise to many black Americans. As much as I hate that I should even have to qualify the reason for the specific focus of this message, to avoid being a distraction to some, I must point out that people of all colors die every day in this country in an infinite number of unjust ways. However, in this present moment, America must reckon with its historic failure of true justice in tolerating and even perpetuating the sin racism that has caused so many black deaths.

I do not say these words as an alarmist seeking to rouse your attention, to sway you towards a personal cause, or for the rush of excitement when a group of people’s emotions are stirred by injustice. I hope, as your brother in Christ and as someone who has walked a confusing and at times painful road of dealing with the reality of the dividing lines of race in our world, that what I write to you is helpful to you. In that spirit, my hope is to share some of what the Lord has graciously taught me, patiently walking with me to expose sin in my own heart and rebuke indifference and callousness toward human suffering due to injustice. I write these words in hopes of uniting and mobilizing our church together in mission to serve as a distinct Gospel witness in the community of St. Rose, St. Charles Parish, the Greater New Orleans area, and on into the world. To do that however, we need to take a good look at ourselves and where we are, if we are to fulfill Christ’s command to be light and salt in the world. (Matt. 5:13-16)

Here are my thoughts…

We must respond to tragedy rightly. 

A black man, fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of his Creator, died this week while in police custody due to lethal force that was not necessitated by the actions of the man. His death was recorded on video, now immortalized for the world to watch over and over. The black community, a physical family, and a local church family, lost one of their own members in the death of George Floyd. In the year 2020, much can be assumed about a person’s worldview based on how they respond to the news of the death of another black man at the hands of police. If your first response is grief and shock, it is likely that many other unjust deaths have created the same response. If your first response is to ask the question, “What did he do for the police to do that to him?” it is likely that you have been influenced by mainstream media, regardless of political leaning, to view these incidents as tragic for the wrong reasons. Not as tragic for the loss of human life, but tragic because this cultural moment is a new opportunity for someone to force their agenda on you or other groups in America. The right response to death is always grief and the right response to injustice is always anger.

We must understand sin rightly. 

We are a spiritual Body, and much like an illness in our physical bodies, we must trace the symptoms back to the ailment that is causing those symptoms to properly treat what is making us ill. It is a matter of first importance to every member of the church to address the problem of sin in the human heart that results in every kind of evil acted out in the world. Humanity is sick and in need of a Physician who can make them well. Sin is a spiritual sickness in our world, and has a 100% fatality rate if not dealt with properly as the Great Physician prescribes. The spiritual sickness of sin, much like a physical sickness, is a form of bondage humanity is living in. The Bible tells us that all of creation is in bondage to corruption [of sin] and groans with eager longing to be redeemed and restored (Romans 8:21-23). Titus 3:3 tells us that mankind in its sinful state is “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” In other words, all hell has broken loose, destroying and distorting every good thing that God has designed.

Another important step we must take to understand sin rightly is to understand not just what sin has done to our relationship with God, but our relationship with one another. Sin does not just have vertical effects, but horizontal effects as well. One human being’s act of harm or ill-will against another human being is, first and foremost, a sin against God (vertical effect of sin), but it is also a very real event that plays out in this world as an act of sin committed against another image bearer of God (horizontal effect of sin). In the case of racism, the vertical sin makes them a hostile enemy of God and the horizontal sin makes them a hostile enemy of those they hate. Racism in the human heart is hypocrisy of the first order. A person claiming to be good while hating another human being is not good, they like the feeling of people thinking they are good. All the while they are deceived in their sin, and if they will not repent, will die an enemy of God, leaving a lifetime of hatred and destruction in their path that others are forced to deal with. As we love God more, we must hate racism more, because we hate sin and its destructive power more. The expression of hatred for racism is not an indicator of true love for God, but true love for God will not tolerate the insidious sin of racism in their heart, their homes, their church, or their community.

We must understand the Gospel rightly. 

Jesus is the great Physician. He offers healing to all who would look to Him in faith as the sinless Son of God, sent into the world to accomplish salvation for humanity through His death and resurrection. We have the promise in Revelation that Jesus Himself will make all things new. (Rev. 21:1-8) The beauty of the Gospel is that it restores our broken relationship with God and with one another. In Christ, God has forgiven our sins and reconciled us to Himself, satisfying the demands of His holy character while also lavishing His love upon us. His characteristic holiness is satisfied by the justice poured out on Christ in our place, and His characteristic love is lavished on us as the objects of Christ’s redemptive death and resurrection. (Romans 3:21-26) This good news of the Gospel offers us hope to the racist and to the victim of racism, because both can be forgiven of their sins through faith in Christ. It is the only hope for humanity, whether in life they are the villain or the victim, as all stand guilty before a holy God. 

We must understand the identity and responsibility of Christ’s Church rightly. 

Christ’s death was a reconciling work, restoring sinners to relationship with God and making possible their united fellowship with one another. Paul lays out in Ephesians 2 a picture of the New Covenant community, one together in Christ, drawn to Him because of His message of peace, and having access to God the Father through the Holy Spirit. In light of these truths, Paul tells the Ephesian believers “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens and the saints and members of the household of God…” (Eph. 2:19) As members of God’s household, we have a responsibility to one another. 

This is the beauty of the Body of Christ, that we are to care for other members to ensure the health of the Body for maximum flourishing. This is a beautiful truth, but the responsibility that comes with it is costly. If someone knocked you to the ground to repeatedly punch you in the face, then it is highly likely that your body, out of concern for itself, would signal to your hands to raise up and protect your body from the punches thrown at you. This is a single example of how members of one body work together for the good of the whole body, but in the same way, members of Christ’s spiritual Body must be on guard for threats to the body. In moments of chaos and danger, members of the body must be willing to protect against and either eliminate or escape from any threat to the good of the body. In the case of the Church, when our members are hurting because of sin in the world repeatedly playing out at a systemic level, we must resolve not to remain silent and not to remain inactive.

