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The matters of social justice and racial reconciliation continue to be topics of discussion among evangelical Christians regardless of ethnicity. Few discourses today have so intensely ignited people’s emotions and passions as those that dare to broach these hot-button issues.
And why are they such sensitive topics? In my opinion, it’s because we think much too highly of ourselves to begin with (1 Cor. 4:7).
For what it’s worth, I do not count myself among the ranks of those who feel racial reconciliation is a unique or especial mandate for the evangelical church, at least not in the same sense as many social activist Christians might define the term. To be honest, I’ve never been particularly fond of the term racial reconciliation to begin with, as I consider it to be inherently non sequitur.
“The first thing that has to be said about the biblical gospel of reconciliation…is that it begins with reconciliation to God and continues with a reconciled community in Christ. ‘Reconciliation’ is not a term the Bible uses to describe “coming to terms with oneself”, although it does insist that it is only through losing ourselves in love for God and neighbor that we truly find ourselves.” – John R.W. Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 190
Reconciliation begins with a genuine desire on the part of one person to be conciliated to another; to actually want to exist in a state and condition of unity with someone else between whom there exists some degree of discord. That said, however, desire is only one component of reconciliation. There is also the matter of the impetus and motive of that desire because desire, for better or worse, is a matter of the will and will originates in the heart (Mk. 7:20-23).
It is with that thought in mind that it must be understood that any efforts at reconciliation that are predicated or dependent upon anything other than genuine heart transformation are, at best, superficial and temporary, and will never stand the test of time over the long haul, because regardless one’s ethnicity we are all – and will continue to be in this life – sinners by nature (Rom. 3:23). It’s simply who we are (Eccl. 7:20).
“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” – Gen. 6:5
That sin is at the root of all injustice is what social justice advocates, such as those who would identify ideologically with the Black Lives Matter agenda, do not appear to comprehend or accept.
Individuals who may occupy certain positions of power and authority in our society, particularly those who serve in the capacity of police officers or elected officials (Eccl. 5:8), remain polluted by a sin nature that is inherent to each of us by virtue of the fall of Adam and Eve thousands of years ago (Gen. 3).
That these men and women happen to wear a badge or recited an oath of office to apply the law equitably and without bias to all, makes them no less susceptible to the effects of sin on the human heart; which is why it is so vital that our sociology (how we understand and relate to each other) be inextricably linked to our theology (how we understand and relate to God), because “injustice”, by definition, is any violation of God’s standard, not ours, of how we are to treat one another (Lev. 19:15).
“It is not just that some parts of us are sinful and others are pure. Rather, every part of our being is affected by sin – our intellect, our emotions and desires, our heart (the center of our desires and decision-making processes), our goals and motives, and even our physical bodies. Apart from the work of Christ in our lives, we are like all other unbelievers who are “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” – Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, The Doctrine of Sin, Chapter 24, p. 494
To pursue racial reconciliation apart from the redemptive gospel of Jesus Christ is futile, because it is the Word of God that objectively establishes for us the paradigm of what true reconciliation is and how, ideally, it should manifest itself outwardly within the society in which we live (Eze. 18:4-32).
When we consider some of the events that are headlining the news today, particularly those involving members of the law enforcement community, we must understand that the goal of racial reconciliation is not only a matter of behavior but attitude. Sure, you can use threats of protests and litigation to compel or coerce someone into obeisance or compliance with your demands. But, in the end, only the gospel can change a person’s heart-attitude (Eze. 11:19; 1 Thess. 2:13).
Speaking of heart-attitude, I’m reminded of the story of a rebellious little girl who refused to obey her father’s directive to stop standing in her chair at the dinner table. Repeatedly, the father commanded her to “Sit down!”, and yet, each time his paternal edict was met defiantly with, “No! I don’t wanna sit down!”
As a last resort, completely exasperated as a result of his daughter’s dogged stubbornness, the father threatened to take from his darling little girl one of her favorite toys if she insisted on continuing in her recalcitrant behavior. Reluctantly, the little girl complied but, in doing so, she left her father with these parting words to chew on: “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside!”
“Some people justify their anger as righteous anger. They feel they have a right to be angry given a certain situation. How, then, can I know if my anger is righteous anger? First, righteous anger arises from an accurate perception of true evil – that is, as a violation of God’s moral law. It focuses on God and His will, not on me and my will. Second, righteous anger is always self-controlled. It never causes one to lose his or her temper or retaliate in some vengeful way.” – Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate
You see, regardless what label we choose to give it, the truth is there is no form of reconciliation or rapprochement – be it racial, marital, or otherwise – that is of any lasting value or significance apart from our first being reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20).
Those who would advocate for racial reconciliation, and who view it as some unique aspect of the gospel (e.g. a “gospel issue”), must realize that it is God Himself who created each of us with the unique physiological and biological attributes we possess:
“…and He [Christ] made from one blood every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation. – Acts 17:26
The word nation in the aforementioned text is the Greek word ethnos, which refers directly to the characteristics of race and ethnicity.
It is God who created you and me the way we are. We did not create ourselves (Ps. 100:3). There is nothing about my existence in this world for which I am personally responsible. Were it not for the sovereign will of God, not only would I not exist physically, but the specific characteristics of my physical existence would not be what they are. I mention this only because I am continually amazed that anyone could be so arrogant as to boast in or rely upon their ethnicity, in any capacity, when they themselves had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the ethnic characteristics they possess.
So, for anyone, regardless his or her ethnicity, to boast that “black lives matter” is utterly meaningless apart from the realization that there would be no “black” life – or any other type of ethnic category for that matter – were it not for the One who Himself is the creator of all life (1 Tim. 6:13).
Racial reconciliation may seem an admirable pursuit in and of itself, but apart from our being reconciled to God, such pursuits are meaningless and empty. To believe that our man-centered efforts at reconciliation would achieve any lasting societal change is shortsighted and naive.
The reason reconciliation is necessary in the first place is that our relationship to God and, consequently, to one another, has been fractured because of our sin (Rom. 3:23). The good news, however, is that God has provided a Way for us to be eternally reconciled to Him, so the damage is not irreparable.
“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 (NASB)
The reason “race” doesn’t reconcile because it cannot reconcile.
Race possesses no inherent desire, motive, will, or conscience. It does not hate, it does not love, nor does it possess the ability to discern between good and evil. All those things are influenced by our heart, not by our melanin.
The goal of racial reconciliation must not be only to change laws and policy but to change hearts.
It’s not a social gospel.
It’s simply the gospel.
Humbly in Christ,