The Culture - What's Going On?
In 1971, Marvin Gaye released his iconic album entitled What’s Going On? On it, he addressed many of the ills that plagued society and the culture of his day. For example, the last song on the album, Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) contains the following lyrics:
Make me want to holler And throw up both my hands
Yeah, it makes me want to holler And throw up both my hands
Crime is increasing Trigger happy policing Panic is spreading God knows where we're heading
Back in the early 70’s, the tremendously gifted Marvin Gaye used his writing and singing ability (along with the platform that God had given him) to speak out against the social issues that existed at that time. Those lyrics have endured the test of time and are just as relevant today as they were when they were first penned nearly 50 years ago.
Many of the same issues that concerned Marvin Gaye back then, still exist today in the year 2020. And with the advent of the internet and social media, there are so many more voices out there today, all of which are clamoring for our attention. There is no shortage of people who want to be heard as they weigh-in with their various viewpoints, opinions and perspectives. I am no different, so go ahead and add me to the list.
A Personal Note
These are tumultuous times indeed. In recent weeks, my heart has ached over images of police officers abusing their authority and perpetrating violence against fellow image bearers of God in some of the most brutal ways imaginable. It hurts to see peaceful protests turn into violent mobs of people who engage in rioting, looting and the destruction of personal property. My mind has also been distressed as I’ve considered the injustices of our past, the fact that we are still experiencing the effects of those injustices today, and the various ideologies and philosophies currently out there that seek to address these problems.
Lest we think that the issue of race relations is something that is “out there”, I submit to you that the problem is closer to home than we think. I attend a multi-ethnic church that actively seeks to be a reflection of the diverse community that surrounds it. And we have grown much in this area of diversity, but we still have a long way to go. Personally, I am a fan of hip-hop music and we intentionally make this genre of music a part of our worship service. It is music that is thoroughly saturated with sound doctrine and biblical theology, and it exults the Lord Jesus Christ, yet people have said to me, “That jungle music has no place in the church.” I will invite someone to church with me who happens to be white, and I’ll ask them after about the service. I’ve been told, “I like your church, but I don’t prefer worshiping with that many black people.”
When these type of statements are made, if we seek to be a part of the solution and not perpetuate the problem, we must speak up. Those statements should not go unchecked. We must call those words out for the racist comments that they are. I have not always done this, and I say that to my shame. We must come with the right attitude and the right tone, and do so at the right time, but I’m convinced that we cannot remain quiet, we must act.
Having said that, with regards to this blog, I have wanted to say something, but I’m just not sure what. How do you begin to address a topic that is as explosive as it is complex? For some, the pain runs extremely deep. For many, fear shows up in all sorts of ways. I have a fear of being misunderstood. I fear that my words won’t bring a measure of relief, but rather further exacerbate the problem. I fear being ostracized, or in the parlance of the day, I fear being “cancelled”. Some people have said that because I’m white, I don’t have a voice in this at all. I should just keep my mouth closed. Others cry out, “Silence is violence.” So many of us are just confused, and therefore hesitant to say anything at all.
I recognize that I’m just one voice among many, and in no way do I think I have all the answers that would solve all that ails us, however please allow me to offer some thoughts on the topic of race. Perhaps I may bring a perspective that you haven’t considered yet. My hope is that God may use something here to help us clarify this complex and perennial issue.
The Man in the Mirror
No, I’m not going to go on and quote another song from back in the day. Yet, I will go on to say that before I speak on the sins that exist in our culture, I must begin with the individual whose sin I know all too well, mine. Jesus rightly said, “The things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” Matthew 15:18,19
In my still unredeemed flesh, I have the capability to think, say and do evil. The Bible speaks about the human heart as being deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), and sin itself is described as deceitful (Hebrews 3:13). Therefore, I need to start with my own saved (yet still sinful) self. I need to address and root out any preconceived notions I have about people based upon external factors.
I don’t think I’m alone here. We all have the tendency to judge people based upon very limited information and little exposure to who they are as a person. We tend to do this, don’t we? For example, there are a number of videos out there on YouTube with titles like Nerd Plays Basketball in the Hood.
These popular videos show some baller (often, but not always a white guy), dressed up like a “nerd”, complete with glasses, a collared shirt, and khaki shorts. He heads out to a public court and then proceeds to dunk on people, surprising everyone with the fact that he can actually ball. (That means play basketball really well, in case you needed that assist. :-)
Another example would be the television show American Idol. There have been times when an auditioner would come out looking rather unkempt and disheveled, and the judges think this performance is going to make their ears bleed, but once the person opens their mouth to sing, the judges are blown away by a perfectly pitched voice.
