Christian leaders have contacted me for advice on racial reconciliation so, my intent here is to offer help. To be clear, I don’t have all the answers, yet I am confident that as we turn to God’s Word, we will find them just as I did below. My prayer is that you will be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 2:1) as you:
Guard: Christian leader, anger can overtake your heart when you see videos or hear about another black image bearer of God reportedly attacked or murdered unjustly. But, don’t forget to “Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23).
Here the word “heart” transcends our mental or emotional capacity to also encompass our values (cf. Matt. 6:21). The heart should be guarded because out of it come our actions (cf. Luke 6:45). So Christian leader, guard your heart.
Mourn: Christian leader, another black image bearer has died, and a family, perhaps an entire community and even your church, is grieving. Paul said, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
Remember Nehemiah’s response when he heard about Jerusalem, i.e., the distress of the survivors, the broken wall, and the burned gates (Neh. 1:3-4)? Nehemiah said, “So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days” So Christian leader, it is right to mourn.
Lament: Christian leader, give voice to the deep pain these tragedies produce within your soul, lament. The noticeable pattern to the laments in Scripture, particularly the Psalms (more than 1/3 are laments), begins with crying aloud to the Lord (Psalm 13:1:1-2), continues with requesting for His help (Psalm 13:3-4), and concludes with praise (Psalm 13:5-6). So Christian leader, cry aloud to the Lord, ask for His help, and praise Him in advance for what He will do!
Pray: Christian leader, A.J. Gordon said, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed…but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” So please pray first.
Pray for righteousness and justice (Psalm 89:14; Amos 5:24) and for God’s people to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8). Pray for our government leaders, police officers (1 Tim. 2:1–4), and God’s comfort of the families impacted by social injustices on both sides (Psalm 94:19).
I am reminded of the Lord’s appearance to Solomon after the temple dedication where He promised amongst other things to heal their land if they would humble themselves, pray, seek Him, and turn from their wickedness (2 Chron. 7:14). So Christian, let’s not repeat what happened in Ezekiel’s day, when the Lord looked for someone to stand in the gap to prevent destruction of the land and found none (Ezek. 22:30).
Exegete: Christian leader, Daniel Henderson said, “Prayer is not the only thing we do, just the first thing we do.” So, we must do more than pray when occurrences arise that carry the scent of social injustice. But, be before we speak, we must exegete.
Exegesis is the determination of the meaning of a biblical text in its historical and literary contexts; however, the principles can also apply when assessing occurrences where social injustice is alleged. However, just as you do when you approach the Bible, be careful to first remove any presuppositions such as a denial or belief that racism was the proximate cause.
Next, before interpreting an occurrence, observe the facts within their immediate and historical context. I encourage you to study African-American history as it will reveal a 400 year collective trauma of individual and systemic racism that we have yet to fully recover from. This historical backdrop cannot be ignored when exegeting occurrences.
Different interpretations result from some exegeting solely through an immediate context while ignoring the historical and vice versa. A solely historical exegesis can potentially excuse the parties involved from being accountable for their potential contributing actions while a solely immediate contextual exegesis can conceivably ignore the possible influence of systemic racism. Christian leader, exegete faithfully because if your interpretation is flawed, so will your application be to the racial crisis.
Speak: Christian leader, cry out, spare not, and lift up your voice like a trumpet (Isa. 58:1) against systems (i.e., systemic racism that permits systems to perpetuate racism, which affects people, even when individuals within the system do not intend to be racist) that have been misdirected not only by the fall of man (Gen. 3), but the spiritual mafia in heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).
If a faithful exegesis reveals no signs of injustice, then clearly you cannot speak. But, if inequities do exist, then speak to the system with the prophetic voice! The prophetic voice originated with the Jewish prophets who called out the idolatrous practices and injustices in Israel and Judah. Martin Luther King, Jr., an imperfect pastor who functioned like a prophet, spoke not only to the souls of men, but against systemic racism. In April 1963, King wrote a letter from a Birmingham jail in response to an open letter from eight white clergymen who criticized the strategy of the Civil Rights Movement. King responded,
I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets . . . left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond . . . their hometowns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to . . . the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own hometown. . . I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
So Christian, don’t be silent; speak with the prophetic voice!
Disciple: Christian leader, individual racism is a spiritual and moral problem rooted in the fall of man (Gen. 3); therefore, the sin nature is the primary source, but the Gospel has the power to rip-out this disease by its awful roots! Yet to achieve this, the Gospel must be proclaimed in its fullness. Unfortunately, the church’s Gospel proclamation has been inadequate at times.
John Perkins said:
“The problem is that there is a gaping hole in our gospel. We have a preached a gospel that leaves us believing that we can be reconciled to God but not reconciled to our Christian brothers and sisters who don’t look like us.”
According to the Greek text, Jesus’ Words in Matt. 28:19–20 (the Great Commission) consists of one primary verb, “make disciples,” while “go”, “baptizing”, and “teaching” (all participles) reveal the steps to “make disciple” so, “teaching” is one of the steps. With that said, Christian leader, as you make disciples, you must not only teach love of God (Matt. 22:37-38), but also love of neighbor (Matt. 22:39). You must not only teach reconciliation with God (2 Cor. 5:17–21), but reconciliation with people (Eph. 2:14–16; Ga 3:28). If you don’t, then either CNN or Fox News will gladly fill the void and the result will not be a Christ follower.
Diversify: Christian leader, diversify your friends, team, leadership, etc. Diversification positions you to learn and appreciate the strengths of different races, which will enhance your life and foster respect for others. I have experienced this personally after being led to faith by my African-American community, partially developed by the Anglo community, personally mentored by a Native-American pastor, and pastoring a multi-ethnic church that was all Anglo when I arrived. So Christian leader, diversify by doing life with people from different ethnic groups and you will put the power of the Gospel on full display as you do so.
Send: Christian leader, you must both show concern for the soul of human beings and the social conditions that strangle them. So, yes, it is acceptable to align with other organizations with similar values and methods to protest righteously (cf. Acts 16:35–39) in order to get the attention of the government and upon obtaining their ear to offer strategies to correct individual and systemic injustices. Yes, it is important to research both the policies and character of political candidates and vote accordingly to address systemic issues as well. But these actions alone are insufficient so I also encourage you to send your people with the Gospel to build-up these communities plagued by systemic inequality.
Growing up in the hood (both in Clearwater and Atlanta area), I can remember being raised in insufficiency, surrounded by a drug money economy and a survival of the fittest mentality. But I also remember Calvary Baptist (Anglo church in Clearwater) on mission in my community. They entered our lives, invested in us, and planted the Gospel seed that harvested for me during college when I came to Christ.
Christian leader, your church can do likewise in an under supported community. Your church can either form a strategic mission partnership with a church within that community or a partnership with a missions platform (i.e., Kids Hope) that already has access. Or your church can start a missions ministry within the location.
So Christian leader, advocate, but don’t forget to also send.