Race, Riots & The Gospel

What I have to say is intended to help the believer think. I have no desire to stir anyone to frustration. The Bible tells us that “a hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute.” (Prov. 15:18)

My thoughts are merely those of one of God’s image-bearers. However, I do believe that these thoughts go beyond personal opinion in so much as that they start and end with God’s word.

Governing Principles

Let me start by offering you a few governing principles. There are four here though I have many others by which I live my life.

The Gospel alone brings Hope

As a pastor and teacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I believe that the Gospel alone is the hope of the world (Romans 1:16). This being the case, I do not think that social justice or social engineering will ever fix the woes (a.k.a. the effects of sin) of our world.

Unless the heart of a man is changed, his actions will never permanently follow suit. We may be able to reform even the vilest of sinners toward good deeds, but it will only last for a time.

Human history has proved over and over that we return to our sin. That said, I still believe social issues are important. I believe we are called to co-labor with God in Justice.

However, we cannot get the cart before the horse. Even if we were to propose great social transformation, we must proclaim the God behind such a change and offer an invitation to surrender to his Lordship. Otherwise, no transforming change will ever fully take root.

Unless the heart of a man is changed, his actions will never permanently follow suit. We may be able to reform even the vilest of sinners toward good deeds, but it will only last for a time. Click To Tweet

Christians Submit to Scripture

In all matters, I am governed by Biblical principles. (I am not saying I am perfect.) One of those principles, which is fitting and sorely lacking in our current situation, is to be “slow to speak and quick to listen.” (James 1:19)

As patience is not a virtue readily available, most are slow to speak and quick to listen only if or when they’re forced to be.

Unfortunately, being slow to speak and quick to listen is often viewed as silently condoning sin. This is simply not the case and is an immature and wrong-minded view.

When this life-governing, Biblical principle (being slow to judge and making careful decisions) is viewed as condoning sin, we have entered into a place that may seem right to a man, but its end is destruction.

As patience is not a virtue readily available, most are slow to speak and quick to listen only if or when they're forced to be. Click To Tweet

Vengeance Belongs to God

As I shared last Sunday morning (May 31, 2020), although justice is a work that God has called his people to co-labor in, Scripture is clear that vengeance belongs to God alone.

I’ve put a link in the description below to a video by Michael Ramsden of RZIM on this very subject. In his message, he teaches the difference between justice and revenge, or as I have put it vengeance.

Although justice is a work that God has called his people to co-labor in, Scripture is clear that vengeance belongs to God alone. Click To Tweet

Christians Must Judge Rightly

As Christians, we are called to judge rightly. I believe we can discern people’s allegiance by the fruit their lives bear. I also believe that assessing the motives of a human heart requires wisdom, patience, humility, and the Spirit of God. Nine times out of ten, assessing motives is something we fail at miserably.

Scripture is clear that man judges by the outward appearance, but God knows the heart. Most of us learned this in Sunday school as a way to not judge the appearance, dress, or look of another person, but the Bible is not so much concerned with our childish views.

Instead, God is concerned about pointing us to the reality that we have limited sight, but he sees all. If we would remain humble in this truth, it would transform how the world works. However, as I said before, this transformation can only come from submission to King Jesus.

With these principles in mind, and many more deep within my heart, let me share some thoughts. Please hear me out to the end.

I’m aware that you may not agree with me on any or all points, but one of the most essential expressions that we can have concerning love for others is to hear each other out.

Lasting transformation can only come from submission to King Jesus. Click To Tweet

George Floyd

George Floyd’s death is tragic and something beyond excuse.

If you are a Christian, you already know the truth of what I’m about to say; what makes Humanity so unique is that we are all beings created in God’s image. We are the only creatures made in this image. This core truth is actually what makes taking a person’s life absolutely, morally wrong.

Although it doesn’t matter what form murder takes as it is always wicked, some instances rank higher on our scale of outrage. If you think about them, each of these instances is marked by a common factor.

When a life is taken by someone who should have been a source of safety and protection, we all believe something has gone very wrong. This is why when a police officer, a parent, a family member, or a trusted friend is the perpetrator, we are not just hurt, we are angry, we are shocked! We simply do not have a file folder for this kind of betrayal.

When a life is taken by someone who should have been a source of safety and protection, we all believe something has gone very wrong. Click To Tweet

Comparison Games

As we assess and address this senseless tragedy, please don’t fall into a tit-for-tat game, arguing about which heinous atrocity is of greater importance. Murder is wrong morally, and absolutely. It is always wrong in all its forms. As a whole, the Church can fight for justice on many fronts at the same time.