We make judgments based upon external factors all the time. The Bible actually affirms this: “But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7
I believe that this notion of refraining from judging others based upon external considerations, such as skin color, was at the heart of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. meant by this quote, from his famous I Have a Dream speech:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
If I could put the sentiments of Dr. King into my own words, I would state it like this. It’s not the external skin tone that’s important, but rather it’s the internal and unseen character that matters.
So I recognize how much easier it is to identify the sin of prejudice and bigotry in others than it is to see it in ourselves. I’m personally asking God to expose within me biases and preconceived notions that I have which prohibit me from seeing people as God sees them. I’m also asking God to work in me the desire to then do what is right and love my neighbor as myself. (Mark 12:31)
Note: for those of you who are familiar Robin DiAngelo’s book, White Fragility, what I have stated here is vastly different from some of the main ideas that DiAngelo asserts in her very popular book.
Only One Race
It seems to me that the problem began when certain people groups started making large-scale sweeping judgments about other people groups. Judgments were made that lumped everyone together as one monolithic entity. In so doing, major assumptions were made about the character of each individual member of that group. I would refer to this as an “us” vs. “them” mentality which says, “Our group is superior to your group.” This mentality isn’t exclusive to race, because people groups of all sorts can line up against one another, but this is most clearly seen in regards to race.
In this fight for racial superiority, we must ask the question: Just exactly how many races are there? Biblically speaking, the answer is only one – the human race. I recognize when someone says that there’s only one race, the human race, that sounds like a tired, worn-out cliché or meaningless platitude, but I believe it’s an important truth to consider in this polarizing discussion.
As I have studied the etymology of the word “race”, its origin isn’t exactly clear. There are multiple understandings and interpretations that exist. However, across the board, there seems to be agreement that “race" can be defined as an identifiable group of people who share a common descent. If we take this definition, along with a literal understanding of what the Bible teaches, then there truly is only one race. (Even though the Bible never once uses the word race in reference to people.)
Conversely, according to a Darwinian Evolution model, races (plural) have descended from different ancestors (plural) that have been separated by various locations over a long period of time. In 1859, Charles Darwin published his book The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Many are unaware of just how racist that title is. Darwinian Evolution was and still is a racist philosophy.
On the other hand, according to both the Old and New Testaments, we are all members of one race because we have all descended from a single ancestor Adam, who along with Eve, populated the entire human race. It is within this one race where all people, that is, people of all colors should find their membership and common connection.
God has made from one blood (some translations, “from one man”) every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth. (NKJV)
Even according to secular organizations like NationalGeographic.com, they state, “There’s no scientific basis for race. It's a made-up label that has been used to separate people for millennia. The concept of race is not grounded in genetics.”
Additionally, in reference to the Human Genome Project back in 2000, the New York Times reported, “the researchers had unanimously declared there is only one race—the human race.”
In a 1998 article entitled We’re All the Same, ABC news reported, “More and more scientists find that the differences that set us apart are cultural, not racial…We accept the idea of race because it’s a convenient way of putting people into broad categories, frequently to suppress them…the most hideous example is provided by Hitler’s Germany. What the facts show is that there are differences among us, but they stem from culture, not race.”
All you have to do is look around this world to see the marvelous handiwork of our creative God. It seems our God has a relentless appreciation for diversity. We’re different in regards to our gender – God has created us either male or female. He makes some people tall, and some people short. He makes blue eyes, brown eyes and all sorts of shades in between. In terms of skin color, some people have large quantities of a pigment called melanin and some have smaller quantities. That is what gives our various skin tones their shading.
However, we as fallen creatures in a fallen world, tend to see separate groups, namely black and white, and the reprehensible history that exists between those two groups. But God looks out at the diversity in our world, and He sees the lovely mosaic that He has fearfully and wonderfully made. We (you and me) exist together in relationship with one another as the human race, representing a beautiful array of different skin tones all created in the image of God.
All you have to do is turn on any news report for just a minute and you’ll soon be reminded – we have problems. We have a myriad of problems on all sorts of levels. We have problems locally, nationally and globally. And almost everyone agrees there’s a problem, however, many might disagree on just exactly what that problem is, and therefore disagree on how we approach the problem.
Can we all agree on the following?
Racism still exists in our world and it is utterly evil.
