Dear Citylife – Statement on Race, Justice, and the Gospel

Video Summary from Pastor Um: https://vimeo.com/427499497

Dear Citylife,

Cullen and I would like to respond on behalf of our session to the horrific killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others at the hands of law enforcement.

1. DEATH: First, the killing of George Floyd is unconscionable – no human being should have been treated the way he was treated. Even as he was pleading for his life because he couldn’t breathe, for none of the officers to check on his health is beyond belief. For African-Americans, there have been too many instances like this – the community is hurting and is in pain. We need to walk alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ to grieve, to lament, to listen to and to understand the cumulative exhaustion that they are experiencing because of the different expressions of systemic racism in our country. Take a moment and meditate upon the fact that the organization designed to protect our citizens is, in these instances, killing them. If you’re African-American, where are you to turn for justice?

2. DARKNESS: Second, clearly and unequivocally, what is going on in the country is a lot more than racial injustice. Absolutely, there is systemic racial injustice. George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor’s lives among countless others have been brutally taken. Their lives are important – they have been created in the image of God (Gen.1:26-27). Every human being is given the breath of life by God (Job 33:4), and it is an assault on God himself when they cry out ‘I can’t breathe’.  “God made from one man every nation of humankind” (Acts 17:26) which means there is essentially one human race with many different beautiful variations of races. Every human life, regardless of race, matters to God, and therefore should matter to those of us who proclaim the name of Jesus.

Whenever there are moments of the de-valuing of our neighbors and friends in black and brown communities, then we need to point out those injustices. Having said that, the issues we are dealing with are much deeper than most people realize. Don’t let the culture’s narrative to suggest otherwise.

We have to ask ourselves the question, where is this racial injustice flowing from? What is the fountain flowing underneath racial injustice? The Bible tells us this comes from the root of pride which is facilitated by our flesh and the work of Satan (Eph 6:16). “Though his hatred be covered with deception, his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly” (Prov 26:26).

There has been racism throughout human history – when one particular group believes that it is more intrinsically valuable and has more dignity than other racial groups (often groups with less social capital), then this goes against everything the Bible teaches about how we are supposed to count others more significant than ourselves (Phil 2:3-4).  Racism has no sense of humility; therefore, we need to look at the self-renunciating sacrificial substitutionary work of Jesus on behalf of spiritually impoverished people like ourselves in order for us to have hope. We are supposed to believe that the heart and root of resulting gospel fruit is to love our neighbors – to love our enemies!

When we treat people beneath their God-given dignity, this is deep sin! (Matt 6:21-22). Therefore, we as the children of God have to lament about these deep-rooted sin issues. Racism is one fruit from which we need to lament, to repent, and to pray for unity, justice and healing.

The enemy rejoices when our country, our cities, and especially our churches are divided. He will do everything within his power to divide us. He doesn’t care who wins a race war, as long as there’s a war then he’s happy! As a church, we need to guard our hearts and work against the work of the enemy in this regard.

Make no mistake, the bible is very clear that there is a war going on and what we see unfolding on the streets is the fruit of that war (Ephesians 6:12). The sin in our hearts and the work of the enemy have led to a world where racism is both an individual and a corporate issue. To deny the nature of the problem is to deny the work of Satan in this world, and this is folly. The atrocities we see are not the result of a ‘few bad apples’, all of the apples are bad because this world is a bad tree. As believers we know that we must tackle the sin in every human heart by pointing to a better tree (the cross). But, we also recognize that our battle goes beyond the world we see and thus we need the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:13) and the power of the Holy Spirit.

3. DOING: Third, many African-American brothers and sisters in Christ and many in the black community are angry and justifiably so. These acts of injustice are way too common and leave the community heartbroken, weary and exhausted. Even though many of you don’t fully understand, we all need to listen, acknowledge, respect, and then act wisely.

What are some practical steps we can take? We need to:

1) Pray: Let us pour out our sorrows and follow the guidance of Paul to pray “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18).

2) Repent: Let us specifically name and repent of all the ways that we ourselves, our neighborhood and nation have been involved in racism. We live in a fallen world, therefore, there is corporate immorality all around us, and in the same way, there is corporate hatred, racism and injustice all around us.  It is in our world and we cannot escape it.  The world is not the way it is supposed to be. Acknowledge: Let us recognize corporate racial injustices present in our society.

3) Respect and Listen: Let us listen to our black brothers and sisters – let us be humble to hear their pain and to respect their concerns.

