Surviving the Heat of a Racially Charged Society

During this time of racial violence, loss of life, and the tension-filled aftermath, talking heads have had plenty to say.  A lot of it hasn’t been helpful.      

We can’t afford to add heat to the problem.  Christians need to think biblically.  Otherwise, we’ll offer opinions that come straight out of the funny papers.  Theology couldn’t be more important than right now, as we hunt for a foundation concerning how to look at other human beings, as well as how to treat them.

Let’s start at the beginning.  Genesis 1:27 says, “God created man in His image and after His likeness.”  It’s hard to get any more fundamental than that.  A human being represents the image of God.  If you look at someone of another race, and feel you are seeing less than that image, you have failed to think biblically.  James lamented that we use our tongues to “bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God” (3:9).

Okay, all men possess the divine image.  Still, you’ve already found out real life can be complicated.  Regardless of what race you are, you’ve probably had poor dealings with the other side.  I certainly have.  We all eventually run into that individual—or a string of them—that embarrass the rest of their race.

I’ve met some thugs.  Thieves.  Low down dirty dogs.  It’s hard to think of the image of God when you’re dealing with them.  Yet even with individuals who represent the worst of their own people group, you have to remind yourself that somewhere underneath is the image of God—sadly buried or marred, but there, nonetheless.  Jesus knew this, which is why when He died, He died for all of us.

I’ve had some interesting experiences with race.  I’m a conservative southern white man over fifty.  According to liberal metrics, I’m probably racist.  And yet my background is just mixed up enough to prevent me from defaulting to that exact description.

A black chaplain led me in my first ever prayer to Jesus and then baptized me.    A small group of black men who helped baptize me, then prayed for me during subsequent times of crisis.  The first dozen or so people I led to Christ were black.  The first Bible studies I ever led were in black homes.

Then I went on in my Christian life to receive substantial help from Mexican and Chinese believers.  Oh yeah.  A couple of whites prominently figured in there, too.

I owe a lot of people.

It would have been a tragic loss for me had I placed an ultimate importance on external appearance.  Yet the present media frenzy tempts me to ignore the image of God in other people and start treating skin color as paramount.  Compared to Genesis 1:27, that’s not progress.  It’s regress.

Today’s climate has made folks hyper-sensitive toward one another.  Worse, we’ve learned a new way to dismiss any meaningful dialogue or hard questions with easily applied labels like “racist.”  Ironically, the worst offenders are whites who think nailing other whites earns them enlightenment points.

Name calling hardens hearts, and shuts down communication.  I certainly don’t deny racism exists, and it should be labeled where clearly appropriate, but “racist” is also a word beginning to be used the way  “witch” was in Salem during the seventeenth century or “commie” during the fifties.

Let’s train our sights back onto the Scriptures.  Human dignity is found in the fact that we have been formed under the hand of one great and gracious Creator.  We look like Him in some profound way that transcends skin color, noses, hair, and epicanthic folds.

Before diversity naturally developed, there was a unity in this one image, a template that became the basis for everything else.  We need to keep our eye on that ball.

Further, because we affirm the foundational truth of Genesis 1:26-27, it naturally follows that murder is never right.  John says, “No murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15).  That is, no act of murder ever occurs under the influence of the new life in Christ.  The motivation for committing that crime is Satanic.

Even the simple desire to do someone harm or see them harmed because of personal hatred is a fundamental contradiction of God Himself—“He who does not love, does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8).

Equipped with these sentiments, here are a few suggestions concerning what to do now:

Watch What Fills You.   As much as possible in this day of manipulative media, stay informed and get your facts straight.  But avoid online rants or overly polarized views that end on an “us-versus-them” note or “here’s what you people need to know.” Some sources purposely seek to keep the pot stirred, like certain celebrity tweets or blogger-pundits. I’ll be honest.  A few of these annoy the hell out of me.  I won’t click into their stories because of what their content does to my mood.

Measure the effect. If your online reading fills you with anger and outrage on a regular basis, you might need a fast from that material.  You might also want to limit sparring with folks too much online.  I’ve never come away from a forum brawl feeling closer to Jesus.  Instead, I recommend Paul’s charge in Ephesians 5:17-18:  “Do not be foolish…but be filled with the Spirit.”

How about spending a little extra time in the Lord’s presence?  Break out those devotionals. Dust off your Bible.  Exercise some muscular prayer.  I’ve turbo-charged my own morning quiet time with God and definitely sensed the difference.  It beats the sour after-taste of online arguments and hard feelings about the current race dilemma.

Keep the church a safe place for all.  We cannot afford to let the fighting, feuding world—a collective entity whose life is not the Holy Spirit—dictate the climate in the church.  Jude says to “build one another up in your most holy faith” (v. 20).  It is a betrayal when believers of another race come to us sincerely seeking edification in Christ, only to find the alleged household of the faith full of racial bias.

In our case, our church is still small and mostly white.  But those minority saints who are with us now and those who will later join us, deserve to be warmly received and treated with all the respect due an image-bearer of God.  And speaking of relationships with people, the church should affirm its appreciation for members of the service community, especially our police.  The police could destroy society as we know it, merely by staying home from work!

Although we must hold individual officers responsible for their actions according to the rules of law, the very idea of law enforcement comes from God.

Paul writes,

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:1-4).

The way the verse reads, a war on police is basically a rebellion against God.

Be part of the solution.  Based on my personal experience and my observation of others over the decades, I believe the gospel of Jesus continues to be the only real solution to the race problem right now.  Please don’t think of me as a religious personality who wants to throw a simplistic answer at a big and profound problem.  The reality in fact, is the opposite.  I am throwing a big profound answer at a small problem.

Racism.  Small?  Well, compared to the gospel, it is.  But if the gospel is not on the scene, then no, racism isn’t small at all.  It’s huge and insurmountable.  Take away the cross and the wall of racial hostility still stands (Eph. 2:12-16) and sin is still alive and powerful.  Take away the resurrection and there is nothing but old, dying life.  Take away the ascension and no one in the universe is in charge.  Under those circumstances, racism is an unstoppable force.

But I believe so much that the gospel is mankind’s ultimate answer that I’ve sometimes purposely endured some crazy, trying experiences these last thirty years or so.  My wife and daughter and I have lived in frat houses, people’s basements, tiny apartments, and dilapidated church properties.  We ordered our lives around the ministry of Jesus and did what we needed to do to make sure the message would continue to go out.

Only the gospel of Jesus can enter a person’s heart and begin dealing with his secret sins.  Don’t get me wrong.  Responsible legislation is important.  But only the consistent winsome influence of Christ and His cross can truly change a person’s interior attitudes.

People might behave in a progressive way due to the pressure of political correctness or under threat of penalty or out of simple decorum or racial guilt.  But not because of true transformation.  Not like what is described in 2 Corinthians 3:18—“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

After all this time, I haven’t changed the world, although I’ve certainly affected the small sliver of it that was assigned to me.  I encourage you to do the same.  Don’t lose your confidence in the power of the gospel of Christ.  Open your mouth.

I have the sneaking suspicion that if we fail to mobilize as the priesthood that we truly are, racial violence and other sins will continue unabated.  With every new incident, politicians will get out their glue and bicycle patches and once again try to keep all the air from leaking out of the tire.

Nobody’s expecting you to change the world.
Just your sliver of it.



Photo credit:  Nicolas Raymond


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