Our nation has been shaken.
Racial tensions have been high as long as I can remember, with the new name of a police brutality victim seemingly scrolling across the news every few months. But just as the country began to emerge from mass quarantine, the video of George Floyd’s murder by officer Derek Chauvin on May 25 began to circulate and incite outrage. It’s one thing to hear about those incidents on the news. Watching it happen tugs a different set of heart strings. White folks began to realize what our African American brothers and sisters have known for a while: not only is racism still very prevalent, it can be deadly.
These events are a wake-up call for the church. Racism is a grievous sin, contrary to God’s imperative not to show favoritism (James 2). And unfortunately, it’s not an outside issue; people of color, precious to the Lord and filling our pews, are scared and struggling to make sense of a string of senseless tragedies. Scripture is clear that silence on their behalf is not an option. I am reminded of a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”
The bride of Christ was meant to be His hands and feet—not a social club, irrelevant or otherwise. Walk with me through a few reasons why we as the church must care deeply about racial justice.
Racism Still Exists
There’s a popular myth that holds that racism somehow ended with the Civil War, or later with the Civil Rights movement. Nothing could be further from the truth, and our brothers and sisters of color know it all too well. While our population is more diverse and accepting than ever before, some individuals still refuse to abolish their prejudice. Not only that, but racism is still ingrained in many of our systems. For example:
- On average, African American men are 2.5x more likely to be killed by police, and black and Hispanic drivers are over twice as likely to be stopped and searched as white drivers. (Washington Post)
- The employment-population ratio has fallen lower for African Americans than for the white or Hispanic population for years (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
- Of 675 Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies surveyed in a 2019 study, only 8.75% have CEOs of color
- The poverty rate for black families is over twice that of white families (Economic Policy Institute)
For more on these statistics, check out this article from Business Insider. This list is by no means exhaustive, and I encourage you to do your own research. The evidence of systemic racism in this country is overwhelming, and it contributes to a vastly different experience for Black Americans than white Americans.
Though seemingly ever-decreasing, individual prejudice also takes its toll on our friends of color. For millions, it is a constant and ever-present threat. One adoptive mother I know, who has fostered both white and black children in the past, couldn’t help but notice that public schools often seemed more accommodating of her white foster children. Similarly, one friend of mine put it this way:
“For me racism was… don’t be late or be seen as lazy. Always be polite or be viewed as rude or a punk. Always articulate your thoughts or be viewed as unintelligent. It was the passive aggressive bits that I experienced that hurt a lot, always feeling like people are paying close attention to me to see if I prove their biases right… Most of the time it feels like I’m working twice as hard to get half as far.”
Another of my black friends, the adoptive mother of a black daughter, detailed her experience of “living while black” for me, and it was eye-opening. For her own safety, her family plans road trip stops in advance so that she won’t have to stop in predominantly white towns. She has been called the n-word, told she speaks “too proper,” and encounters visible surprise when she doesn’t fit stereotypes assigned to people of color. (For example, she doesn’t like watermelon). Her daughter, an upcoming high school freshman, recently switched high schools after a racially-charged incident at the one she was set to attend. She admitted to her mother that she has dreams of being pulled over and shot, and sometimes wishes she had a different skin color.
If that doesn’t break your heart, I don’t know what will.
We are Called to Care
We know that this world is not our home; everything around us is temporal and will one day be no more. But that doesn’t mean we are to cease caring about what happens around us. Scripture actually outlines the opposite.
Creation and dominions will pass away, but people are of eternal significance; Genesis outlines the creation of all people in God’s image. And the Bible consistently echoes God’s heart for the most vulnerable of them. Psalm 82 commands us to “uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.” In Micah chapter 6 verse 8, the Lord reminds Israel what is good:
“And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Likewise, Proverbs 3:27 commands, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” In following Christ, we forfeit our option to not care about others, whether they live within our line of sight or not.
Our Brothers and Sisters are Vulnerable
If you have people of color in your life, chances are they are now on high alert. Heightening racial tensions pose an ever-present threat to mental health and physical safety. The adoptive mother I quoted above admitted to me her fear for her biracial son:
“I am really afraid right now. I’m trying not to be,” she said. “I am afraid to be home, as everyone around is white. I am afraid to be near the big city and lots of riots. I am afraid to travel in the vehicle and get pulled over for some strange reason. I am afraid of people in other cars. I am reading and praying and working on overcoming this.”
If recent events have not given you reason to fear for your personal safety, that is white privilege. I’m aware that white privilege has become a controversial buzzword, but it does not mean that your life has been easy, nor is it inherently evil; it just means your skin color has not made your life more difficult. On its own, it’s neither good or bad, it just is. But as white Christians, how can we help our brothers and sisters of color, who face obstacles we will likely never encounter? We will tackle that together in The Church in Color, pt. 2: How Do We Do Better? Until then, I encourage you to pray for our nation. Pray for our brothers and sisters of color. Pray for the good law enforcement officers who work to preserve life rather than take it. Pray that our collective eyes are opened to the reality that we are all made in God’s image, and that we continuously work for one another’s good.
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