What does the bible teach about racial injustice? And what can white Christians do about it?
I’m writing this because I’m a pastor at a church in Denver. Most of our folks are white. I’ve been asking myself this week, “What can white folks, especially white Christians, do about racial injustice?”
First, a little bit of background:
This week a lot of us saw the video of the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. George Floyd (Big Floyd to those who knew him) was described as a person of peace, a gentle giant, and the most spiritual man you’ve met. Big Floyd was a part of a disciple-making movement in his hometown of Houston. He was unarmed, and he was killed by police while being arrested for a non-violent crime.
George Floyd, with a police officer’s knee on his neck, said, “I can’t breathe.” George Floyd pleaded for his life, cried out for his mother, and then lost consciousness and died.
This is on the heels of news of the unjust killing of other black folks like Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. (This is on the heels of 400 years of systemic racial oppression in the United States.)
This weekend, we saw protests spread from Minneapolis to Denver and 30 or 40 other cities. In Denver, there have been two seperate protest movements: a peaceful, organized, and non-violent protest during the day time, and destructive riots after dark.
In response, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock set an 8pm curfew in place and Governor Polis has activated the Colorado National Guard to break up protests. Most protestors are peaceful, but confrontations between police and rioters across the nation are escalating into violence.
If you’re like me, you’re probably a combination of angry, scared, heartbroken, confused and feeling helpless. I keep hearing the voice of King Theoden from Tolkien’s Two Towers: “What can men do against such reckless hate?”
So what does the way of Jesus and the wisdom of scripture teach us in a time like this?
- Jesus knows what it’s like to be unjustly killed (Luke 23). Those who died by crucifixion often died from lack of oxygen, so Jesus even knows what it’s like to die by asphyxiation.
- George Floyd professed faith in Jesus. Anyone who believes in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins has passed from death to life (John 5:24), so it’s a safe bet that George Floyd is right now feasting with Jesus in the Kingdom of Heaven.
- The Church is called to defend the cause of the oppressed, the poor, and the vulnerable. (Psalm 82:3; Deuteronomy 10:18; Matthew 25:35; Mark 12:40; Luke 4:18; Luke 12:33; Luke 14:13; Galatians 2:10; 1 John 3:17-18, plus all the “gleaning laws” in Leviticus, and like the entire book of James)
- The way of Jesus is non-violent. (Matthew 5:38-39; 1 John 3:15; Psalm 11:5; Proverbs 3:31; Romans 12:17-21)
- Even if you think police or protestors are the enemy, you’re called to love your enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). MLK echoes Jesus when he says, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
What can white Christians do about racial injustice?
This week I listened to some great teaching from Pastor Larry Phillips-Thomas, a pastor at The Connection Church in Aurora. I’ve adapted a lot of my points from his thoughts.
First, don’t be temporarily outraged; let your grief and anger lead you to being a part of long-term positive change.
There’s something sick about how the white church relates to justice: we love causes and fighting for the oppressed, but we follow it almost like it’s a fad. Four years ago everyone was all about fighting for immigrants and refugees. Before that we were all worked up about sex trafficking. Certain issues captivate our attention for a moment, but because most of the issues don’t affect us directly, it’s easy to lose focus and disengage.
But, as Pastor Larry puts it, “Remember, I’m black all year long.” White people can take a vacation from all this if we want, but our black and brown brothers cannot. Maybe this is a time for white believers to grow in endurance.
Second, don’t call for peace and unity without being willing to put in the hard work to solve underlying systems of evil and oppression.
Pastor Larry said it this way, “I want you to be angry with me… then seek unity with me.” It’s right and good to call for peace, but true biblical peace is the presence of justice, not the absence of conflict.
If we say we want peace and order and rule of law, we have to do the deep and hard work of solving the underlying problems that lead to angry riots. Otherwise, our calls for peace sound hollow like “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13).
So if you’re a white Christian, here’s a few tips on how to create longevity in your work for racial justice:
- Make grief and anger about injustice a part of your daily prayer life. Seriously, pray about it every day. Don’t just pray that the riots will stop or that things get back to normal, pray that America corporately repents of systems of racial oppression.
- Consistently speak out against injustice when you see it. Speak the truth with grace and kindness. Don’t hold back out of fear you will make people uncomfortable or might be misunderstood.
- Build and deepen real, mutual friendships with black and brown people. I’ve heard that “you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” If that’s true, what happens when I spend the most time with people who look like me, pray like me, vote like me, come from the same culture, and the same economic class as me? All the wrong-headed and wrong-hearted ideas I’ve got about people who are different than me never get challenged. But if you’ve got deep friendships with people across differences (like the kind of friendship you have with someone you can call at 3 am), you’re committed to solving problems that affect them.
- Think about your own internal biases and repent. Racial prejudice in this day and age doesn’t often look like an evil-hearted member of the KKK anymore. More often, it looks like getting nervous when you see a black person walking towards you on the street. Ask yourself hard questions, and when you find racial bias in your heart, repent.
- Listen to black folks, and where you agree, be an echo. Echo people who are credible, loving, and challenging. (Pastor Larry Phillips-Thomas and Pastor Brandon Washington are two black leaders in Denver I’ve started to listen to.)
- Don’t pick and choose what parts of scripture you like and don’t like. Learn to hate everything God hates, and learn to love everything God loves. We all have our pet projects, issues we focus on, sometimes at the exclusion of others. But we have to learn to submit ourselves to the full counsel of God. God loves justice and hates oppression. God loves life and hates murder. God loves the oppressed and hates the actions of the oppressor.
I hope this helps. If you want to talk more about this in person or over video, I’d love to.
Here’s a couple books that have been helpful to me: