By the time I was aware there was a #Charlottesville most of the violence and chaos was over. When I did get to my phone all I quickly learned 1) about 300 white supremacists showed up to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee-the most well known of the Confederate Generals; 2) a large number of counter protestors showed up; 3) the police did not separate the groups; 4) violence ensued resulting in one fatality due to a young man driving his car into the crowd; 5) two state policeman were dead due to a helicopter crash; and 6) if I as a pastor don’t address the problem of racism in my sermon the following Sunday I am sinning against God.
If you find #6 surprising, well, you don’t know my Twitter feed. I follow conservative Christians, conservative politicians, and conservative commentators along with progressive/liberal Christians, politicians and commentators. I try to avoid the “bubble,” the idea that with social media today it is easy to only listen to and read people who agree with you. I purposely read those who take a different view than mine and occasionally I engage with them.
On this occasion both the right and left sides of my Twitter feed were in rare agreement-I would be failing my flock if I didn’t address the issue of race. A couple of questions went through my mind. Should I address the issue of race in Clarksville, TN because a bunch of white supremacists (very few, if any, lived in Charlottesville) protested the removal of a statue in VA? Second, if I addressed the issue of race every time a racial incident happened in this country I would preach on nothing else. I am not opposed to preaching on race. I addressed the issue of race after the incident in Dallas last year as a part of a series of sermons on issues facing this country in light of the upcoming Presidential election. I moved the sermon up about three weeks. A third thought entered my mind-is there an assumption that I am a racist or have racist leanings because I am a white man pastoring a predominately white church? This seems to be the substance behind the idea of white privilege-an idea I have yet to examine in detail, but plan to.
I am not blind to the issue of race in this country. We may have removed the more virulent forms of racism through the passage of civil rights laws in the 1960’s, but racism is alive and well in the human heart. It is alive and well in the U.S. There is still some structural racism to be addressed as well as personal racism. It is not new. The Biblical stories of Jonah and Esther cannot be fully understood unless you see the racism in both stories.
Racism is a sin. It is a noxious ideology. There is no place for any hint of racial superiority in the mind and heart or life of a follower of Jesus.
Racism is a sin because it refuses to recognize God is the creator of all human beings. All humans came from Adam and Eve. All human beings are equal because we all bear the image of God (Gen.1:26ff) regardless of the color of our skin. While the fall (Gen. 3) has polluted God’s image, Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9-11 make it clear it is still a reality for all human beings.
America has been guilty of at least three national sins: the treatment of the American Indian, slavery and abortion. All three groups were seen as less than human by the perpetrators. Indians were savages. Blacks were property. The unborn are fetuses. When you view someone as less than human you will treat them that way. Repentance of racism has to begin by acknowledging that people of every race are fully human made in the image of God.
Racism is a sin because it violates the very heart of the gospel. Christ died for people of every race (1 Timothy 2:5,6). Heaven is going to be full of people of every race (Revelation 7:9,10). The gospel not only removes the alienation that exists between God and humans (Ephesians 2:1-10), but also removes the alienation that exists between different ethnicities (Ephesians 2:11-22). The church must aspire to be an example of racial reconciliation because that is the intent of the gospel. Has the church lived up to this this calling-no. We must make it our goal to live up to this calling of the gospel.
As Tim Keller said in a recent blog, “First, Christians should look at the energized and emboldened white nationalism movement, and at its fascist slogans, and condemn it—full stop. No, ‘But on the other hand.’ The main way most people are responding across the political spectrum is by saying, “See? This is what I have been saying all along! This just proves my point.” The conservatives are using the events to prove that liberal identity politics is wrong, and liberals are using it to prove that conservatism is inherently racist. We should not do that.”
Repentance of racism has to acknowledge that Christ died for all people. God forbid that I or anyone make racial politics a stumbling block to the gospel. 2 Corinthians 5 reminds us: God is making his appeal “through us.” This appeal is not to become conservative or liberal, it is to believe and follow Jesus. There is a great open door for the gospel message of reconciliation given our increasingly divided country. Pray for the harvest.
What about those Confederate Monuments? Stay tuned.