Last week’s event in Charlottesville that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer is a clear reminder of the unresolved and persistent struggle of our nation with the sin of racism. For more than five years (not referring to the historical struggles) the African-American community has been raising its collective voice, calling out our nation to the pervasive, often deadly, effects of racism. These “deadly effects” are experienced not only in the actual killing of African Americans in the streets of our cities, but also in the denial of full access to the benefits and privileges of our socio-economic systems.
In Christian Churches Together response to Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, we stated:
There is a danger of naively believing that the systemic causes of poverty among African Americans and other disadvantaged groups either never existed or have already been dealt with, and that current social problems may thus be attributed primarily to the choices of individuals. Without diminishing the importance of personal responsibility, we dare not negate or neglect the persistent systemic factors embedded in our laws, economic structures and popular culture that reinforce deep-seated racial disparities.
Our governmental, political, and economic institutions are responsible for addressing and eliminating these racial systemic disparities; in that regard we are all responsible.
Without minimizing the importance of our collective civic and political responsibilities, from our Christian perspective, racism grows out of our moral and spiritual failures. This failure is clearly demonstrated by the incapacity of the church to unite behind a concerted effort to denounce our nation’s sin.
In CCT’s response to Dr. King’s letter, we read:
Dr. King reminds us that though we may pursue the illusion of moderation, in reality we cannot avoid taking a stand. Mere "lukewarm acceptance" of the concerns of African Americans and other disadvantaged groups, which tacitly communicates that we have already made sufficient progress, presents a stumbling block to authentic change. As Dr. King recognized, the moderate "prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice." In contrast, being a Christian necessitates forsaking the comfort and safety of our social order when it rests on less than God's intentions. "Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists." This need is no less dire in our day.
God is calling and waiting for the American church to repent of its complicity in the sin of racism. That repentance must be followed by a united effort to address the sin of racism in a concerted manner throughout the hundreds of thousands of congregations. This effort must include a fearless public denouncing of racism by conservative evangelical and Pentecostal leaders, and also the willingness of the progressive church to engage and cooperate with their conservative counterparts. The way forward requires more than lukewarm acknowledgement from one side, and criticism and unwillingness to engage from the other side.
If the church is to have any relevance and be faithful to the demands of the gospel, we must renounce to the notion of “sides.” There is no place for “sides” in the body of Christ. The expectations of Jesus are simple and clear, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Eph. 5:11)
Our country has seemingly lost the hope of a church united against the sin of racism. In the name of Jesus, let’s prove them wrong.