Some people assert that unless pro-lifers take the same stand, in this case, they are not truly pro-life. Putting aside that these people are at best inconsistent with their belief (that is, they themselves don’t show outrage over the myriad of other individuals who’ve lost their lives), this position is simply short-sighted.

As in any other battle, we need soldiers who specialize. I am grateful for people who stop at nothing to fight for the rights of the unborn (regardless of their skin color). I am grateful for those who fight for true racial justice. I am grateful for those who fight against those enslaved in the sex trade.

But I do not expect one soldier to leave his or her post just because there’s a new attack on another front. I would strongly encourage those playing this game; rethink your position, you are causing yet another unnecessary division.

We cannot expect one soldier to leave his or her post just because there's a new attack on another front. Stop creating division. Click To Tweet

Social Media as Our Only Outlet

This leads to calling out another tactic that is seen primarily on social media. As I stated before, silence is not always a condoning of unrighteousness. Fascinatingly enough, those who are most vocal in their judgments are the very same people who have previously decried true Christian judgment. It is these same people who believe they know the motives of everyone’s hearts.

There’s a principal in Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow, which he calls the “what you see is all there is” principle (acronym: WYSIATI). Basically, it’s a function of the brain that trusts what you see and believes what you see is all there is.

In our current situation, just because people don’t respond in the way you want, or use their platform in the way you desire, there is a temptation to believe they are sitting quiet and not speaking.

Let me say this as graciously as I can. You are wrong. You are short-sighted at best, and judgmental at worst.

Just because people don't respond in the way you want, or use their platform in the way you desire, there is a temptation to believe they are sitting quiet and not speaking. Click To Tweet

Murder & Motivation

Clearly, murder is sinful (absolutely, morally wrong), but the motivation behind it is an entirely different, and important matter.

The question I’m about to ask has no hidden agenda. It is not a veiled accusation in any way, but I know it will not be welcome to some. The question is this, what evidence do we have that George Floyd’s death was motivated by race?

If you think I’m the only one who is asking this question, please watch this video: https://youtu.be/MbFPHp-4bFs

Please hear me, what has happened is most assuredly wrong! I do believe that racism is real. (As for the Christian who wants to think that racism doesn’t genuinely exist meanwhile espousing that sin is real, I would simply say that you are wrong also.)

I also believe that systemic racism (understood rightly) is real. There are systems in place that perpetuate wrong ways of thinking. However, reform in these areas is often resisted because they necessarily require the tearing down of the systems of so-called progress that built them.

Do I know that the death of George Floyd was racially motivated? I do not know that, and neither do you. The only One who can know this (at this point) is the God of the universe who alone sees the human heart.

But wait, Nathan, I thought you said we could judge people by the fruit of their life? We absolutely can. The problem is nobody is looking at the fruit of this police officer’s life; they’re merely looking at a video.

That video does show us that a police officer recklessly took George Floyd’s life. But that video does not reveal his motive. If it comes out later that he was racially motivated, it should not be ignored. But no person can answer the question with any assurance at this point.

It’s evident that the Bible condemns murder, but the Bible also looks to motivation. I know all of this requires a lot of time, but unless we take time, we will rush to judgment, and then we will be guilty of another sin: bearing false witness. Both of which are in God’s top-10 list.

Racism is real. (As for the Christian who wants to think that racism doesn't genuinely exist meanwhile espousing that sin is real, I would simply say that you are wrong.) Click To Tweet

Post-Modernity & Absolutes

This leads to a brief point on moral absolutes and our postmodern culture. According to a recent study by the Barna Research Group, 58% of people said that there are no moral absolutes. Do you know what the problem is with a culture that makes this assertion? More than half of the culture we live in has just declared that the murder of George Floyd is irrelevant.

It’s not morally wrong in their minds because there are no moral absolutes. Do you want to know something worse than that? The purported motivation (racism) is then also a moot point.

What? How dare you! No, how dare our society! Please understand, if there are no moral absolutes, then racism and murder cannot be wrong. Nothing can be wrong.

But let’s just stay right here in reality. Of course, there are absolutes. This tragedy and its perceived motivation prove it, even if a person wants to pretend otherwise. The nation is not in upheaval because nothing is really the matter—quite the contrary.

Our country is in great turmoil because we all know something has gone tragically wrong. And it was made worse because it involved somebody who is supposed to defend and protect all people.