4) Understand: Let us seek to empathize with the pain and suffering our brothers and sisters have experienced and are still going through. When you see George Floyd lying dead on the ground, imagine if he were your brother, or your son, or your father. Now take that feeling and stretch it out over the span of your life and you have a glimpse of the pain in the African-American community.

5) Learn and be educated: Let this be for ourselves and our children! Immerse yourselves in resources from others from different backgrounds (e.g. Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy or Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise, etc). Recognize that one of the results of systemic racism is that we have not been properly informed enough about the history of racial injustice in our country. Lift up the veil, the information is out there if you would look. But be aware, what you see might be ugly.

6) Act. Being passive about this very divisive issue within our country is not an option for us if indeed we believe the gospel. Wherever there are opportunities for us to speak into expressions of racism or discrimination (such as destructive social dynamics related to race), we have a responsibility to stand up for justice. We need to do justice! Here we must follow the lead of Jesus Christ. How do you know Jesus loves you? Look at his hands and his feet. You know Jesus loves you because he suffered for you. When it comes to justice your words are not enough, where are your wounds? Also look at how Paul confronted Peter in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 about discriminating against Gentiles (Gal 2:11-14).

For many of us, we can’t just simply respond on social media, let this moment pass, and forget about the challenges that our brothers and sisters are experiencing. We need to take a long-term outlook and continue to create, as a church community, a place where we can freely talk about this issue through the lens of the gospel and how this issue is an ongoing problem in our country. But be careful and take note that we need to move out from the gospel as our foundation.  Don’t be easily shaped by other worldly narratives that are on the one hand avoiding the issue altogether by denying the seriousness of this major sin problem or on the other hand not taking the Pauline approach in speaking the truth in love but rather resorting to shaming that is rooted in self-righteousness. Then, we must proactively and intentionally defend people who are of different racial backgrounds! If we say we care and want to support, then we need to first show real, intentional care for those in our community who are going through pain (don’t be silent but encourage someone!). We also need to be intentional about building relationships with people who are of a different racial background than we are. We need to be willing to use our advantages, prerogatives, opportunities and influence to speak up for those that can’t speak for themselves. Again, we take our lead from Jesus Christ, who used his power, rights and influence to bring us into his family and not for his own personal gain (Philippians 2:4-8).

We need to be reconcilers, bridge-builders and peacemakers. We need to build each other up in love (Ephesians 4:16)! We have to be anti-racists and take a posture where we want to see any form of racism in our country rooted out. This might mean that we make sacrifices and to suffer. We should not pursue an easy or convenient path. If we are doing the Lord’s work in this area, we should expect hardship, the enemy will not go down without a fight.

Finally, the first Amendment gives us the right to protest and demonstrate peacefully. We need spaces in the public square where people can express their frustration and righteous anger. We need prayer vigils where people can come together in a unified voice. Our constitution allows this!

However, it’s unfortunate that there are certain people, even though their frustration is understandable, who have rioted where the safety of other people has been compromised. The unfortunate outcome of this non-peaceable, more violent riot has allowed the narrative to shift/pivot away from speaking against racial injustice and instead to focus on the destruction of property. I am sure that all of us would support people demonstrating peaceably but would disagree with people taking aggressive action through looting, destruction of property, harm, etc. As Christians we recognize that the spirit that leads a police officer to kill an unarmed citizen is the same spirit that leads a protestor to riot. We denounce both. We need to pray that civic leaders and church leaders will be able to encourage people to show their frustration through peaceful demonstrations – for those in law enforcement and authority to manage these protests with good wisdom and judgment.

Whatever side you find yourself on the political spectrum, don’t politicize this issue but gospelize it! As Russ Whitfield has said, “the gospel is the only story big enough to swallow up the grief of a ruined humanity overcoming that ruin with a glory of a renewed humanity in Christ!”  We need to lament and cry out to our Just God for peace and justice and say, “how long O Lord”, but at the same time we need to be utterly convinced that we have an invincible hope in Jesus who died for all sin and rose again to life in order to give us certain hope.  The day we stop believing this is the day we will lose hope and fall into despair. “But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – MLK

Please join us both again next week for another “Wednesdays with Pastor Um” session at 7:00 p.m., where we will continue looking together at issues of race and justice through the lens of the gospel. We plan on also breaking up into smaller groups for further discussion. Look back at the latest Citylife News email, subscribe to our weekly Newsletter here or join our Citylife Social FB group to find the meeting login info.

Standing firmly on the gospel of Jesus Christ,

Pastor Um and Cullen Buie (Ruling Elder)