For the last week I have watched as our nation has been literally and figuratively torn apart over the issue of race. As the pastor of a church in Georgia, I have felt the need to say something to our congregation. However, I’ve struggled with exactly what words I can add to this particular conversation. A Facebook post quoting Galatians 3:28 seemed a little too prosaic. While I strongly believe it to be true, I’m not sure that it would be helpful. It would not further enlighten our congregation or my community with new information.
In the days immediately following the death of George Floyd, I felt an incredible amount of sadness, anger, and confusion. Privately I wondered and worried if my African-American son will one day face a physical attack from a police officer simply because of the color of his skin. As a father, it’s a question that keeps me awake in the middle of the night, praying for my son as well as my other children. I pray for them to make wise decisions, to avoid dangerous situations, and that our country will one day truly be a place Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of, where “people will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
As well, I have ached for my brothers and sisters in the black community as I’m reminded of the array of problems they face. In the days and years ahead, I’ll need to have numerous conversations with my two African-American children about race, the historical atrocities in our nation, and the realities they will at times face in their lives. While I’ve dreaded having these future discussions, I know that my black friends have lived with this tension their entire lives. My initial desire was to simply let these individuals know that I grieve for them and how sorry I am for what they have faced and are facing.
I still have that desire. Those words are just as true right now.
However, the events of this week have reminded me of another truth. The protests happening in cities across our nation have highlighted a fact that all of us who follow Christ need to understand. Do we have a race problem in our country? Of course. Simply watch the news or read a headline and it’s evident that we have a long way to go as a nation.
However, our race problem is only a symptom of a much greater disease. In our nation (and in our world), we have a depravity problem. If it were only a race issue, then we would see violence limited to White versus Black versus Hispanic versus Asian. Obviously, this isn’t the case. Since the beginning of time, man has hated, physically hurt, and even committed murder against his fellow man. While I’ve never seen pictures of either man, I’m pretty sure Cain and Abel had the same skin color. Yet, Cain’s depraved nature led him to feel such intense hatred for his brother that he committed the very first murder.
It certainly wasn’t the last.
All that is happening around us reminds me that, more than ever, we need our hearts to be healed. As a follower of Christ, I believe this only happens through the gospel. We are born with inherently selfish natures. This egocentric bent will express itself in a variety of ways: greed to the point of caring not for the needs of others; acting to fulfill sexual desires even when it violates the wishes of another; anger to the point of posting hateful words about another individual. Additionally, this can also express itself in a belief that another person is of less worth simply because of the color of his or her skin.
These are all symptoms of our congenital condition, one that can only be remedied through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 summarizes it best: in Christ, we become new. New creations with new hearts. This (and this only) begins the healing process. This changes how we view God, ourselves, and others. We view that person not as someone of a different race, but a person created by God and in His image.
More than ever the church needs to be intentional about the calling God has for us. What is being done in Congress or the White House isn’t nearly as consequential as what those who are followers of Christ do in their community. If those who are protesting in cities across our nation could have a law of their wishes passed tomorrow, what would it be? There are already laws against murder. Derek Chauvin, the police officer who placed his knee on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, has been arrested and charged with this crime. Gregory and Travis McMichael have both been arrested and charged with murder in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. Laws are already in place to punish these kinds of actions, yet murders still occurred.
If we truly want to see our nation healed, it will happen through the gospel.
While I still have more questions than answers, I’m praying that churches across our country will see themselves as the ultimate answer to these current challenges. I’m hopeful that pastors and leaders will encourage their people to view others through a Biblically-informed lens. That parents will teach their children to speak up for the oppressed and vigorously oppose any form of racism. That we will encourage one another to live out the Golden Rule, to love others ridiculously, and to listen more than we talk.
Are these things possible? Absolutely. But only through the gospel.
Lord, may it be so.