The Church and Its Witness in the Face of Injustice: A Helpful Course of Action

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

Where do we start?

There is no shortage of thoughts or opinions on the present issues stemming from the world’s explosive reaction (and rightfully so) to the deaths of Ahmaud Arberry, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, the most recent victims of injustice that were, in part, due to racial prejudice. I was asked by a sister within our church how she should rightly react to events like these and how we as a church should react to show empathy and love for black brothers and sisters who are agonizing over the horrific events caused by racism. I have spent years lamenting at how blind I have been in my own life, enjoying the perks of being raised by a white family in a white culture, one that I learned earlier on to navigate to avoid many of the hardships of being black. This served me well until God sovereignly orchestrated events in my life that reminded me quite clearly that I am not a white man, but a brown skinned biracial man, which meant two things: 1) that I was not immune to racism in my own life and most importantly 2) it is a sad betrayal of who I am to live my life trying to escape the negative consequences of being black while enjoying the pleasures afforded me because I have learned how to “be white.” So for the last few years, I have allowed the Lord to do the painful heart work of showing me blind spots I have myself, and ways that I have been inconsiderate of my brothers and sisters who look like me. In doing so, I was not only lacking love for brothers and sisters in Christ but denying myself the great privilege of being who God had fearfully and wonderfully created me to be to display His glory in the world. It is in that truth that I now see how important it is that the Church of Jesus Christ boast in the beauty of diversity among reconciled sinners united by His blood. (Revelation 7:9-12)

The voices calling for change can be deafening, and the church must do something, but it is our belief that only the Spirit of God can change hearts enslaved to sin and hatred. So as the Body of Christ and His representatives in the world, what can we as the Church do?

Here are four things that I believe we can do to help us better care for our brothers and sisters in our church, our community, and our world who are broken and burdened by the oppression of racism. This list is not exhaustive, and I’m sure there are better voices than mine seeking to lead God’s church to offer peace and healing to a suffering world through the Gospel of Christ, but I hope this is a good start.

1) Mourn

They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. (Jeremiah 6:14)

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)

→ We mourn the specific evil causing present pain.

Part of properly caring for our brothers and sisters who are suffering requires that we acknowledge the specific thing causing them pain. We do not have to totally understand their pain or have an immediate solution for it, but to show empathy and compassion, we must be willing to listen. You can have a lot of differences with a person and still acknowledge their pain to show them that you care. This is a great first step towards offering someone Gospel hope. 

→ We mourn the systems of injustice that result in repeated acts of evil.

Like many who grew up in a world with few black friends or influences from non-white people, I learned at an early age from the new channels watched in my house and the conversations held during Sunday lunch with fellow church members how to pre-qualify a person for justice. Questions and statements like: “Well, what did he/she do to deserve it?”,  Did they comply?”, “They shouldn’t have resisted.”, “Were they breaking the law?”, and “If they didn’t dress or carry themselves like a ‘thug’ they would be treated differently.” are just a few things that informed my ability to question anger at injustice stemming from racism. With age, maturity, and, by God’s grace, the renewing work of His Spirit, I can see how wrong and unhelpful these statements are when viewing the suffering and evil committed against another human being made in the image of God. You can have a lot of differences with a person and still acknowledge that there are broken systems in our world that were put in place to benefit some people at the expense of others.

→ We mourn the futility of this world enslaved by the power of sin.

Each new death, each act of injustice, each guilty person who walks free for something a black person would have never seen the light of day over, the people of this world groan in agony at a world subjected to the futility of sin. (Romans 8:20-23) It is good and right to mourn the worldwide effects of sin, for in doing so, we are brought to the sobering realization that this world is not our home and that the things of this world cannot ultimately deliver us from the sting of death. This sobering work is a divine help to us, as we are pointed upward to Jesus as our great Redeemer.

→ We look upward to the God who sees and unfailingly brings justice to His people.

As we mourn with those who mourn, we must reflect on the need for the broken and the hurting to have hope so that they are not crushed by despair. It is in this reflection that we are reminded, and can provide the reminder, that there is One who sees every unjust act and all accounts will be settled for the just and the unjust on the day of Christ’s return.

