I have seen Jon Gabriel’s tweet many times, and unfortunately this is because there have been numerous occasions in the last few years where the snark fits like a glove. “My favorite part about the Obama era is all the racial healing.” I am old enough to remember 1967, and I am starting to feel the same foreboding crackle in the air. Hope I am wrong, but if not here are some thoughts that I trust may be helpful.
1. Avoid euphemisms for sin. In racial or ethnic conflicts, the sin is almost always found either in malice/animosity, or in vainglory. Animosity contradicts the Lord’s requirement to love your enemies (Matt. 5:44), and vainglory tries to boast in real (or imagined) gifts as though the credit for having them was your own (1 Cor. 4:7). The charge of “racism” is far too general, and provides too much wiggle room for rationalization for those disposed to resist the charge. That, and it also makes a conceited secular culture the arbiter of “forgiveness” — far too much wiggle room for those who want to make the accusation. We have gotten to the ludicrous point where those who are “guilty” of micro-racism are treated as though they owned a fleet of slave ships.
So for a Christian, if it is sinful, then it is either animosity or arrogant pride. Sin is always against God and His Word. Sin has political consequences, but avoid putting politics in charge of the definition of sin.
2. Keep a level head, which means you don’t measure justice by whatever you might think is good for your faction. Wherever God has placed you in a time of tension, there will be people in your “tribe” who behave wickedly. A level-headed person knows and understands this. David knew that Joab was on his side in Israel’s civil conflict, and he also knew that Joab was a godless man.
3. Realize that there are people in the “other” tribe who are laboring to keep a level head as well. Don’t make their job more difficult. Not only did David know that Joab was a scoundrel, he knew that Abner was noble. You cannot avoid conflict with fools, but never willingly burn your bridges with those who are not fools, especially if they are an adversary or even enemy. Distinguish between irrational partisans of a position, and those who happen to hold convictions other than yours. In the political/racial/economic mess that we call race relations, make distinctions on the other side.
4. Don’t use words like “dialog” or “conversation” when what you have planned is a lecture. Cultivating this demeanor is a great help in avoiding a downward spiral into outbursts of anger. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). Christians should be in the forefront of demonstrating how tense race relationships should go. We have all the same ingredients for tension as the world does, but one of the central accomplishments of justification by faith alone is the authority to tear down every middle wall of partition. In the body of Christ, everyone should be quick to listen. Everyone is to be slow to speak. Everyone must be slow to anger. In a Christian conversation, everyone talks and everyone tries to listen.
5. Follow the money. But “follow the money” does not mean making room for the kind of envy and jealousy that pave the way for economic illiteracy. Racial unrest frequently follows economic troubles. Anyone familiar with the history of the world knows that different ethnic groups more easily come into conflict during times of scarcity and heightened competition for jobs. There are times when people feel that they cannot afford to lay down their hatred and suspicion. The Obama economy is just such a time. People still should turn away from hatred and suspicion, but in the meantime Christians should labor for a genuinely free market as a way of imitating the Father’s willingness to “lead us not into temptation.”
6. Do not confound rhetoric with accomplishments. In the Bible, hatred is defined by action, by behavior, and not by intentions. A man who refuses to discipline his son hates his son (Prov. 13:24), even if his negligence is for sentimental reasons. As measured by actions and their actual consequences, people who support Planned Parenthood and their “Little Auschwitz Clinics” hate black people. Everyone who supports a $15 minimum wage hates black people. Those who do not want to abolish the government school system in the inner cities hate black people. Feel good gestures are no substitute for loving people in deed and truth.
“If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, suppose one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; have I not engaged in hashtag activism on thy behalf? Notwithstanding if ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” (Jas. 2:15–16).
But if you were to engage in hashtag activism, it ought to make some kind of moral and economic sense. Defund Planned Parenthood. #BlackLivesMatter. Abolish the public school system. #BlackLivesMatter. Stop destroying black jobs — abolish minimum wage laws. #BlackLivesMatter. Abandon the draconian war on drugs. #BlackLivesMatter. Set up Jack Kemp’s enterprise zones. #BlackLivesMatter.
7. The tangled knot of sin in this world was a Gordian knot of epic proportions. Ethnic enmity has been standard operating procedure for millennia. Over the course of human history, slavery has been a very common affliction for men and women of every color. Hatreds run deep, and if you run the animosity back far enough, everybody has a point. Everybody has a story. And outside of Christ, everyone renders universal by induction, and does so in a way that flatters their hatreds, and strokes their vainglory.
What this means is that recriminations will fix nothing. Apart from the cross of Christ, nothing is forgivable because all of it is inexcusable. But in Christ, the inexcusable can be forgiven. The gospel message requires all of us to confess — red and yellow, black and white — that our attitudes toward others have been inexcusable. They are not, however, thanks to God, unforgivable.
One last comment, lest anyone think that I believe the things outlined above do not apply to me, or to my people. They most certainly do, all of them. At Christ Church, every week we confess our sins. In our liturgy, we first confess the sins of our nation, doing so as Christians on behalf of our countrymen. We do not exclude the sins described above. We then confess the sins of the church, and the complicity of the church in the sins of the culture. We follow that up with a time of silent confession where we confess our own sins as individuals.
When we confess the sins of our nation, we do not heal the wound lightly. Our confessions include some appalling behavior, and we know that if God were to destroy the United States for our sins, including our racial sins, there would be no injustice done.
But thanks be to God . . . when Christ died on the cross He made one new man out of all the old men. When we pray, we are asking for mercy, and not for justice.