A BIBLICAL FRAMEWORK FOR ADDRESSING RACISM
The Rev. Sam Ferguson, Rector, The Falls Church, Virginia USA
It’s wise, in a moment of deep emotion and pain, to turn first to Scripture. What God has to say is infinitely more important than any other voices. Let us listen:
1. All People Are Created in God’s Image
The opening paragraphs of Scripture tell us that humans—all humans, not one ethnicity—are created in God’s image: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). Male or female, black or white, all people are in God’s image. This is the irrevocable declaration grounding the dignity and worth of every person.
Our country has not upheld this truth. For hundreds of years entire people groups, non-whites, were treated as less than human. This grieves the heart of God. It is a reality we cannot deny. And in myriad ways, the ramifications of this part of our history shape our present.
2. Christ Came to Break Down Walls of Hostility between People Divided
The Gospel erupts in a world divided around racial biases and tensions. One of the great dividing walls in the ancient world stood between Jews and Gentiles. The Cross addresses this head on:
For Jesus himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near (Eph 2:14–17).
Walls of division were embedded into the social fabric and structure of America. The Civil Rights movement has done so much to eradicate these walls. But walls like this do not go away overnight or easily. Their shadows abide, their structures linger, in our assumptions, social psychology, habits, and institutions. There is more progress to be made, and the Blood of Christ compels us to decry walls of division.
During my first year as rector at Falls Church, I have heard from a handful of non-white brothers and sisters who have worshiped with us. They’ve shared stories of their experiences in our community, of times of not feeling seen, heard, and, in some cases, experiencing mistreatment. Speaking as the rector of our church community, I want to apologize to anyone and everyone who has experienced the darkness of racism within our walls. The church is a body of sinners-being-sanctified, and therefore every type of sin lurks in our hearts and community. May we continue to do all we can to bring our hearts before Christ for examination. May He expunge any hints of racism that lurk in the nooks and crannies of our own hearts.
3. The Many-Colored Kingdom Is about Christ’s Glory
As the apostle John peers into heaven, he is granted a vision of the future of the Kingdom of God. The twenty-four Elders and creatures around the throne are singing this song to Jesus:
And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth (Rev 5:9–10).
The real problem with ethnocentricity is that it diminishes the glory of God. Yahweh is no tribal deity; He is the Creator and King over all the World! His Son’s salvation extends to members of every nation and language. This means kingdom diversity is not about political correctness, but kingdom correctness. This is about the glory of Christ being manifest because He ransoms sinners from all people groups and joins them into one family. Praise be to His name!
AN UNFORTUNATELY DIVISIVE TOPIC
Tragically, talking about racial division at this moment in our country is itself divisive. This need not be the case—especially not in the church. You all know the many reasons for this, as the issue is too often reduced to ideologies or politics. Politics has its role to play—and we pray for our political leaders weekly—but this is a kingdom issue. Let us do all we can to hear the heart of God on this issue.
A few questions to anticipate and keep in mind.
Can I love my country while at the same time looking honestly at its sins? I think some fear that if they address our history of racism in America, they must let go of all love for their lineage. We need not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The truth is, to love our country well we must be honest about its sins, so that we can see them exposed, forgiven, and healed.
What does my individual life have to do with national and historic sins? In a hyper-individualized culture, one reaction to this conversation may be: “Well, I wasn’t directly involved in any of this.” This may or may not be true. However, the biblical view of sin and repentance is not so strictly individualistic. The collective nation of Israel often suffers or is called to corporate repentance due to the sins of particular individuals (Achan’s sin in Joshua 7, for example). Most people I know are not closet racists, but the ramifications of racial injustice are still part of the social environment we have grown up in. We can be shaped in ways that embed racial discrimination in us without being aware of the infection.
But what about all the varying opinions I hear about this issue in the media? Indeed, this issue involves an array of sub-issues that need to be carefully looked at and understood and is too often obscured by political jargon. However, let us not miss the forest for the trees. If the history of America were likened to a baseball game (to borrow an analogy from a friend), the first several innings were played with one team being cheated. Even if we correct this cheating and pick up in the seventh inning with fair play, one team is still playing the game at a disadvantage.
A PATH FORWARD
So, what do we do about this story of which we are all a part? Where does The Falls Church Anglican stand? What role does it play?
In the past week, I’ve felt more emotion from parishioners than I have in the whole past year. This issue cuts deep. I will never be able to completely understand or perfectly address this issue. For some I will say too much and, for others, I will say too little. I am sad for this. Please know my heart’s motivation is always and only to guide our church unto the Will of God. I would ask that we all show each other grace and patience during this time.
Here is what I’m doing presently as I begin discerning how God is inviting us to go deeper into this conversation. I am doing three “Ls,” and perhaps you’ll do them with me.
1. Listen: As a white male, I want to start listening more and more to my non-white brothers and sisters. I want to hear their stories, their experiences, and their thoughts. May we all find conversation partners to listen to outside our normal spheres of life.
2. Learn: This issue is complex, and I have much to learn about it. I’m going to be seeking out thoughtful people and constructive relationships to help me better understand these matters.
3. Lament: The Bible often finds women and men of God lamenting over their own or their community’s sins. For some, lamenting will bring with it the ethos of a deep repentance, for others, lamenting will carry the notes of deep sorrow. But may our hearts be moved, and may we weep alongside those who are weeping.
Finally, never forget that we serve a God of healing and hope:
For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5)