Life + Culture

Christian Rhetoric in Understanding Racism

This month marks five years that BTSF has been in existence. I've recently enjoyed digging through some old posts, and so decided to periodically bring a few back as reminders of past lesson, and for the benefit of newer readers. Here, we explore how our understanding of the Gospel is beautifully suited for the work of racial justice and reconciliation. 

Angel wings with text: "Better to be an open sinner than a false saint"

Christianity is filled helpful ways of understanding racism. The way Christians view the world helps us understand our individual roles within a larger system of racial injustice.  Yet the Gospel is terribly underutilized as a framework for racial justice and reconciliation.

We have heard people claim "I'm not a sinner, I'm basically a good person!" There is a similar phrase: "I'm not a racist, I'm colorblind!" But we know that everyone has fallen short. There is none among us that hasn't defied God's intentions for us at some point in our lives. Likewise, there is none among us that hasn't judged our neighbor (even to the point of contempt)  for the clothes they wear, the car drive, or the music to which they listen.

For those in positions of privilege, it goes one step further because we benefit from an institutionalized system of racism. We get hired easier, make more money for the same work, have better health care, and live in better security than economically-matched sisters and brothers of color. We benefit from corporate sins, transgressions that we perpetuate as a group. We didn't ask for this, but here we are. The best we can do is to help undo the mechanisms that got us here.

We continue deal with the consequences of Adam and Eve's mistakes, thousands of year after the fact. So as Christians, we should understand why today we still bear the consequences of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation  These transgressions are MUCH more recent!

When God's people built themselves a golden calf, the next generation bore the consequences as well. Surely the younger group said among themselves "it's not our fault that our parents were so sinful. We know better now." And yet, they continued to wander the desert.

There may have even been those present at the time if the transgression that disagreed with what was happening, but sinned passively by remaining silent. Undoubtedly , we do the same today.

It's terribly difficult to break out of generational sin (pair Genesis 12:10-20 with Genesis 26:6-11) because of the cultural habits and norms that are passed down from parent to child. Scripture says that God "punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:7) and that "our fathers have sinned...and we have borne their iniquities" (Lamentations 5:7).  The consequences of continued disparity are accumulated and passed down to the next generation. We maintain the brokenness, both by leaving our own privileges unchallenged, as well as by remaining complacent in the prejudices of others.

Fabric heart pillow with words "Good News" on itThe Good News is that, as Christians, we know not to despair! We understand that Christ came to redeem a broken world in a way that we could never fully do for ourselves. The cross represents the singular moment of perfect reconciliation and perfect justice on earth. 
We understand that justice, through the death of Christ, was an essential component in God's plan for reconciliation. We cannot have reconciliation without justice. It must also be so when we seek restored relationships on earth. We must work to rectify racial injustice if we hope to reach reconciliation. 
Because Christ died to restore a broken world, we have hope that all will one day be made right. So we do not despair in the meantime. We are not paralyzed by the magnitude of our own brokenness,though divide can seem too great. Instead, we rejoice in the opportunity to be co-laborers in Christ's work on earth. We do not continue in racial sin, but turn from our ways, having now received God's gift. We trust that God is bigger that our brokenness and can use us for His good purpose.

Human outline made of many people "Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it" 1 Corinthians 12:27In addition, Christians have a framework for working out reconciliation with each other on individual and systemic levels. We understand the importance of speaking the truth in love, and holding each other accountable to God's will. We know we are to confess our sins and seek forgiveness. In turn, we are to offer each other grace and healing, abiding with one another in the face of division. This is how the body of Christ is to deal with one another in the face of racial brokenness. 

We understand that we live in a broken world. We observe pain and inequality. We see that the world is not as God intended it to be. We know that some aspects of that condition will not be changed until Jesus comes again, and that we often perpetuate our broken state through our individual sin, both active and passive. But we also know that we can turn from these ways and receive the gift of new life from God.

In the same way, we live in condition of racism. A long history has bred division and disparity, and on some level we recognize that we will never attain true unity on earth. But we also know that each time we choose our own comfort over embracing the full body of Christ, we contribute to its division. Instead, we have the choice to work for the redemption of God's people and journey toward the reconciliation that God desires.

These are truths of the Gospel. The rhetoric with which we convey its message is uniquely suited to deal with racial injustice. The world needs to see the model of Christian reconciliation lived out in our individual lives and in our churches. When we fail to work toward restoration, it cheapens the power of the Cross. But when we live by this example, it is a witness to God's glory. 

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