Last night in my class at Alliance Theological Seminary we started by discussing the recent events from Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas. We formed small groups and shared whether our churches talked about them on Sunday and what they said. Some churches spoke directly, some indirectly. Some had times of prayer and some didn’t say anything. As we opened the discussion to the whole class (about 20 students, the majority of which are African American including the professor), the discussion turned to the pain, frustration and hopelessness felt by many in the class. Questions were raised about the need for prayer, the need for leadership and the need for change. Then a dear sister, who is black, shared her recent experience being mistreated by the police. She shared how her car was pulled over and how both she and her husband were handcuffed and their faces pressed into the grass with no explanation. All of this in front of their children. She is in the process of seeking justice, and her church has been a place of refuge where she has been able to be angry, weep and find support. The professor thanked her for her courage to share with the class. It was a heavy moment. Assessing the climate in the room, he then asked everyone to grab the hands of those beside them. He led us in a powerful time of prayer and intercession, crying out in mourning for the lives lost, petitioning God to bring justice, and proclaiming our only ultimate hope in Jesus Christ. It was a powerful moment, and this was at the beginning of class!
As we prayed, I began to cry. Not for the loss of life, though that is surely something to grieve. Not for the injustice, though that is surely something to grieve. Not for my sister who was mistreated, though that is surely something to grieve. But that so many Christians (mostly white) remain silent, denying the truth that we have racial problems in America that must be addressed.
America has made great progress, but very little has intentionally been done to responsibly address, heal and progress from our history of racism. The civil rights movement brought great change, but it was forced upon us, not proactively chosen. My professor shared a simple illustration for how how we sometimes think about race in America. Like a child told to clean his room, we cram everything into the closet and under the bed, and at first glance the room appears clean. But soon toys start to fall out of the closet and things start to creep out from under the bed. In the same way, we relegate our history to the past and at first glance, racism appears over in America. But then the truth starts to spill out, usually in explosive ways like in Ferguson, Baltimore, NYC, Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Dallas, etc. And whether you believe that America has a serious race problem or that there a just some bad apples out there, I think we can all agree that we don’t want our cities to be places where social unrest is poised to erupt at any provocation!
The truth is that we have done very little as a nation to intentionally seek reconciliation and healing concerning slavery (not to mention our atrocities against Native Americans). I believe that ultimately the United States needs to enact some form of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission if we are ever truly to progress. We cannot move on from the history of slavery, segregation and racism until as a nation we deliberately address it head on, take responsibility for our failure and educate future generations. Clearly this is not a fix for all our racial problems, but I think that it would create a strong foundation for healing and solutions.
It is easy to see the connection with the gospel. God does not hide our sin in a closet, but takes it very seriously. So seriously that he sent his only Son to take full responsibility for our sin by being crucified on a cross. Jesus’ resurrection then reconciles us to God, giving us hope for a new life.
If you are a white Christian like me, here are a couple resources to check out. The first is a teaching from Dr. Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC and Bryan Stevenson. It addresses some of what the Bible says about race and justice as well as how we can respond today. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyBfOX5OHRQ
The second resource is Divided By Faith. This book seeks to answer why there is such a divide between black and white evangelical Christians. If you are a pastor or Christian leader in America, this is required reading.