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Christians need to talk about racial justice

Christians need to talk about racial justice
Posted on June 5, 2020  - By Reeba James

On May 8, 2020, a group of friends and I ran (or walked) 2.23 miles to bring to light the injustice of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder. Two days later, I was sharing about yet another senseless murder — Breonna Taylor, who was killed by the police in her own home. She was sleeping when the cops came into her home and shot her eight times. On Sunday, May 24, we saw a white woman frantically call the police and state that an African-American man was threatening her, when all he’d asked her to do was leash her dog. Then came Monday, May 25. A video was released showing then police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck as he repeatedly cried out, “I can’t breathe.”

I have not watched the video myself, because I didn’t believe I could handle it. Yet, while I can avoid watching the video, while I can distance myself from these issues, our brothers and sisters from the Black community cannot. This is their daily reality. And these are but a few examples of the repeated instances of violence and mistreatment against the Black community in the United States. 

Before I go any further, let me state with absolute clarity: Racism is real. Systemic oppression is real.

It would be beyond the scope of this article to discuss all the data related to racial discrimination. Nevertheless, consider The Sentencing Project’s 2018 report that found that “African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to experience lengthy prison sentences”. The most recent data available from Mapping Police Violence recorded that, in 2015, unarmed Black people were killed at five times the rate of unarmed whites. Black drivers are also more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white drivers, according to studies conducted by The Stanford Open Policing Project.

Mapping Police Violence recorded that, in 2015, unarmed Black people were killed at five times the rate of unarmed whites

There are very real struggles facing Black Americans daily that we may never understand. However, that does not mean we can be silent or removed from the issue. So, let’s talk about it. 

The roots of racism

First, we’ll tackle the why. A friend, Rob Richardson, helped me understand the roots when he explained, “Racism is built on unjustified fear of the other, greed, and pride. We can fear someone, but believe they are valuable. We can fear someone, but not be in a place to take advantage of them. But when we fear someone, and have the power to use them like an object, and think we’re superior (and have the right to use them), that’s when the damage can be maximised. We see all of these in the history of racism and prejudice in the United States.” 

We can identify the same roots in other parts of the world as well: the caste system in India, the different values ascribed to Indians of a lighter or darker skin colour, the comments and jokes about Indians from different states, etc. 

This is not purely an American problem. However, in America, this problem is at the very core of the country. We’ve gone from slavery, to segregation (Jim Crow laws and lynchings), to a penal system that prison advocates have long argued disproportionately affects Black members of our communities.

Ultimately, racism is a sin problem, as all evil is. Sin is the root of the problem. And the devil’s greatest victory is in making us believe that we are not a part of the problem — or that we don’t have the responsibility to be a part of the solution. 

Ultimately, racism is a sin problem. And the devil’s greatest victory is making us believe that we don’t have the responsibility to be a part of the solution

What does that mean? If it’s ultimately a sin problem, the solution is Jesus Christ. Only God can change and transform hearts and lives. But, it starts with our willingness to recognise there is a problem. 

To merely state that “Jesus is the answer” falls short of being an adequate response to the reality that so negatively affects the daily lives of so many people. It cannot be our only response. 

Whether intentional or not, Christian platitudes, even when filled with truth, can come off as dismissive of the very real issue. When we say, “It’s not a race issue, it’s a sin issue,” we ignore that while racial injustice is a sin issue, this particular sin manifests because people have not treated other races as equal. So, yes, this sin is particularly racial in nature and effect. 

The response to racism

What then do we do? First, we acknowledge the problem. Racism is real. Police brutality is real. Systemic racism is real.

Second, we acknowledge our role in the problem. As a South Asian living in a very diverse part of the United States (northern New Jersey), I have been largely isolated from discrimination stemming from the colour of my skin. I do not face the same oppression that Black members of my community face. I have privilege; I have the privilege of being seen as a “model minority.” I am ascribed attributes such as hard-working and intelligent simply because of my race; these are not assumptions always available to the Black community, despite the inherent lack of truth in the lack of such assumptions. Likewise, I also have biases that I need to contend with on how I view people different from me. 

Thirdly, I have to acknowledge that change starts with me. It starts with repentance. It starts with conviction of where I’ve fallen short, followed by asking for forgiveness, and a turn to seek God actively. It’s a turn to how I can be better, how I can do better. It starts with asking for forgiveness from the community that I have fallen short against. It starts with an honest reflection of my attitudes and behaviours, whether external or not. It continues with truthful, difficult, and uncomfortable conversations with my family, with members of my church, and so on. We have to be willing to listen to the struggles of our hurting brothers and sisters. 

Not ‘their’ problem

We had the Black youth in our fellowship share their responses and pain about the state of our country over the past week. The responses were raw and honest. They reflected brokenness and hurt beyond comparison. Their responses shed light on how they often felt not heard, not understood, or not cared for in the same way that we care for others. 

We as individuals, families, churches, and communities have to be better. Our silence in the face of the struggles of our brothers and sisters and our lack of trying to understand are telling of a larger dismissive attitude towards problems until they affect us personally. Racism is not simply a problem for the Black community to deal with and fight for. It is personal. 

