Now that Chauvin and the other officers involved in Floyd’s murder have been arrested, I see many people trying to figure out “What do we do now – if anything?” Demanding an individual guilty of a heinous act is one thing, but changing systems? Many, understandably ask if the system is really that broken, while others declare it is very obvious. I will be the first to admit I don’t know what the solution should be, but I do know how we must treat each other as we ask these questions – starting with love and the willingness to listen.
When I hear my fellow white Christians instantly saying we are pushing too far now, saying that we should not be blamed because of the sins of our ancestors when it comes to race issues… that the Civil Rights Act is the best we can do and we should not be expected to do any more… a few verses come to mind, this first one from Deuteronomy being chief among them.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” – Deuteronomy 5:9-10
We put the image of the white man above the image of God in our black brothers and sisters. We are just now in the third generation since the Civil Rights Act – and it’s not like our crimes stopped at that moment in time, even if it was a huge, monumental leap in the right direction.
But not only did we as a nation sin, but we as Christians sinned horribly. This started from the very beginning of our nation and continued through all of its history. As someone who grew up in and still attends a Southern Baptist Church, I am keenly aware of why the word “Southern” exists in our name. It is a crime we have since rightly recognized and rejected, but we cannot forget that Christians (for Southern Baptists were not alone, though thanks to their name are the most well-remembered) played a large role in this. Our ancestors twisted and selected Scripture to talk about obedience while ignoring verses about their being no slave nor free. They refused to discuss Philemon, and they refused to let slaves learn to read because they knew what they would find in the Bible if they did.
And to this day, many Christians still let race hinder showing the love of Christ. Christian singer/songwriter Jamie Grace has been told to her face by pastors had they realized she was black, they would not have let their outreach team invite her. Pastors still refuse to wed interracial couples that share the Christian faith purely because of race, in spite of both the Song of Solomon and Paul emphasizing there is no “Jew nor Greek” and that we are all one in Christ. Are these the majority? Of course not, but it’s not exactly rare either.
Of course, personal accountability is huge in Scripture. Will we be judged for the enslavement and oppression of a people that took place before we were born? No, but we will be judged about how we deal with the fallout – and if we strove to correct the lingering problems. That is how I believe Deuteronomy should be read. God is not holding us responsible for the crime, but he is visiting the iniquity of those that came before us is visiting us in the form of earthly consequences, and we will be held responsible for how we deal with those.
So, do I think some of the proposed changes go too far? Of course I do. But I’m not going to tell people to shut up or not try. Do I think it is possible that we very well could end up with a worse system than we have in place? Again, of course – there would almost certainly be unintended consequences to any changes made, and it’s always possible that those things will outweigh the benefits. But does this mean we should silence voices calling for change and be satisfied with a status quo that still unfairly hurts a group based on their ethnicity? Never.
Listen – truly listen. If you are in a place to make changes to the system, listen, and then reflect deeply and honestly (and hopefully first and foremost pray for wisdom if you are a Christian). And if you aren’t a lawmaker? Just listen. Don’t get into meaningless arguments online. Whether or not the demands are sound or not, the pain that they are coming from deserves to be met with compassion and empathy. I’m not saying lie; I’m not even saying you can’t honestly disagree if you can find a way to do so without becoming condescending and patronizing. But first and foremost listen and see a fellow image-bearer of God suffering.
God saw that in us, even though he had NEVER wronged us. When we see people that like you and me are fallen and like us may in our injury, but unlike us are injured by those we are connected to, say and do things that are not right… reflect Christ’s love to you when you have acted in the same way – find a way to show love because of the One who lives in you, the One who keeps showing love because his compassion and empathy in seeing us in our pain led him to show love and kindness even while we still fought against him. Christ did two things when it came to the sins of the world – he offered eternal forgiveness and temporal healing brought about by the fallen world. As mere imitators of Christ, we cannot do the former (rather, we are desperately in need of it), but we are commanded to do the latter. For some of us individually, that may only be to listen. But it certainly is not to antagonize.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” John 13:34
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” Isaiah 1:16-17