There are racist cops, just like there are racist accountants and racist plumbers.
Not all cops, accountants and plumbers are racist.
Chattel Slavery and Jim Crow laws are hideous sins that have forever marred this nation's history
The effects of both slavery and segregation are still being felt today.
Oppression exists and not only shouldn’t be ignored, but we should actively oppose it.
Injustice also exists and we should seek to “do justice” as much as humanly possible in this fallen world.
Here is a question to consider: is there a common thread that exists in and through all of these problems? I submit to you that there is a common denominator. It is what the Bible refers to as sin.
Many of the words that permeate this discussion are: oppression, harassment, mistreatment, abuse, brutality, injustice, prejudice, and bigotry – all of which have a common denominator – they are all sins. So, in addition to our common Creator, we share another commonality, the universality of sin. The Bible declares that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) Indeed, there is no one on earth who continually does good and who never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
Contrary to popular opinion, not all sins are the same. Sins all carry the same sentence, but they are not all equal in their magnitude. Therefore, in no way am I attempting to diminish the hateful crimes that have been committed in the name of racism. Those are an atrocity and must be denounced. However, I am saying that those sins will be punished. Either the racist responsible for those crimes will suffer in hell for all eternity, or those wicked actions are absorbed in the flesh of the spotless Son of God who died for that sin.
If sin is the root of the problem, then Jesus is the definitive solution. We, as a nation and as individuals, must submit all that we have to all that He is. A surrendering must take place. We must yield our will, in addition to all that we think, say, and do to the only One who has the power to change us. Jesus is the only one with the power to turn a hateful racist with a heart of stone, into a loving person with a tender heart toward his fellow man. Repentance and faith are the two wings that must fly us to our desired destination.
Will racism ever end? I have asked that question to many people, and almost always the answer I receive in return is, “No.” The damage has been done. The pain is too deep. The problem is too complex. Racism is too ingrained in too many people for it to ever go away. I respectfully disagree. The Scriptures actually tell a different story.
“He (God) will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:4,5
At the end of this age, Jesus will solve the problem of racism once and for all.
This is not intended to be a “pie in the sky when you die” sort of sentiment, but rather this a reminder that for the Christian this world is not our home. (Hebrews 13:14) The world in which we currently reside is thoroughly awash in sin. It permeates every corner and crevice of our culture, and therefore it’s unavoidable.
Now that doesn’t mean that we should just simply stand idly by and await Jesus’ return. By no means! Instead, we must be actively involved in this sinful world filled with sinful people to bring about change that benefits man and honors God. Again, it’s not “pie in the sky when you die”, rather it’s about being “sound on the ground while you're still around.” (I heard that from someone, forgot who, otherwise I’d credit them.)
How Now Shall We Live?
Allow me to let the Scriptures make application for us. In this complex and volatile issue of race relations in America, here are some biblical exhortations for you to consider:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. Psalm 139:23,24
One pastor I read offered the following questions for self-examination. Perhaps, this would be a good place to start:
· Do I ever make judgments or assumptions based on skin color?
· Do my friendship circles include people different than me?
· Do I ever contribute to stereotypes and division?
· Have I been active in reconciliation?
Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.
This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. James 1:19,20
Do what the Lord requires.
He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8
Consider others as more important than yourself.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Philippians 2:3
Treat people as individuals.
Basically, treat people the way Jesus did. He continually reached across the various societal barriers of prejudice to love people, to care for people, and to speak truth into their lives. He touched the unclean. He healed the outcasts. He spoke to those who society shunned. He reached across ethnic and gender divisions to speak truth into the life of the Samaritan woman at the well. (John 4)
Note: this is one of my primary concerns regarding a very popular and growing perspective called Critical Race Theory. As one critic aptly points out: “Critical Theory claims that our identity as human beings is rooted in things like race and gender, features that differ from person to person. But the Bible grounds our identity as human beings, and the value every human has, in the fact that we are created in God’s own image. This is something every human being shares. While critical theory pits some groups of people against other groups based on their status as oppressors or oppressed, the Bible says we are all equal before God: created equal, equally valuable, equally guilty of sin, equally deserving of punishment, and equally able to find grace and mercy in Jesus.”
Immerse yourself in the Scriptures.
Read, believe and rightly apply these relevant portions of Scripture:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:27,28
There is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. Colossians 3:11
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9,10
Last, but certainly not least…
The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. James 5:16b
Thanks for taking the time to read this. May God use at as He sees fit.
Grace and peace,