What happened over the last weekend in Charlottesville is horrible. A person lost their life. Sin reared its ugly head. Hundreds of lost people had their hearts hardened even more by the sins of others and their own sinfulness. Let's make no mistake about it, we are talking about sin. Is bigotry bad? Yes. But is it worse than lying? Or adultery? Or stealing, or idolatry? Before you get upset that I just equated racism with lying, consider this:
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:10-13)
We need to realize that there is no innocent party here. All of us have sinned, all of us have had hard, hate-filled thoughts about the people that we disagree with over the alt-right, the BLM and anyone and everyone in between. John tells us that if we say we hate our brother we cannot have the love of God within us. This, for Christians, is serious business. I have seen good Christians on social media say, with pride, that they would punch neo-nazis, or yell and try to drown-out those that they are against. What is this? Why are we acting like this? Do we not know that since we have our citizenship in heaven we need to be actually acting like we don't belong here? Yes, of course we are supposed to be trying to affect change in the world! But why are we trying to do that by using the same idiotic and sinful means that those outside the church are using? Shouldn't we be against all of that- the hate-filled rhetoric, the verbal abuse, the aggressive body language and physical violence against others? Shouldn’t we be against it entirely, including using it? As believers we don't try to fight fire with fire. We fight everything with the Gospel of Christ and the blood that He shed on the cross to deal with this mess. Am I saying there is not racism and bigotry in the church? No, because there definitely is racism in the church, and it definitely needs to be dealt with. Christ’s sheep have been hurt by racism. What I am saying is that if we are called by Christ's name, we are doing pretty crappy jobs of representing Him to a people who don’t yet have relationship with Him. We need to understand that those brothers and sisters that are black or hispanic have indeed faced different trails and problems, different hurts and pains. They have experienced injustice and racism, and we have to face that at some points in church history, the church itself has been the force behind that pain.
I have also read weak whimpers of Christian leaders whose words betray that they care more about national unity and the "bullying" of the president than they care about the Church and how it has the words and the means to actually heal. Are they our words? No, they are the Words of Christ, but we, as His Church, can wield them as a balm to heal and restore, or a sword with which to cut down. In Jeremiah, God denounces the leaders of Israel (the kings, priests, and prophets) for calling out "peace peace" when everything around them was burning. As leaders in churches, we have the responsibility to call out sin in the world, to be that prophetic voice. But if we fail to point out that the Gospel is the ONLY way that anything can actually change, then we have failed as ministers. If we suggest that protesting and yelling and being angry (whether "righteously" or not) is the "only way" things will get better in America then we have failed. If we forget that, as sinners, we ourselves cannot eradicate sin from our lives, much less a society, and forget to point to the Gospel as the means to defeat sin, then we have failed. As believers we cannot be surprised that sinners sin. Let me repeat that. As believers we cannot be surprised that sinners sin. What else can we expect of them? Why are we holding unbelievers to the same standard that we need to hold each other to? When did we become God, the one who Judges?
Yes, we need to see that racism is a sin. It demeans the image of God that is in every single person. It inherently says that you are against God, how He made humanity, and His purposes in creation. A black man, Richard Spencer, and a poor Filipino fisherman all have the same inherent value as a being created in the image of God. This. Is. A. Fact. And this fact must lead us to believe that they have worth. They deserve to be treated as humans. Not anything else. This means that anybody who is a human 1) is a sinful creature whose rebellious actions against God are justly punished and 2) is yet loved as a creature that God lovingly formed in the womb.
Racism is sinful and it is a sin committed against "outsiders" because those outside of a particular group are not like those inside of that particular group. They are "different".
But outsiders of what exactly? What are the people who are against immigrants and people of different races actually for in these instances? Are they for a race, a flag, a president, themselves? It seems to me that if we as Christians put our hope in this country and what happens here, then we have put our faith in the flag and not the cross. If we are putting our faith in any politician as someone who can fix our country's problems then we have our faith in the flag and not the cross. If we are too stuck on fixing America without preaching the Gospel and reaching out to heal and to help, then we have put our faith in the flag and not the cross. If you happen to be one of the thirty or so people who read this and are one of those people who seem to care more for your political idolatry than taking the gospel to the unreached, taking care of the poor and needy, or standing up for the oppressed then I will stop right here and tell you to repent from your idolatrous ideology and nationalism. Turn to put your faith in Christ and not the United States. Christ and His church will outlast any and all governments. This glorious fact makes lines that we draw on a map differentiating where "our land" is from "their land" so that "we" can keep "them" out seem very silly. That is a small thing in light of history and eternity. If you put your hope in those lines or that flag, that is a sinful thing. If you put your faith in the color of your skin, thereby dehumanizing another because they have more melanin than you? That's wicked.
Ok, let's all take a breath....