Our silence and lack of trying to understand are telling of a larger dismissive attitude towards problems until they affect us personally

Racism says to a person made in the image of God that they are of less value simply because of the colour of their skin. That’s personal to me. It incorrectly ascribes worth and value by anything other than Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross. And to clarify, that worth and value is not dependent on someone accepting that truth either. 

Now is not the time to be complicit with our inherent biases. Now is not the time to stay silent out of fear of saying the wrong thing. If we don’t know what to say, we need to listen. We need to amplify Black voices who can speak Biblically to these issues.  We need to ask questions and read. We need to educate ourselves on the history of racism in the United States and how it still affects millions of lives today. 

Live out the gospel

We have to stand up and speak out that Black lives matter. This is not a controversial statement. Stating Black lives matter is not denying that everyone’s life is important; that is, of course, true. But we specifically speak to why Black lives matter here because, over and over again, we see Black lives killed and beaten down unjustly. And we have to speak up in situations of injustice. 

Seeking justice is not a controversial issue either. We claim to hold the truths of ultimate justice; however, we cannot honestly state that claim if we ignore the issues of earthly justice and how these issues affect the people around us. We have to be willing to know and preach the gospel — and then to live the gospel. We have to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. And we have to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

We cannot discriminate, whether intentionally or not, or choose who our neighbour is. We are to love all people as if they are our neighbour. We cannot follow one commandment without following the other. These are not passive commandments. It’s not simply about being “not racist”. These are active commandments. It assigns responsibility and asks for a practical response from us. 

We cannot honestly claim to hold the truths of heavenly justice if we ignore the issues of earthly justice

The reason for our response

I’ve heard heartbreaking statements from believers about how Jesus does not address these issues or that the Bible isn’t concerned with various social problems. We have to get our mind around the terminology. It’s not about social problems; these are people problems. They affect real people. Real people we are commanded to love. Real people Jesus loves and died for.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well. She was treated as someone to be ignored and dismissed. The racial and ethnic prejudices of this time meant a Jewish man would not speak to a Samaritan woman, as Samaritans were hated and disregarded by the Jews. However, while others wouldn’t speak to her or acknowledge her, Jesus did. She did not expect Jesus, a Jew, to have any dealings with her. But Jesus — He talked with her, He listened to her, He shared the hope of Living Water with her. He recognised her when society failed to do so. He loved her and demonstrated His love for her by doing this. 

James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” There are two main ideas here: to practically take care of vulnerable populations and to be holy. We cannot pick and choose what parts of living out the gospel we’re comfortable with. It’s difficult, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s necessary for the sake of our fellow brothers and sisters. We need to have empathy for those continuously hurting around us. 

It’s not about social problems; these are people problems. Real people we are commanded to love, and who Jesus died for

Reach out to the Black members of your community. Remind them of God’s love for them and display that love in how you care for them, how you treat them, and how you stand with them. Of course, there are many hurting for many reasons. But today, we commit a great error if we do not address the specific issues of racial injustice. We are called to be like Christ to an unbelieving world. We cannot do that and stay silent on issues like racial injustice. 

The responsibility to respond 

In the context of faith without works being dead, James says, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” 

Friends, we cannot have a dead faith in this regard. We have to comfort the hurting with our words, with our prayers, and with our actions. We have to stay grounded in the foundation of the Word of God. We have to educate ourselves, so we can participate in discourse, display the love of Christ in a very real way, and then give action to our faith. We have to give others the things needed for the body. We have to hold ourselves and each other accountable to living out the truth of the gospel. 

The gospel also speaks of forgiveness, and we cannot ignore that crucial aspect. We have to ask for forgiveness when necessary and be willing to forgive those who have wronged the very people we fight for. We have to remember that Jesus Christ died for the people behind the violence as well. However, we serve a God of mercy and justice. One is not less than the other. Since mercy does not negate justice, we also have to ask for justice to see the killers of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others convicted. Forgiveness and justice are not mutually exclusive issues. 

I believe Jesus Christ is the hope for all. Sin is the problem. And God so loved the world (all the people of the world) that He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem those He loves. But how can we as Christians claim to love and follow a God that loves all, that cares about the needs, problems, and struggles of all, but continue to stay silent when the Black community continues to hurt? How can we with the same mouth share the truth and hope found in Jesus Christ, but stay silent in the face of injustice? How can anyone take us seriously when we speak about a hope for all humanity if we’re not even willing to address the very real problems the Black community faces? 

Fellow Christians, do not let silence and inaction be a hindrance to the gospel. I’m not advocating that fighting against systemic issues is what will change hearts for the gospel or do the transforming work of Christ. God changes hearts. But, our responsibility is to be faithful to practically live out the gospel today. It is our responsibility to not leave unbelievers wondering if Christians genuinely care about their pain. Ultimately, love God and love your neighbour.

This article would not have been possible without the feedback and contributions of Robert Richardson, Liz Richardson, and Becky Musgrove. Special thanks to them for their inputs, and especially their hearts to see these issues addressed and real change in our communities.

[Editors note: To read about whether Christians should participate in anti-governments, click here.]

Reeba James

About Reeba James

Reeba is from New Jersey and currently working as an accountant for Believers Stewardship Services. She is passionate about her relationships with people, especially the young girls from her local church. Ultimately, she lives to know Christ and make Him known.



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