On Race, Riots, and Reconciliation

On Race, Riots, and Reconciliation

“There is a direct relationship between a person’s grasp and experience of God’s grace and his or her heart for justice.”

Tim Keller, Generous Justice

During the past week, protests and riots broke out in Minneapolis and across the country, including our city of Lincoln. They came as a response to the death of George Floyd, who died after a police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, even as he pleaded that he could not breathe. This is just another event in a long history of cases in which black people have died in encounters with police, and it comes in the wake of the deaths of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and James Scurlock in Omaha.

These protests, which sometimes turn violent, are an expression of outrage and frustration with the injustice that has continued to build in our communities. In each situation, chaos has been a result of not just one event, such as the killing of an unarmed black man, but the explosion of a group of people fed up with injustice over many months and years.

Here at Sower Church, we are thankful to be a vibrant, multi-ethnic Christian community, and we have had various conversations on race in the past. Those conversations will continue.

There is a lot of pain, confusion, anger, and fear in our nation right now. Many of us are driven to prayer as we cling to the hope of the Gospel. Many of us are compelled to speak out against racism and the injustices against our black brothers and sisters, whether on social media, joining protests, or in conversations. We should respond. The way we do so, however, is vital.

So, how should we respond? 

Suffer with those who are suffering

First, we must pray for George Floyd’s family and friends. We must grieve with our black brothers and sisters in the wake of George Floyd’s death and lament when law enforcement officers misuse their authority and harm the people they are called to protect. When the Apostle Paul wrote his letters to the Romans and the Galatians, he proclaimed:

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

As Christians, we should suffer with those who are suffering under injustice. There are black brothers and sisters in our church who are hurting in ways that some of us might not understand. We must recognize that in the hearts of our black friends, incidents like these connect to a personal history of unfair treatment.

We must remember that our God created every skin color. Every black man, black woman, and black child is one of His image-bearers – if they are hurting, we must hurt with them and listen when they express their racial trauma. We must hear their stories and validate their grief. For healing and restoration to be possible, we must help bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters and truly mourn with them.

Be quick to listen & slow to speak

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19)

When black and brown Americans speak of their experiences and their trauma, some of us are quick to question, to dismiss, to debate, to disbelieve, to minimize their experiences, or to deviate from the issue by bringing another one into focus. We need to pause and be ready to have more open, honest, and receptive conversations in our church about matters that affect the black community. 

Let’s do the work of understanding how institutions, norms, and behaviors continue to dehumanize black Americans. We must learn to empathize with what it is like to live as a black man and woman and listen to their cries of desperation for justice and equality when another life is lost to unnecessary force.

Consider what life is like for black people. Allow yourself to look beyond and wonder what it’s like to work, walk, go to school, and just be a black person. What’s it like to be black and look for a job, try to get a loan, or enter a store? What are black and brown neighborhoods like? Where are they? Have you wondered why many churches choose the suburbs as locations to build their places of worship? Why are they where they are? Why is the time of worship known as one of the most segregated hours in America? 

Protect the vulnerable and act in love

Throughout Scripture and the Gospel, murder and injustice are condemned (Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17, Matthew 5:21-22, Proverbs 17:15), and God’s people are called to protect the vulnerable. In the example of Jesus Christ, God’s people are called to love others, care for their needs, grieve with them in brokenness and labor for the well-being of our neighbor.

“Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.” Jeremiah 22:3

“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9

As followers of Jesus Christ, we cannot remain silent when our black brothers and sisters, friends, and people we seek to win for Christ are mistreated, abused, or killed unnecessarily. We should pray. We should continue to faithfully proclaim the Gospel that is the source of our hope and healing. We must also speak out when injustices occur. Scripture calls us to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). We are called to work towards reconciliation between man and God, but also between man and man (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Our God heals, reconciles, and gives peace to those who come to Him in faith. Because of the love that has been shown us and our command to imitate Christ, we must lead the way in humility, compassion, truth-seeking, and reconciliation between God and people.