So, what is it that went wrong? What has sparked all of this outrage? Are we outraged at murder? Yes. Are we outraged at racism? Absolutely! However, the question still remains; what’s the evidence for this? Has anyone asked the officer? If your answer is,” he doesn’t deserve to speak,” then you are not a person who is seeking justice either.

In this country, people are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. If you were the accused, you would demand people not rush to judgment on you, but in our instant outrage culture, the approach is “what you see is all there is,” and evidence be damned!

Although I do not disagree with the formal charges, what I see is not all there is either. But if I’m honest, and if you are too, we have no idea whether or not this was motivated by racism.

Some will no doubt say, “It doesn’t matter.” “Racism is real.” “We just finally reached a boiling point.” “Enough is enough.”

Listen to me again: I. Am. With. You! Enough is enough. But as those who want a just society, we must get this right. This is the difference between justice and vengeance. If we don’t get this right, all that is going to happen is that the country is going to be further divided every day.

To those who want a just society, we must get this right. This is the difference between justice and vengeance. Click To Tweet

Solutions

So, what’s the solution?

Riots vs. Protests

I appreciate the fact that, as Americans, we have the right to protest peacefully. I also like that our right to protest was with tyranny in mind as it was originally intended.

That said, it wasn’t merely a right given by oligarchs meant to pacify the populace. It was instead a right of the people for the people to stand up against oppression. If we see this as a defendable right, we must accept it in all its forms.

Do we see peaceful protests? Some. Do we see riots? Far too many. Protests and riots are not the same. Please don’t conflate them. And as I am addressing the believer in an attempt to help us think, there is never a time when we can conflate the two. It doesn’t matter how much righteous anger you have; vengeance belongs to God alone.

Protests and riots are vastly different animals. One can be done in complete Christian obedience, the other cannot be done by those who profess the name of Jesus at all.

Another video that I recommend is The Black Church and Civil Rights by Ryan Reeves, a professor at Gordon Conwell (https://youtu.be/yq42jOecg8w). In it, you will see that at all stages of racial reconciliation, the goals of the actors are never monolithic.

There was a significant difference between Martin Luther King Jr. and The Black Panther organization. The same is true today, even within movements (e.g., Black Lives Matter). Very few things are monolithic and to pretend otherwise is to think in terms that are awfully ‘black and white.’

Protests and riots are vastly different animals. One can be done in complete Christian obedience, the other cannot be done by those who profess the name of Jesus at all. Click To Tweet

Other Solutions

The founder of B.E.T. (Black Entertainment Television) came out and said that 14 trillion dollars in reparations ought to do the trick.

Others say that true justice will only be served when all parties are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Are there cases to be made for these? Sure on both accounts but are you willing to let this play out according to our justice system? Are you willing to accept that what you see may not be all there is?

The Gospel

Here’s the truth, none of this will actually do. Although human justice may be a shadow of future glory and something worth propagating, without being attached to a transformed heart, it will never satisfy. So, what’s that ultimate solution? The Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is repentance of sins, forgiveness, and a transformed heart.

This is repentance to God (which will spill over into human relationships), His forgiveness (freedom from guilt and shame), and being born again of His Spirit (no longer bound to walking in the flesh).

Human history has taught us that even if we can get everybody on the same behavioral page, it only lasts for a short while. Maybe we ought to try the advice of the God of the universe.

Yes, join people at their protests, have a conversation with your friend who is a police officer, BUT share with them that this is a cycle we are destined to repeat if we continue without King Jesus.

Offer to pray with them and invite them to this strange and beautiful journey with One who was despised and forsaken of men, falsely accused, spat upon, sneered at, and rejected by His own.

Invite them to walk with the One who laid down His RIGHTS and suffered for all. There will be no lasting reform otherwise.

Although human justice may be a shadow of future glory and something worth propagating, without being attached to a transformed heart, it will never satisfy. Click To Tweet

Watch full video of this post here.

Links:

Michael Ramsden: https://youtu.be/qUazX6wJPgo 8:00 start

Barna: No Moral Absolutes

https://disrn.com/news/barna-58-of-americans-reject-moral-absolutes-46-of-evangelical-christians-agree

https://www.arizonachristian.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/AWVI-2020-Release-05-Perceptions-of-Truth.pdf

The Black Church and Civil Rights by Ryan Reeves, a professor at Gordon Conwell (https://youtu.be/yq42jOecg8w).

1 thought on “Race, Riots & The Gospel”

  1. Pingback: Calling Good Evil, and Evil Good | Rebuilding

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