Social media posts about anti-racism have started to die down compared to their spike after the most recent tragedies. But as a Black pastor committed to seeing our church be part of true change, God has been leading me to take a hard look at the biblical concept of peace. For everyone who wonders: “What do I do with all of this? Is racism my problem?” Read on.
As I have been forced to grieve and dwell in these painful reflections, I feel God has given me a word of trouble for the comforted.
You might be thinking, “Say what? Didn’t you get those words mixed up, Chuck?”
The answer is no. I didn’t jumble my words. I believe that God has something to say to anyone who is not experiencing discomfort in this season, and that word is a difficult one to hear. If you are not in a place of feeling troubled right now, I pray that you would be troubled. If you are not concerned enough to be listening and asking God, “What are You saying at this moment?” then I pray that God would shake you with a sense that all is not well.
The wonderful thing about the word of the Lord is that the message He uses to trouble the comforted can fall upon the ears of the troubled as a message of great comfort. If you find yourself in a place of great grief as I do, you can take heart in this message. God has been telling me this:
Being a peacemaker is not the same as keeping the peace. Being a peacemaker means fighting against the status quo to make a place where true peace can grow and be available for all.
“Is racism my problem?” Yes.
If you follow Jesus, I want to show you how clear it is—racism is a problem for all of us to own. Christ-followers must be peacemakers who lead the change.
Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
The Hebrew word for peace in the Bible is “Shalom.” Shalom does not mean to go with the flow and not make any waves. Shalom means to cultivate an environment where all people and all things thrive. It’s a word that implies a lot of difficult work toward a goal that may often seem impossible and work for which surface solutions will only create more pain.
Jeremiah 6:14 says, “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace.”
The church in America is too often responsible for responding in exactly the way which God speaks against here. Too often, we seek to make things calm and to drain the emotions out of a circumstance without validating and repairing the damages which have been done and the systems that have been established against peace. For those of us who want to be peacemakers, there are three thoughts I feel that God would want us to hear right now.
God Is Calling Us To See
I believe that we are experiencing this most recent spate of racially charged injustices in a different way because of the state of our world in quarantine. Most of our regular routines have been scattered to the wind, and many of our favorite pastimes are off the table for now. While all of my favorite sports should be in full swing, they’ve been canceled. We can’t access our old distractions, but we are getting video footage of the modern-day lynchings of Amaud Arbery and George Floyd, among many other stories of injustices that have been commonplace for far too long.
We can’t unsee these things, and I don’t think God would want us to unsee them.
When the Apostle Paul turned from killing Christians to following Christ in the New Testament, the scripture says that something like scales fell from his eyes. Perhaps at the moment, God is inviting us, asking us, and challenging us to have the scales fall from our eyes and to see with clarity the same broken reality that has been the foundation of our country, the broken reality of racial hierarchy.
America has always had an attitude of anti-blackness—seeing any people group that isn’t of European descent as “other” and less than. We founded our nation upon slavery and the eradication of 98% of the native population of this land. We have interned Asian Americans in camps. We speak of those with Middle Eastern or Latinx heritage as if they are some outside invading force or enemy.
We have to see the uncomfortable truth of these standards, and beyond this, we have to see that the church in America has usually been complicit in these efforts. The first black denomination founded in the United States was the African Methodist Episcopal church, which started when black Christians were forced out of the pews of their local church by white men and women who refused to worship alongside them.
After four little girls were killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, the white lawyer Charles Morgan Jr. was asked who he thought had set the bombs off. His response was that we were all responsible. A subtle approval of racism in the culture and the church led those who were most brazen in their hate to feel comfortable and even justified in committing murder. As a Church and a country, we’ve settled for a version of racial peace that actually looks more like avoiding the problem than addressing the problem.
