19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20 (NKJV)
I’ve held off on commenting on the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri, because I wanted to listen to what others had to say before I commented. I’ve listened to the comments of blacks and whites, liberals and conservatives, Michael Brown supporters and Darren Wilson supporters. What I’ve found is that very few people actually care about the truth. Whether Brown actually had his hands in the air surrendering, or was attacking Wilson, is a moot point to most. Whether Wilson was really a bad cop acting out of racial hatred, or in actuality a good cop fearing for his life, is irrelevant to most commentators. The truth doesn’t matter; what matters is how the truth can be manipulated to gain points in the ratings, donations to causes, or votes on election day.
I do not know what it is like to be a black man in America. I’ve never been pulled over simply because I am white, or questioned by police because I’m white. I acknowledge that I do benefit from a certain amount of privilege simply because I’m a white male. There isn’t really a question about whether certain people have advantages over others. It’s been a fact of life since Old Testament times. The question is, what if anything can be done about it?
I believe there are systemic issues plaguing black men, as well as other minorities. Racial profiling, job discrimination and abuse of power by whites are the most commonly cited issues, but I would include violence, criminality, and immorality from within the black community itself as systemic. Both conservatives and liberals are constantly playing the “race card,” although each group plays it very differently from the other. Network news reports – both liberal and conservative – claim to be against racism, while at the same time fanning the flames of racial division. Racial hatred, riots, looting, and police brutality all raise TV ratings. Politicians of all persuasions use racism to manipulate voters. Companies routinely reject resumes with names like Jamal, DeShawn, or Tyrone in favor of resumes with names like Scott, Connor, or Bradley. Despite the advances made during and since the Civil Rights Movement, systemic racism is alive in America – less blatant, but still thriving. Such systemic racism and discrimination is clearly immoral, but again, the question is, what if anything can be done about it?
A Biblical Response
The underlying issue that gives rise to racism is sin.
Sin is not just something people do; it’s who we are. People are not inherently good or neutral; people are inherently sinners. As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 5, through one man (Adam) sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned. We are all born with the tendency to reject God and to embrace sin. No matter how hard we try to be moral, ethical people, we all mess up. It’s our very nature to be immoral. The answer to racism isn’t to denounce it, or try to change the system. We need to have our very natures changed. And, Jesus Christ is the only way our natures can be changed. Please understand, I’m not saying religion can change us – it can’t. Religion simply hides our sin, or convinces us that our good outweighs our bad. Religion cannot change our fundamental nature. Only a relationship with Jesus Christ can fundamentally change our nature. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” Again, please understand, I’m not in any way claiming that knowing Jesus Christ makes anyone a perfect person, at least not in this life. Knowing Christ begins a process in this life that starts changing us in the here and now, but this process won’t be completed until we arrive in Heaven.
Ultimately, the plague of racism will never be eradicated until Jesus returns. We live in a sinful world, full of sinners. We face an adversary known as Satan who uses our prejudices to divide us and to turn people from the truth. As Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6:12, ” we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” There is nothing we can do to eliminate sin, including racism, from the world. However, this does not mean we simply quit and give in to racism.
So, what can we do?
First, I believe Christians need to begin by following the principle given in James 1:19-20. We need to shut up, until we’ve taken the time to really listen. Those of us who are white need to listen to what blacks and other minorities are saying about the reality and the pain of racism. Too often, we spout out Biblical platitudes without really understanding what the real problem is, and we often sound like hypocritical idiots. Listen before speaking.
Second, the answer to racism isn’t to change the system. Jesus never commands us to change the culture; He commands us to preach the Gospel. The system is controlled by the devil, and this will only end after Jesus returns. The answer to racism is to bring people to a relationship with Jesus, because only Jesus can change our fundamentally sinful natures.
Third, we need to examine our own lives to make sure we have dealt with our own prejudices and racism. There is only one race. We are all descendants of Adam through Noah. “…There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:11).
I’ll finish this post by quoting Benjamin Watson, a black wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints of the NFL. It’s a rather lengthy quote, but I think he sums it all up rather well:
At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:
I’M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.
I’M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.
I’M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I’m a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a “threat” to those who don’t know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.
I’M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.
I’M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.
I’M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn’t there so I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.
I’M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I’ve seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.
I’M CONFUSED, because I don’t know why it’s so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don’t know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.
I’M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take “our” side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it’s us against them. Sometimes I’m just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that’s not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That’s not right.
I’M HOPELESS, because I’ve lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I’m not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.
I’M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it’s a beautiful thing.
I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.