The decision of a Minnesota jury to acquit the police office who fatally shot Philando Castile last year during a traffic stop has once again sparked a national conversation about racial issues. Over the past several years, Americans have been forced to confront racial issues that have previously been pushed under the surface. The Castile shooting is only one event in a tragic series of shootings, riots, and protests fueled by the ever-increasing racial tension in this country. Hundreds of lives have already been destroyed in the crossfire, and the problem is only getting worse. It is heartbreaking to see police officers killed for simply doing their jobs, minorities singled out for harassment simply because of the color of their skin, and families torn apart as a result of the ever increasing racial tension.
What is even more heartbreaking is the silence of the church on these issues. There are notable exceptions, but for the most part the American church has either refused to address racial issues or simply ignored them. There are numerous reasons for this. As white Christians in America, we rarely ever feel the pain of racism. As Daniel Darling points out in his piece “Three Reasons White Pastors Need to Start Preaching on Race,” “It’s not that all white evangelicals are insensitive; it’s that many are not in proximity to racism or injustice. Because most of our friends are white, we aren’t forced to empathize with our minority brothers and sisters in Christ.” In addition, as Darling goes on to point out, race is an extremely sensitive issue.
These reasons are understandable, but they are not acceptable. At this time of crisis, our culture desperately needs to hear the voice of the church speaking boldly for truth and justice. We hold in our hearts and hands the only true solution to racial division – the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel alone can bring about true racial reconciliation and bring healing to the hurting hearts of millions.
Andrew Walker notes that “The church must be on the frontier of racial reconciliation. In recent American past, it was the church that was one of the greatest impediments to racial justice in America; but it was also the church that helped inspire America and Americans to, to quote Dr. King, ‘cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.'”
“To care about racial justice and reconciliation is to tap into the best of the Christian story. Ours is a story that tells of a God who made every one of His children precious in His sight. It is a story about a God who stamps His image on every person – regardless of color or ethnicity.” – Andrew Walker
There are countless reasons why the church in America must be a voice for racial justice and reconciliation, but three main reasons stand out.
First, speaking for racial justice and reconciliation is an effective means of spreading the Gospel. As Christians, we believe that all humans are made in the image of God. When we act on that belief by defending the dignity of all people, no matter how different from us they may be, we present a clear contrast to the world’s system of tribalism and selfishness. As those around us see that we are different, we have the opportunity to “give a reason for the hope” that lives within us. We can present the Gospel best when we live it out.
Second, standing for racial justice and reconciliation fulfills the greatest commandment. We are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We cannot claim to love our neighbor if we refuse to stand with them in their time of need. Love is never a stationary verb. The love of Jesus Christ is always an active love, and it changes the way we live. Perhaps the best example of this is Jesus loving us enough to accept the painful suffering and death of the cross. For us, really loving our neighbor means loving them enough to step out of our comfort zones and stand with them against injustice.
Finally, racial reconciliation beautifully captures the message of the cross. The heart of Christianity is a message of reconciliation between God and man. As Jarvis Williams put it, “Racial reconciliation is not an implication of the cross; it is the work of the cross.” As Christ reconciles us to Himself, so we too must reconcile ourselves to each other. Andrew Walker sums it up well: “In Christ, we no longer define ourselves by the color of our skin, but by the shade of red blood that our Savior spilled to reconcile us.”
The Gospel is the only true solution to the racial divide in this country. As messengers of that Gospel, it is our duty as Christians to not only share the uniting, reconciling message of the Gospel, but to live that message out daily. “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of the victims beneath the wheels of injustice,” as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, but “We are to drive a spoke into the wheel of injustice itself.”
In Christ there is no North or South, no black or white. We are all made in the image of God. We are all God’s children, and He loves each one of us equally. If we really believe that, we must start acting like it. We can no longer refuse to speak out on these issues under the guise of “not wanting to offend people.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ is going to offend people, and if we can’t accept that then we should start looking for a new faith. Our goal, as Dr. Russell Moore has reminded us, should be “the approval of the invisible God more than the approval of visible people around us.”
We are commanded to seek justice and love mercy as we walk humbly with our God. As has often been noted, “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself.” At a time when our brothers and sisters need us to stand with them, we as Christians cannot remain silent.