God Is Calling Us To Seek
I was on yet another Zoom call recently when a Jewish Rabbi I know told a story about two other Rabbis who had once had a debate over a beautiful palace. There was no question about the beauty and value of the palace, but it had been built upon a foundation that contained a stolen beam. One rabbi argued that the entire palace should be torn down so that the stolen beam could be returned, while the other contended that because the beam had become so crucial to a larger project, the rightful owners should be compensated beyond its worth to account for the structure built upon it. Either way, both rabbis acknowledge a gross injustice that must be addressed.
Our country is built upon a foundation of stolen beams, a foundation of stolen lives. For generations, the back-breaking toil behind the economic prosperity so many families experience in our nation was built by the enslaved. Those people and their families will never be recognized, compensated, or benefitted by the lifetimes of work they contributed. The issue of race will continue to flair up in our country because the palace we have built is infested with the brokenness and pain of stolen beams and stolen backs.
God wants us to seek Him. And He wants us to seek justice. Justice is a biblical word and concept that, unfortunately, has become a political football. But an honest read of the Bible leads to a clear conclusion: Justice is a big deal to God.
Disagree with my conclusion? The Bible uses a similar metaphor in Psalm 89:14 when it says, “Righteousness and justice are the foundations of your throne.” How can we worship and talk about coming and kneeling before God’s throne, but refuse to seek the justice it is founded upon. God is calling us to deal with the stolen beam.
Isaiah 10:1-3 says, “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey! What will you do on the day of punishment, in the ruin that will come from afar?”
We have to do the hard work of examining ourselves and finding where we fall on God’s scale of justice. What can we do? There is nothing we can do on our own, no way to solve the world’s problems of our own accord.
Isaiah 55:6-7 says, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
I am so thankful that we serve a God who is eager to pardon us when we turn to Him in recognition that we need a solution beyond ourselves. I believe that God is calling us into a season of repentance and response that he desires, and I believe that this problem will continue to grow and recur as long as we fail to respond appropriately before God. Being at one with God and at one with one another will cost each of us something, but there is no alternative response before God and no good outcome elsewhere.
In Isaiah 58:6-7, God says, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”
We are called to see beyond common experiences or upbringing or skin tone and care more deeply about seeking to stand undivided before God. It has to start with the Church.
God Is Sending Us
Isaiah 5:8 says, “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.’”
God is calling us to take up his cry for righteousness, to recognize the need for reestablishing of justice where our foundations have been corrupt, and to sacrifice on behalf of the cause he is pursuing. The Israelites were in a time of turmoil in the Bible, Esther found herself positioned so that she could take action to be a peacemaker, but her timidity made her want to be a peacekeeper.
Her cousin Mordecai said to Esther, “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Why are we the COVID Christians? Why is racism my problem? Why are we the ones dealing with so many generations of racial baggage, the ones to have to lift so much and finally address it and deal with it? It’s definitely not a fun calling, but perhaps it is because we were designed for just such a time as this one?
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.
What can possibly motivate us toward this hard work of making peace in a world with so much baggage of strife? Why would I take on risk for myself and my own family to lift up the needs of strangers? Why would you be motivated to take on risks for the freedom of those you will never meet? It can only be due to God’s grace. Jesus took on that same work when he was on earth, and it is the work that we are called to follow him in. The grace that comes with it is liberating beyond anything else we will ever find.
This is our moment to see. This is our moment to seek. This is our moment to agree to be sent. If you’re willing to answer that call, start with prayer. Ask God to open your eyes every day to see what you’re missing, ask God to make you aware of what steps to take, ask God to give you humility to learn from the different people who He puts in your path. It is hard work, and we have a long way ahead of us, but we serve a God who is a way maker and a promise keeper and a light in the darkness.
I will leave you with this blessing, which I borrow from the Rev. Richard Halverson and commission you with as well.
You go nowhere by accident.
Wherever you go,
God is sending you.
Wherever you are,
God has put you there.
God has purpose
in you being right where you are.
Christ who indwells you
by the power of his Spirit
wants to do something
in you and through you.
Believe this and go in his grace,
in his love,
in his power,
and in His peace.
Want to get involved in the work of racial solidarity? Learn more at www.undivided.com.