“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)
I’m not sure where to begin. The demonstrations of hatred, racism, and horrific violence in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11 and 12 have so many facets to address. Politics certainly comes into play. The extended season of increasingly vocal pronouncements against non-white, non-Christian people in America which has fueled the hatred and emboldened racist and “alt-right” groups is both disheartening and disturbing. The violent and anarchistic methods of the “antifa” only serve to escalate the conflict and encourage even stronger response from the hate groups (note: the “antifa,” an anti-fascist network, is probably the “many sides” to which our President infamously referred; while he was absolutely wrong to deflect the blame from the KKK, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and alt-right perpetrators of the hatred and violence, we should not ignore the fact that there are also groups on the opposite side whose actions and words hinder the establishment of peace and justice, and are contrary to the way of the gospel). The questions that beg to be answered, “What are the constitutional limits of free speech, and where do you draw the line for the freedom to assemble?” The debate over Confederate monuments and the preservation of history…
Truly, there are so many layers to the horrific events that erupted in Charlottesville. So, where to begin?
For me, the only way I can address any of this is through the lens of faith. As one who believes in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and as one who seeks to be faithful in following Jesus in word, thought, and deed, in the most absolute terms possible I denounce the actions, words, and attitudes of the white supremacists / nationalists, the KKK, and any others who espouse such racial hatred.
Racism of any kind is completely antithetical to the teaching of Scripture in general, and the Gospel in particular.
I acknowledge that the whole world is sinful. At nearly every opportunity I have, I remind myself and my parishioners that “No one is righteous, not even one… All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:10, 23) But we cannot use the blanket of universal sinfulness as a way of failing name and call out the evil attitudes that drove into Charlottesville with the express purpose of proclaiming hatred and racial superiority.
Neither may I hide behind the veil of universal sin as a way of denying my own complicity in allowing racism, discrimination, hatred and injustice to continue to infect the lifeblood of our communities, our nation, our world. Isaiah once famously said, “Woe is me, for I am lost! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips…” (Isaiah 6:5) He wasn’t talking about dirty lips, per se, as if he had forgotten to wipe his mouth after eating; he was talking about his sinfulness. As an individual, he was a sinner. And he was part of a sinful world. Living as a sinner in a sinful world contributes to the sins of the world.
You and I are Isaiah, today. We are sinners, living in a sinful world. And our sins – both of commission and omission – contribute to the sinfulness of the world. Whether we actively spew hatred toward others because of their race (and I sincerely hope we do not), or we remain silent and passive when we encounter the kind of language and action that promotes racism – either way, we are complicit.
Even in the church which Christ established, we cannot separate ourselves from the systemic injustices and institutional racism in our society, as if we are above or outside the problem. It. is. our. problem.
There’s something terribly wrong with our world when something like the color of our skin is cause for division, hostility, hatred. There’s something terribly wrong with our world when people despise others simply because they are different. The truth is, we live in a world where things like race, gender, language, culture, political party, and economic status divide us. These barriers, these walls we erect, foster hostility and hatred.
The apostle Paul addressed an attitude not unlike ours. To those who would establish dividing walls of hostility on the basis of race and/or nationality, Paul emphatically declared that there was no room for such discrimination and prejudice in the gospel.
“For [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14)
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
For you and me, and for all followers of Jesus Christ, there can be but one conclusion in regard to race: the gospel simply does not allow for separation of people based on race or color, nor does it permit us to let injustice go unchecked. When we give our hearts to Jesus as our Savior and our Lord, we forfeit the right to look upon another with hatred and disdain (not that we actually had that right in the first place, but you know what I mean).
We are called to be salt and light; we are ambassadors of Jesus Christ, who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. The salvation that Christ won for us on the cross is effective over all evil – including racism and hate. We have a divinely-ordained responsibility to stand on the side of the oppressed and against any form of injustice.
Again, the race problem is our problem. It will not go away until we take an active role in working to correct injustices and inequality. We have to do more than hold hands and pray together, as important as that is. We need to listen to the voices of the larger black community, and hear of pain that has been festering for generations. We need the conviction that justice won’t simply be achieved by a guilty verdict for the driver of the Dodge Charger, but by a permanent engagement between blacks and whites in which equality is pursued and discrimination is destroyed.
In the few days since the violence in Charlottesville, there has been an outpouring of compassion and solidarity. I pray that this will continue, and not fade away when our attention is diverted by the next crisis. The gospel of Jesus Christ demands that we not forget. Not ever. The gospel demands that we refuse to settle for the status quo of the world; indeed, the gospel demands that we pursue the kingdom, and its righteousness. The gospel demands that we not just speak words of hope, but that we live into hope, that we pursue the justice we proclaim, that we walk alongside the lonely and the oppressed, that we speak for those with no voice.
A personal confession here. I’m good at words. It’s what I do for a living. Action, on the other hand, takes more initiative, and that isn’t always easy. I say this because I’m not only calling on you to do something to dismantle racism and injustice, but also for you to call on me to do the same. The work of the church takes all of us.
Now, please stop reading this, and get to work. We have a lot to do.