Racism

One week ago today, George Floyd was killed while under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. At the very least, Floyd’s death was unjust (he was being arrested for a counterfeit bill). At the worst, it was an act of racial violence. Since his death last Monday, protests (peaceful) and riots (violent) erupted across our country.

Let’s acknowledge a few things before moving forward. Most police officers are not racist. Most officers put their lives on the line serving all the people in their communities. Most protestors are not vandals. Most of the recent protests are peaceful and not violent. Where racial violence and destructive behaviors occur they should be met with the force of law. Anarchy does not offer solutions.

Our country was already at an emotional and psychological boiling point with the disruption caused by Covid-19. In recent years, racial tensions have continued to grow as a result of unjust acts and/or highly publicized violent responses by white police officers against black suspects. Or as in the case that happened earlier this year in Georgia, white citizens taking the life of a black man.

It is not my aim in this article to jump to conclusions or offer sweeping judgments. I don’t have the details. I’m also a white man in a predominantly white rural town. My local context is very different than many places in our country right now. But as I watch the protests and the violence and the claims of injustice facing our land, it is right to claim the gospel and gospel-centered living as the solution our world needs.

In the last several months, Christians have been balancing the tension of being Christians and citizens. Do we push back against government bans of worship services that we may think limit our First Amendment rights? Do we act as citizens seeking the welfare of our fellow man by abiding by these statutes? This tension is not easy.

A cursory look at Bible sheds light on how those who follow God can keep their convictions and work toward the betterment of society. Joseph worked for the benefit of Egypt. Daniel served for the welfare of Babylon. Paul commanded submission to the Roman government.

The implication in Scripture is that followers of Jesus are to work for a better city and society by adopting a biblical worldview, loving each other and our neighbors, and working for justice and righteousness even in the midst of a pagan culture.

The Minor Prophets in the Old Testament decried injustice and idolatry. As followers of Jesus, we must do the same. The gospel of Jesus Christ offers us a paradigm for responding to racism, injustice, and the broken world around us.

The gospel is universal. It is good news for all people, everywhere. Racism has no place in the body of Christ, and we must work against all its tenets in our world. God created mankind in his image: the imago Dei found in Genesis 1:28. The Kingdom of Christ is universal. The church described in Revelation 5 contains people from every tribe, language, people, and nation. The doctrine of the imago Dei and the extent of the gospel teach us that we must uphold the inherent dignity of every person and view them as individuals Jesus died to redeem.

The gospel is the very picture of injustice and justice. Jesus suffered greater injustice than any other person who has ever lived. He was perfect, yet faced criminal charges. He was innocent, yet sentenced to death. Jesus identifies with the marginalized and those who experience injustice. But also on the cross Jesus faced justice: God’s justice against our sin. Because God sent Jesus to the cross to pay the penalty for our sin, we can experience the grace and mercy of a loving God. Christ’s salvation delivered on the cross demands that we as Christians seek justice, righteousness, peace, mercy, and grace for those around us.

The gospel is the only solution to a broken world. Hate. Racism. Violence. Murder. Looting. Vandalism. Abortion. Injustice. War. Dishonesty. These are just a few of the realities in our broken world. As followers of Christ, we do not have to be content with the status quo. Because we have experienced the gospel that changed us, we can embrace a gospel-centered lifestyle. We can and must work toward a better world. But to whatever extent the gospel succeeds in our lives, our homes, and our cities, our world will still remain broken. Only the return of Christ to set up his permanent kingdom will fix the broken world that we see around us.

We need the Deliverer to rescue us from all our sins. As I was listening to this old song written by Rich Mullins, sung by Rick Elias, I was reminded that Jesus alone is our Answer, our Hope, and the only One who can fix what we’ve broken.