2) Listen

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” (James 1:19)

“To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” (Titus 3:2)

→ We listen so that the cry of the hurting is heard.

Part of loving is listening. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in his book Life Together, “The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.” We listen to validate the pain others feel and show them that we care for them.

→ We listen so that we can learn from those who are not like us.

Listening allows us to put aside our own thoughts and assumptions. Intentionally opening our ears to people who are not like us requires a suppression of our own words, sometimes when we strongly disagree. However, it is necessary and good to cultivate humility in our own hearts and be reminded that many of the beliefs we hold too can actually be more informed by our culture and context than the Word of God.

→ We listen so that we can change ourselves and the world around us.

When we listen to others who have different experiences from us, we can often find inconsistencies in our own approach to righteousness and justice in the world. In doing this, we are forced to examine our own hearts, and seek the help of God’s Word and His Spirit to change the way we think and respond to evil. This can have direct results in how we conduct ourselves in our homes, our churches, our communities, and the world.

→ We listen so that our prayers are informed to properly intercede and repent where necessary.

Isaiah 58 is a wonderful illustration of how God’s people can offer extravagant worship to Him while at the same time being completely blind to the injustice caused by their own hands. Take the time to read through this passage and see how God’s concerns did not align with those of the people of Israel. There was no brokenness for the poor, the oppressed, and the downtrodden. There was a concern for hearing from God, knowing what He had to say to Israel, likely to boast in their privileged hearing from the One True God. Sadly, had God granted Israel’s pleas, their revelation from God would have fallen on deaf ears that refused to hear any truth from those who had not been changed by it themselves. This passage is a reminder that before we can deal with any sin and injustice in the world, we must first deal with the sin and injustice in our own hearts and seek to obey God’s clear command to express our love for Him by loving our neighbors. This may result in repentance on our parts and a renewed desire to intercede for justice on the behalf of others.

 3) Call for Justice

4 “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law[a] will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples. 5 My righteousness draws near, my salvation has gone out, and my arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for me, and for my arm they wait.” (Isaiah 51:4-5)

“When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” (Proverbs 21:15)

8 “For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them. (Isaiah 61:8)

→ We call for justice because every human being has a need for it.

The Parable of the Persistent Widow in Luke 18 gives us a good example of the human need for justice. To question the intentions or political motivations of one calling for justice is to deny their right as image-bearers of God to do justice and have justice done for them. The “shalom” (peace, wholeness) that was lost in the Garden at the fall cannot be restored for all until full justice has been administered for every human being, whether righteous or unrighteous.

→ We call for justice because our world lacks it and our communities cannot flourish without it.

Justice has a stabilizing force in communities to ensure that every person can live with a sense of dignity and value. Each human being can interact with another justly on the grounds that they have certain unalienable rights within a just society ordained and governed by God. To advocate justice for some, and not for all, or to turn a blind eye to injustice causes harm and instability to the community. Although this world is not our home, Christians have a responsibility to their communities to ensure that order is upheld, and God’s laws can be honored among the people. Injustice muddies the water and can be a hindrance to our call to offer Living Water to those who are thirsty if that water looks tainted because of how we handle it.

→ We call for justice because the Church represents Jesus, the one who brings justice into an unjust world.

If the Church is to stand distinctly above and apart from every other human institution in the world, we must guard justice as a precious witness we have of the justice and righteousness of Jesus. The One who suffered earthly injustice, taking heavenly justice upon Himself, purchased for His people a pardon of sin and sentence of righteousness. This was the greatest act of injustice ever committed on earth and yet the greatest display of divine justice. If God Himself could not overlook the injustice of sinners, but Himself took on the punishment to pay their debt (Romans 3:21-26), then we as redeemed sinners must model justice in the world and fight for it as a unique witness to the character of Jesus in a world that neglects and despises justice. 

4) Pursue a Relationship

“11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,[d] but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by[e] the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:11-22)

 → We pursue relationship so that we can love and be loved by those who are not like us.