Something else we all need to remember is that sin, of any type, will never truly go away with the passing of time until the coming of Christ. While reading article after article about all of this white supremacy nonsense a line jumped out at me. It said that people thought that feelings like this (racism) had been buried long ago (and were, therefore, somehow forgotten), and the people of America were surprised by this seeming reemerging of this particular sin. Once we recognize any sin as sin, then we have to wrestle with the reality that we cannot put sin to death by our own strength. Yet as Americans we tend to feel that everything is within our reach and everything is doable with enough time, patience and grit. Just enough elbow grease and we can tackle any problem thrown our way. Except our sin. Except our spiritual deadness. Except our condemnation as rebels under the wrath of God.
Sin will not go away. It will always be there. We can't defeat racism. Anyone that tells you that we can is a liar. Anyone that tells you we can defeat X sin and eradicate it from the face of the earth is selling you snake oil. Don't listen to them! We, as finite sinful creatures, cannot run from our sin, especially if we are trapped in the shackles of it. We need to stop with the idea that we can kill racism, or poverty, or lying, or cheating, or stealing, etc. We can't. We don't have the strength to do any of that.
But there is One who can. If we run to the cross we can find the death of sin. If we run to the cross we will find the end of evil and despair. If we run to the cross, repent and believe in Christ, that He is the one who took our sin and died when we should have been the ones suffering in agony for the weight of sin and misery that we have caused with our hands....then we can be free. While we still live in the flesh we will still wrestle with sin, this is true. But sin is defeated for those in Christ. We are no longer held in bondage to our sin. And we have hope that one day (hopefully soon!) sin and death will be defeated for good and Christ will put an end to all of our suffering on this earth with its renewal.
So where do we go from there as Christians? If racism is wicked and if its not going away, what are we supposed to do? I think walking through a few passages of Scripture will help us to maybe see what some practical next steps for "regular" Christians might be.
We start in Genesis. In chapters 1-3 we see marvelous things happening. The creation of the world. The separation and organization of the universe under the care and management of the Creator. We also see horror happen as our parents fall into sin and bring misery upon the creation, distorting and twisting and marring what God called good a few chapters before. But we see a promise. We see God extend His grace with the protoevangelium, the first preaching of the gospel by God Himself to Adam and Eve. He tells the woman that the serpent will bruise the heel of her Son and He will crush the head of the snake, in this we look forward to Christ's work on the cross.
After the people get things really messed up and God tries to start clean with Noah and his family we have the Tower of Babel. This is where we sinned against God in our arrogance trying to raise ourselves up to His level. He responds by confusing our language. Already right here we can see the inevitable. We can see here the beginnings of an “us” against “them” mentality as humanity splits up among languages and form bonds and communities and eventually nations and kingdoms by this division of languages. We are able to see that we are fractured and separated and divided and it is because of sin that we are like that.
But after the ascension of Christ we have a reversal of that event. Pentecost is the undoing of the curse of Babel. God gifts the apostles with the ability to speak and preach in the languages of other nations so that the Gospel can be preached and the reuniting of humanity back together under God along with all of creation can begin to take place in earnest.
The launch of the church is the reconciliation of humanity to God but also of humanity to itself. We see this in Ephesians 2:13-16. God is bringing people who are far away together in Christ by the cross. He is our peace, we have nothing else separating us because Christ has broken down the walls of hostility that divided us. That is more than just the law, because Paul talks about there being no national distinctions among Christians because all are one in Christ. So if we are white, or brown, or black, if we are American, Filipino, Korean, if we are in Christ not one of those markers define us. In Christ we are not Americans, because that is not the identity we have in Christ. In Christ we are not black or white, because that is not a part of the identity that we have in Christ. The idea of ethnic or cultural Christianity and it being a European cultural marker is a bald faced lie. Christianity, true Christian faith, does not recognize the boundaries of made up countries. Are there actual differences between believers? Of course! Most Sundays it is mentally taxing to try to overcome the language barrier that we face at the church we attend here in the Philippines, but does that actually separate us from one another? No way! I am more closely related to those brothers and sisters whom I can barely speak with than any of my biological family that is not Christian. So we must see that we are united in Christ, we are one only in Him, because He has not only taken our sin, He has taken the things that kept us apart in hostility and killed all of it on the cross.
So what exactly am I trying to say here? We need to face reality. Sin and racism are not going away, and they never have. It is an ugly truth, but sin is ugly. But we can have hope if instead of trying to navel-gazing we take an eternal look at this situation. We can see that the issues that divide our country right now, real issues that affect real people, is sin that will be dealt with by Christ at His coming. And until then we must do two things. First, we must preach the gospel faithfully, because this gospel helps us to see that our sin is real, and it is deep and ugly and the only thing that can deal with it is Christ. It also helps us to see that all that sin does in separating us is undone in Christ because of the cross. So we preach the gospel because it really and truly is the only hope that anybody has, whether they are American or not. And second, we must strive daily to be a better representative of who Christ is. That Gospel that we are to be preaching commands us to love like Christ loves, bear each others burdens, take care of the poor and the oppressed, be salt and light.