The identity of the church as the Body of Christ, the living breathing image bearers of Christ in the world as sinners saved by grace and united together for mission is an identity that must be protected. The identity of the Church must be guarded from every form of slander, falsehood, and demonic strategy to dilute the pure goodness of Christ’s Gospel. Racism, among many other sins, is a threat to the purity of the Gospel, and does its greatest damage to the Church and to the world when allowed to dwell within or in close proximity to the Church and the preaching of the Gospel.

We must love our black brothers and sisters well by opposing the sin of racism and engaging in the work of reconciliation in our world.

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans. 13:10)

“Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” (1 Cor. 10:24)

Listen. Love. Learn. In that order. 

We must listen to the grief and agony of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is best done without offering response or reasoning in the wake of tragedy and suffering. If the church is deaf to the suffering of the community, then the community will be deaf to the message of the church. By listening well, with patience, compassion, and eagerness to learn, we can identify better as a church with the unique struggles and brokenness of the community so that we will better know how to meet their diverse needs. 

We must commit ourselves to loving the community. This is something that I think our church currently does particularly well, but when was the last time you invited a member of the community to your house? What about being invited to their house? Have you found yourself sitting at the dinner table with someone from a completely different background than yourself in the last year? Our love is not expressed in our ability to invite the community onto the physical premises of our church property. The age of God’s people being a spectacle for all the world to come and see and marvel at has been over for about 2500 years. The age of big tent church revivals has come and gone too. It matters how we welcome people when they come to church so that they will want to come back, but it matters a whole lot more whether people feel welcomed enough to come into your home or invite you into theirs. Biblical hospitality is a means provided to the saints to show the love of Christ, share the Gospel, and share life experiences with one another, in many cases, while sharing a meal. I will go a step further though and say that this love is most enjoyed when it is reciprocated, meaning that others feel so loved and welcomed by you that they invite you into their home and their world as well, leading me to my next point.

We must commit ourselves to learning from others in the community. My former barber (and now close friend) is a black man who quit a higher-paying job driving a truck and took a lesser-paying job working for the parish so that he could be home to be actively involved with the raising of his sons. Each time I came to his apartment to get a haircut I got to enjoy meals his wife cooked, see what TV shows and movies his family watched, and regularly see him interact with his sons, sometimes administering discipline and correction right in front of me. I learned some things about being a dad and a husband from my friend who had invited me into his home and allowed me to see his imperfect walk with Christ to learn from him. Not everyone who you may seek to learn from of a different race will be a Christian, so strategies for evangelism will necessarily change the nature of the conversations, but it is to every Christian’s benefit to befriend and share their lives with people not like them.

We must commit ourselves to the proclaiming of the Gospel. In all our relationships. In all of our endeavors. In worship, in discipleship, in evangelism, and in acts of service. Especially in the case of non-Chiristians of a different race, Gospel proclamation is important because it is hateful to lead a thirsty man to a well with no water. We should not commit our lives to freeing victims from earthly injustice, only to leave them eternally guilty to suffer unending punishment. In our living and in our dying, the world must see a love for the Gospel as the only hope we have of deliverance from the power of sin, both our sin and the sins of others.

Shouldn’t we just preach the Gospel and not worry about everything else?

Yes, the Gospel is the power of God to save man. (Romans 1:16-17) In fact, the Gospel has so much power that it transforms hard hearts that are either perpetrators of racism or indifferent to the injustice of racism in our world to repent and love where they could previously only hate. However, a blind man will not cry out for the Savior to give him sign sight if he does not know he is blind.

What is the church’s appropriate response to this? 

Lament. Compassion. Open ears to listen to the cry of the hurting. Open arms to show the hurting that they are loved. Open doors to show that the hurting are welcomed, both in our churches and in our homes.

How should Christians respond to their church family?

We have a responsibility to our members to not remain silent on these issues. In this present moment in America we have a responsibility to our black brothers and sisters to make known to them that the sin of racism and its many manifestations in our world grieves our Lord Jesus, were condemned by His death on the cross, and will not be tolerated within His blood-bought, believing community. We have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters who are white to remind them that their union with Christ demands that they become active in their black brothers and sisters’ struggle against the oppression of sin, physical and spiritual. The Gospel has been preached, is being preached, and will be preached throughout the world, Christ has promised that, but He also calls His people to actively concern themselves with the well-being of other members of the Body of Christ as if the well being of others was their own. (Romans 12:15) Take the time to listen to, learn from, and love your brothers and sisters God has placed in your midst. 

By God’s wise and good design the love shown among brothers and sisters in Christ within the Church will inevitably overflow outside the doors of the Church and out into the world. The greatest impact the Church can have on the world to set itself apart from institutions broken by racism and injustice is to apply the Gospel and the Word of God, each member to their own lives, to demonstrate a counter-cultural love and commitment to God and to one another.

Some practical ways to reflect and respond…

-Examine our own hearts – Do I love God the way I ought to? (1 Cor. 11:27-28)

-Examine our hearts toward those within our church – Do I love other members of the Body the way I ought to? (Romans 12:10)

-Examine our hearts toward those within our community – Do I love the individuals living in my community the way I ought to? If everyone in my community is like me, do I love those outside the community and are different from me the way I ought to? (Luke 10:25-37)

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