To quote John in Revelation 22:20, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

The history of racism and prejudice in our country is a stain upon the freedoms espoused in the Declaration of Independence “all men are created equal” and the Bill of Rights. In truth one of the great ironies is that a nation founded upon freedom would continue to enslave a people based on skin color. Leaving slavery as an institution was a failure of our nation’s founders. Their inability or the inability of the context to move them to act would result in a great Civil War where hundreds of thousands of Americans would die over the controversial issues of state’s rights and slavery. President Abraham Lincoln rightly understood that slavery was the central instigating factor of the Civil War even if it was not the stated cause. With his emancipation proclamation, Americans can be proud that the first vestiges of slavery were slashed out of our country. But it would be a century more before equality was granted. Rampant prejudice and racism permeated our nation. Not until the Civil Right’s movement of the 1960s did justice and equality come to the South and to the nation. Even today, more than 50 years after the Civil Right’s movement, we still deal with prejudice and incipient racism. It is not something that God tolerates and certainly not present in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is a global gospel. In Acts 1:8 Jesus said that the gospel would go to the ends of the world. In Acts 10, the church experienced the first Gentile convert–Cornelius. God is not a respecter of persons. Heritage and color of skin are not factors in God’s great act of love upon the cross. Jesus came to die for the entire human race—all colors, peoples, languages, and nationalities. In Acts 10, we see the incipient racism of the Jewish people blown up by the glorious grace of a sovereign God through the universal message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I trust that we will not only witness the love of God in Acts 10, but the expected response to the gospel that we as its bearers must share to ALL who bear the image of God.

Peter’s vision in Acts 10 related to unclean foods. The Jewish people had received dietary laws from God as a means of spiritual distinction. But here in Acts, Peter saw unclean foods and was told to eat. Following Peter’s vision, Cornelius’ messengers reached Peter and brought Peter to preach to Cornelius, his family, and his friends. These first Gentiles would believe the gospel and receive the Holy Spirit. But what did the food have to do with the Gentiles receiving the gospel? Actually, the vision of food was very important.

John MacArthur observed:

Strict Jews would have nothing to do with Gentiles. They would not be guests in Gentile homes (cf. v. 28) or invite Gentiles to their homes. Dirt from a Gentile country was considered defiled, and a Jew would shake it off his sandals before entering Israel (from which practice the expression ‘shake the dust off’ [Matt. 10:14; Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5; Acts 13:51] came). Jews would not eat food prepared by Gentile hands. Cooking utensils purchased from a Gentile had to be purified before being used. In short, Gentiles were considered unclean and their presence defiling (MacArthur, Acts, 291).

J.B. Polhill argued:

The Jewish food laws presented a real problem for Jewish Christians in the outreach to the Gentiles. One simply could not dine in a Gentile’s home without inevitably transgressing those laws either by the consumption of unclean flesh or of flesh that had not been prepared in a kosher, i.e., ritually proper, fashion (cf. Acts 15:20). Jesus dealt with the problem of clean and unclean, insisting that external things like foods did not defile a person but the internals of heart and speech and thought render one truly unclean (Mark 7:14–23). In Mark 7:19b Mark added the parenthetical comment that Jesus’ saying ultimately declared all foods clean. This was precisely the point of Peter’s vision: God declared the unclean to be clean. In Mark 7 Jesus’ teaching on clean/unclean was immediately followed by his ministry to a Gentile woman (7:24–30), just as Peter’s vision regarding clean and unclean foods was followed by his witness to a Gentile. It is simply not possible to fully accept someone with whom you are unwilling to share in the intimacy of table fellowship (emphasis mine) (Polhill, Acts, 255-6).

In essence, Jewish believers could not be distinct in their dietary laws and share the gospel or experience fellowship with Gentiles at the same time. So God sent Peter a vision declaring foods clean as he sent Peter to the Gentiles. Acts 10 boldly asserts that the gospel is intended for all who bear the image of God–for the world. Acts 10 also demands that we repudiate racism and prejudice. So let us, God’s image bearers and gospel ambassadors go to the nations with the gospel that is universal.