Thoughts on a Christian Response to Racial Injustice
Jesus said that the “most important [commandment] is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ And the second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29–31).
What does it mean to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbors as ourselves right now, during this time when racial injustice, white supremacy, and police brutality are on the forefront of the public mind in America? As a White, female, American Christian (but a Christian principally), I write mainly for White Christians, but also for every non-Black Christian learning to better love our Black neighbors. I hope these thoughts are a helpful starting place for you.
- “You cannot love your neighbor while supporting or accepting systems that crush, exploit, and dehumanize them. You cannot love your neighbor while accepting less for them and their family than you do for you and your own” (Mika Edminson, recently quoted by Carlos A. Rodriguez). Are we non-Black Christians accepting for our Black brothers and sisters a level of discrimination, oppression, violence, and fear we would never accept for our own families? Almost certainly yes.
- Maybe you’re a non-Black person of color who has faced systemic oppression that has been ignored by media. Maybe you’re an Asian person who just suffered through COVID-related racism while the church remained silent. Maybe you’re a White person who has grown up in poverty or dealt with domestic violence. Maybe you’re asking why no one stood up for you when you needed it. Friend, my heart hurts for you. It’s wrong that you were left alone, that others were silent. I am truly sorry. Yet our God is a God of mercy and grace, and He calls us not into petty grudges or retribution, but into forgiveness and generosity flowing out of His forgiveness and generosity toward us (e.g. Colossians 3:13, 1 John 4:11).
- “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:16–18). Love requires action. If we have the resources to meet the needs of those around us but don’t do so, John questions our love. Maybe the need in your community is as simple as buying groceries for people of color who have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. Maybe the need is as great and sacrificial as intervening to protect someone experiencing or facing police violence because of their race.
- In all things, we have to remember that racism is a sin problem, and sin is a human problem. We can’t expect that everything will be fixed with some policy changes and awareness campaigns. Practical action should go hand-in-hand with prayer and preaching the gospel. Jesus is the one who ultimately unites and heals (e.g. Ephesians 2:13–18). The gospel must remain central, and we must avoid dividing our churches over non-central issues.
- Yet, we have an opportunity now to act, and perhaps a duty now to speak. There are myriad injustices in this world, but now is a time when racism and its literally deadly effects are in the public eye. There is enough momentum in America to push for change, and when the deaths of innocent Black people like George Floyd and Brionna Taylor at the hands of the police are being spoken about by everyone except the church, the church’s silence is, I think, problematic. Maybe speaking up doesn’t need to start with a public statement, but it could start with congregational conversations about how to help. Talk to your pastor, your friends, your church elders. The Civil Rights Movement was a Gospel movement, and it’s time for the Black Lives Matter movement to be one too.
- None of us are blameless, and none of our “opponents” are wholly bad. Remember that we all bear the image of God, and we all are sinful. Dr. Henry Cloud talks about our tendency to categorize people into “good” or “bad” categories in his book Changes that Heal (excerpt here). We should neither deny our own shortcomings and prejudices, nor demonize police, rioters, liberals, conservatives, white people, or anyone else. No one is beyond the reach of God’s mercy and grace. Even Paul, the “chief of sinners” who violently persecuted Christians, was shown mercy and immense patience as God turned him into a powerful voice for the Gospel (1 Timothy 1:12–16).
- Given White Americans’ complicitness in systemic racism, it is appropriate to begin by honestly assessing our own attitudes. Christianity has a long history of introspection in the presence of God, as vocalized in Psalm 139: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23–24). Let’s examine our hearts and uncover our own prejudices. Danielle Coke (@ohhappydani)’s Upward and Inward videos are a great, biblical place to start.
- “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21–22). We need to guard our hearts carefully against anger and hate toward people. Anger and hate are only appropriately directed toward Satan and his schemes. I believe we can (and should) condemn white supremacy unequivocally as the work of Satan, while holding mercy in our hearts toward the people misled by it and saying “there, but for the grace of God, go I” (see Ephesians 2:1–9).
- In the same way, we should not condemn other Christians for getting things wrong or causing pain. Instead, we should lovingly and appropriately pray for them, correct them, teach them, and “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).
- If we ourselves are hurt by fellow believers, we are called to the hard work of forgiveness. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12–14).
- Those of us who are not suffering directly from racism should “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). We are called to “hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves…. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:9–10, 15–16). In short, we are called to stand in solidarity and love for our Black brothers and sisters.
- Above all, let love and mercy be our guiding principles, knowing that we serve a God of justice. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17–21). Let’s seek to restore and correct rather than destroy and punish. As long as we have prisons, I believe that people (including police) who take innocent lives should be put there, but let us remember that justice, love, and equity are our goals, not retribution.
All Bible quotes taken from the New International Version. Many thanks to my roommate Lucy Wang for sharing her thoughts and helping shape mine. Any errors are my own.