“It is not good that the man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18a) Humans are relational creatures, made to be in relationship with one another. It is God’s good and wise design that humans need to receive love, but also to give love to others. When we pursue relationships with people who are not like us, we get to model the character of Christ by crossing cultural divisions and differences to show love to others who are incapable of repaying our kindness or whose differences do not make it as natural to love them. This is to our benefit, as we image Christ when we love those not like us for the sake of their value as image bearers, and in the case of Christian brothers and sisters who are different, their greater identity as fellow sons and daughters who have been adopted by God the Father and purchased by Christ the King.

→ We pursue a relationship so that our community can witness unity between individuals who are different from each other.

Christians should be leading out in efforts to promote justice and unity among Christians of every race and color. There is no excuse for neglecting to call out evil, advocate for victims of evil, and seek justice for the doers of evil. We will give an account before God on the last day. The administration of justice in the world is a first order Gospel issue, because the fruit of the Gospel is a transformed heart and transformed life that seeks to extend Christ’s kingdom into the world. The Church’s efforts to extend Christ’s kingdom into the world should tangibly display justice for those suffering from injustice, righteousness for those suffering from unrighteousness, equity for the disadvantaged, and dignity for those who have been stripped of it. We show the world who Christ is when we do this, and He has commanded us to seek these things all at the cost of our own comfort and even our lives, so that He may be magnified as our greatest treasure.

→ We pursue a relationship so that human flourishing is promoted in the world.

Building relationships across racial lines is for the good of our world, setting the example of human flourishing in harmony with one another. If the world is ever to be impacted to pursue racial unity and equality, they must see it done within the Church. Sadly, many non-Christians are better at promoting racial unity in the world than Christians. The problem is, without an inward transformation from the Spirit of God, this unity in the world, unmotivated by the Spirit’s work and submission to the Word, will only last as long as people deem it to be good and beneficial to themselves. The only lasting unity will be unity founded upon the work of Christ to reconcile sinners to God and one another.

→ We pursue a relationship because Jesus reconciled us to one another as fellow members of the same household.

We pursue unity because we have a new identity. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28) This verse is not intended to make us colorblind, but to uphold the equal value and worth that each member of Christ’s body has in His sight on the grounds of their being “in Christ Jesus.” As members of Christ’s Body within a local church, and greater members of Christ’s global church, we are to pursue relationships with our brothers and sisters for the sake of fellowship and mission in the present age, as we await our eternal fellowship in heaven with these brothers and sisters in the age to come.

How do we apply these truths?

As faithful followers of Jesus, our life mission is not to eradicate racism. Racism is one of many sins that holds this world in bondage and futility, tainting and destroying the creation that was once called “good.” Christ is God’s solution to racism, because He is God’s solution to sin. The demonic sin of racism was nailed to the cross with Christ when He took the full wrath of God upon Himself to offer peace with God to all who would call upon His name. Those who have called upon the name of Christ, who are washed in the blood of Christ and remade in the image of Christ, have a purpose to live in light of Christ’s finished work. The finished work of Christ is our confidence to proclaim the justice and truth of God to the world. Christ died to purchase for Himself a people who would have peace with God, so His Church should be the driving force in the world to extend God’s peace to others, offering Gospel hope to the racist and the victim of racism alike. 

As faithful followers of Jesus, we know that the glory of our salvation is not merely in a prayer prayed, an aisle walked, or even a single moment of baptism before our covenant family within the Body of Christ. We know, and boldly proclaim, that the glory of our salvation is witnessed in our belief in Christ’s defeat of sin at the cross followed by a life lived in dependence on that same Resurrection power to daily renew our dead hearts. This transformation is to be lived out in community with other believers who regularly gather together to hear the proclamation of the Word of God, which delivers us from the deception of sin and spiritual apathy that participates in or tolerates racism. The right response to sin and injustice, including racism, cannot be done in a silo of self-righteousness or as lone-wolves seeking to take down systems of power. The right response to the devastating effects of racism in the world is to join together with other believers as a local body of gathered believers who have covenanted with God and one another to display His image in the world by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with their God. (Micah 6:8) Racism, a spiritual darkness covering the earth, cannot be resisted and overcome apart from the Word of God and the Spirit of God, and the means that Jesus has ordained for us to regularly encounter both for our good and His glory is the Church. O Lord, hear the cry of your people!