Following Jesus Across Racial Divides

There is a racial divide in our country. Many do not want to believe this. Many fear what acknowledging and confessing this may bring about. Many fear that those with mixed intent or ill intent will create or hijack movements and increase violence. And these things can and will happen. But fear must not win because there is no love in fear.

What are we, as followers of Jesus, to do in times like these? Just focus on the parts that affect us personally, right? Of course not. We all know that the answer is that we are to love. But that is so trite and so vague. What does Christian love look like in times such as these? Does it look like self defense? Does it look like Facebook arguments? Does it look like enshrining our personal viewpoint as the “right” one? Of course not. But look around. That is what we are doing. So what is this Christian love supposed to look like?

Love as it is presented in Scripture is multi-layered and very different from our usual ways of thinking about love. Scriptural love is not heady, philosophical, or abstract. It is practical, grounded, and sacrificial. It is not as much emotional as it is heart driven. What, you may ask, is the difference? Emotional love is very human, at least somewhat irrational, fickle, and therefore not very trustworthy much of the time. Heart driven love is less emotional and more embodied. Heart driven love gets uncomfortable, takes unpopular stances, is willing to get dirty and stay engaged. Scriptural love is like the guy that pulls over and helps change your tire in 105 degree weather. Scriptural love does not say “I’ll be praying for you,” but rather says “I will stand with you.”

One way we can manifest this love is to prayerfully set our intentions on service through relationship. How are we standing with the marginalized and oppressed? How are we in relationship with the suffering? How are we listening to viewpoints other than the ones of our particular tribe?

We in the southern U.S. have quite evangelical impulses. We want to evangelize and convert. But what if we turned these impulses inward, towards ourselves, our families, and our communities? What if we evangelize ourselves and our kin so that we are as distinct as we are called to be? What if we collectively pray for the bias that exists to some extent in all of our hearts? What if we disconnect from the cultural programming that we have all received since birth? What if we question our allegiances to anything or anyone that does not serve God’s purpose in the world? What if we lovingly call out the divisiveness in us and around us? Our own attitudes that come up in the grocery line, in traffic, or at the doctor’s office? The racist uncle that we passively allow to implant negative thoughts and feelings into our children. The pattern we set by adjusting to a friend’s viewpoint in order to avoid the tension that arises due to disagreement. And what if we acknowledge our tendencies to be the religious version of Dr. Frankenstein? What if we acknowledge the hybrid monster that is created when we blend our nationalistic or political viewpoints with our faith life and attribute our divisiveness to our faith.

We must confess.
We are all children of God. And, we are all racist. Yes, you. Yes, me. Yes, all of us. We are all racist. At least to a degree. We can’t not be. We are programmed from a very young age by messages from millions of sources. We are affected. We are infected. I don’t trust people that say they are color blind or don’t see color. That is the language of denial. If you don’t see color, there are probably lots of other things you don’t see as well.

So how can Scripture guide us in terms of race relations? Scripture and archeologists agree on at least one thing. Race is a social construct. It’s not a real thing. It’s a system of categorization that is man-made. Even early scientific attempts to categorize by race were based on shared language, not shared genetics. So the concept of race as it stands today is man-made. No wonder it is so destructive. In Genesis 11 we see God as promoting diversity with diversity of language. Again, categorizations were based on shared language not race as we conceptualize it today.

We often say “We are all God’s children” like that is a personal stance. But God beat us to it. That is God’s stance, not ours. Not truly. That’s why the world is in the shape that it is in. So what in the Hell is our problem?

Malachi 2:10 says:
“Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers?”

The answer is that we are not choosing to walk the walk. We pay lip service to issues more than we step into them. This is because we don’t love well. So, again, what does this multi-layered Scriptural love look like? Concern, sacrifice, loyalty, and commitment:

It looks like concern. It means that when we see marginalization we don’t see just black marginalization or female marginalization or socioeconomic marginalization, but we also see Child of God marginalization.

It means sacrifice. Instead of just passively praying we become the hands and feet. We get busy listening to God’s promptings for service. We ask God how we can help and then we do it. We get uncomfortable.

It means loyalty. Loyalty to God and loyalty to God’s command for us to love God’s people and God’s creation. Not loyalty to agenda or personal or collective viewpoint. Loyalty to the God that sees deeper than we can. Loyalty to the God that tells us to love our neighbors and enemies.

Loyalty to the God that instructs us to pick up our cross, to bear one another’s burdens, to seek righteousness, and to be just.

And it means commitment. It means staying the course. It means being long-suffering. It means being bound to God’s redemptive plan for this world. That commitment comes from realizing and remembering that we are the ones that will or will not do God’s work in this world. If we spend more time talking about the issues in the world than stepping into them, then we are not committed yet.

And, just like everything else, we can’t do it ourselves. We need God’s grace and provision in order to get involved and say involved in God’s work in this world. And we have to confess and ask God to transform our iniquities and shortcomings so that we can be effective in our service. I must confess that much of my passion for social issues and the ones that are affected by those issues comes from God because Tony doesn’t always care. I need Jesus, minute by minute, to keep me committed to anything that is not somehow beneficial to myself or the ones I hold most dear.

So racism is real. We are all infected. But we are disproportionately affected. How do we navigate this?

Ephesians 2:14 says:
“For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.”

The good news is that the work of redemption in this world is God’s work and that He will do this work in us, with us, and through us. We just have to get onboard. We get to actively participate in God’s redemptive story, the one we see from Genesis to Revelation. What else is more important? What else is more beautiful? What else provides the meaning and purpose we all crave in this life? What else saves our souls from the eternal damnation of fear based self-preoccupation? What else frees us from the trauma of a divided heart, a divided mind, and a divided humanity?

The truth is, we can be quite religious and not stand with the marginalized and the oppressed. We can be Christian and not stand with the marginalized and oppressed. But we cannot follow Jesus and not stand with the marginalized and oppressed because, if we follow Him, that is exactly where He will lead us.

Amen.