Earlier this week, I had no plans to write about the terrible events that happened in Charlottesville, VA. I saw the headlines in the news when it happened and thought to myself, “how tragic – racism, murder and violence!” I heard the resulting hubbub over my facebook feed and thought “what a mess – monuments, KKK, antifa, politics.” However, since I live in Alton, NH with a whopping 98.7% white population, this terrible event didn’t make significant ripples in my pond. So, I reacted to Charlottesville in the way that I tend to react to potential landmine issues that don’t personally affect me: I kept my head down following the “live and let live” ethos of a good, independent NH boy.
However, as this week progressed, an uneasiness crept into my spirit. I was bothered to see reactions in the media and on facebook that were clearly ungodly. I saw people excusing or minimizing the sin of racism by blaming, comparing or defending. I saw people cursing and belittling. I saw a greater concern for earthly, political ideologies than the advance of God’s eternal Kingdom. A funny thing happened, as I saw and was troubled by those reactions. I began to question if my reaction of avoidance was also ungodly.
This uneasiness with my reaction grew as I travelled around New England this week. I interacted with people for whom the events of Charlottesville were far more than a ripple. I talked to pastors who have regularly and recently experienced the sin of racism. I saw how blatant AND subtle racism dehumanizes people made in God’s image. I realized to a greater degree how racial division within the Church of Jesus discredits the Gospel of Jesus. As I realized the magnitude of the issue, I knew my reaction of avoidance was wrong. But the question remained for me, “what am I - a white leader, living in a largely white community, serving in a predominately white denomination - to do?”
A mentor once told me that I must learn to respond instead of reacting to the circumstances of life. Reactions are generally instinctual behaviors of self-preservation. Our finger touches a hot plate; we instinctively react. Our instinctive reactions are all different in response to pain and evil, but all based in self-preservation. Responses, on the other hand, are not about preserving the kingdom of self but acting based on the Kingdom of God. If we are to respond to life’s circumstance instead of reacting, we need guidance beyond our own logic and emotions. So, I take Karl Barth’s instructions, “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” So, I am attempting to let the Scripture guide me to respond to the events of Charlottesville. Here’s what I found my response is to be:
1. Prayer. We are told to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17), pray for our political leaders (1 Tim 2:1-3), pray for all saints (Eph 6:18), even pray for our enemies (Matt 5:43-48). I wonder if we spent even half as much time in prayer as we do reading and reacting on facebook, what might be different? If nothing else, we must pray and call other followers of Jesus to pray about the situation in our nation right now.
2. Self examination and awareness. We are to humbly examine ourselves (Psalm 139:23-24, Rom 12:3) and first acknowledge and deal with our own sins instead of focusing on the sins of others (Matthew 7:3-5). One of the reasons it is tempting for me to avoid the issue of race is that I haven’t, to my knowledge, ever uttered a racist word or mistreated someone based on their race. But as I thought about the Anglican prayer of confession “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name.” I am forced to admit that by my avoidance, my love is lacking and I have left much undone.
3. Listening. We are to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). How counter cultural is this verse! How often do we read an article already convinced of our opinion (Proverbs 12:15) or listen to someone else’s position already planning our rebuttal (Proverbs 18:13)? As I listened to multiple people of different races and cultures this week and read articles that presented different viewpoints, I found my perspectives changing. Listening to someone else’s story gives us opportunity for empathy and perspective, therefore the practice of listening is essential for peace. If you, like me, are in the white majority and are having a hard time understanding why it is important to address the sin of racism in response to the events of Charlottesville, then it would be best to engage a friend of a different race in a conversation and ask them how they are experiencing recent events.
4. Speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Spoken words are powerful (James 3:4-12). They carry the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). We can and must speak directly to the sin of racism from the Scriptures declaring that it is evil (James 2:8-9), explaining why it is evil (Acts 17:26, Genesis 1:26-27), proclaiming how it is dealt with in Christ (Ephesians 2:14-18), teaching that it has no place in the church of Jesus (Galatians 3:26-29), confronting it when it rears it’s head in the church (Galatians 2:14), and pointing to the glorious future when it will not exist (Revelation 7:9-10, Revelation 21:3-5). Instead of speaking about Charlottesville with words from earthly kingdoms that have no power to change a heart, let’s speak words from an eternal Kingdom that have been changing hearts for centuries.
If you are wondering how to speak the truth of Scriptures about the issue of racism, here are a few resources:
5. Loving. Above all, we must respond with love (Colossians 3:14-17, 1 Corinthians 13). Love is not sentimental emotionalism comprised only of tweets and emojis, but actions of service and sacrifice whereby we lay down rights and privileges in response to the One who has served us by sacrificing Himself (1 John 3:16-18, John 13:14-15, 2 Corinthians 5:14-16, 1 John 4:10-11). This love is to be expressed not only to those we like and deem deserving, but also to those with whom we are opposed (Matthew 5:43-48). Actions of love have great power to bring peace and cover over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
In the days ahead, I pray that the church of Christ will shine as an outpost of God’s Kingdom. I pray that the Good News of God’s Kingdom that has been opened to us through the death and resurrection of Christ will continue to make us more diverse and more unified. May God grant us the grace and peace to live out the unity Christ has purchased.
Grace and peace,