Tread with Care, Church

I write this in the wake of marches and counter-protests in Charlottesville that included violence along with tragic and needless injury and death.

It is to my shame that I admit I became aware of institutional racism in just the past few years. Institutional racism is real. Data about the treatment of black males in our society makes this case. More heartbreaking (for me, at least) is data included in the book Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) by Christian Rudder.

In the book, OKCupid Data Scientist Christian Rudder shares “hot or not” type experiments conducted on images of men and women. When rated by others, black men scored lower.

The heartbreaking part is that when rated by black men, black men scored themselves lower.

That’s not the heartbreaking part. The heartbreaking part is that when rated by black men, black men scored themselves lower.

I’m not a psychologist but I know how you feel about yourself affects how you behave and think and, ultimately, what you do. In my humble opinion, black men rating themselves lower than men of other races is a problem. It may even be the problem. At a minimum, it’s close to the heart of the matter, close to the root cause (if not the root cause).

“Who is this Helping?”

I’m tagging this post and promoting it on social media in the hope that these words help someone – some white person of faith struggling with squaring “bear one another’s burdens” with “the destruction of our heritage.” I’m also hoping to confess to my black brothers and sisters in Christ that slowly, too slowly (in my case), some white people and people who are mostly white and appear white (like half the residents of the US east coast I’m 1/8 Cherokee) – me and some like me – are beginning to understand.

I apologize for taking this long to understand. I want to help others understand, especially my white brothers and sisters who now believe as I once believed, that tip-of-the-iceberg heavily-reported incidents of racism can be excused and explained away with “just do what the officer says.”*

My Story: A Brief History

I began researching racial data after Michael Brown was shot and killed in August 2014. There was very little data to be found, which was troubling in itself. Crime statistics were available along with incarceration rates. The rates of incarceration struck me. When balanced for other factors, black men are jailed at a rate of three times their white counterparts.

That fact, combined with the statistics supplied from OKCupid by Christian Rudder, changed my thinking on the existence and severity of institutional racism in the US.

Church, Bear One Another’s Burdens

I want to specifically speak to Christians here. Mostly white Christians and Christians who appear white. Paul tells us in Galatians 3:26-28:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (emphasis added)

The Holy Spirit inspired these words. The Holy Spirit’s point here? Race doesn’t matter in the church. Social and economic status doesn’t matter in the church. Genitalia doesn’t matter in the church. We who were baptized into Christ have clothed ourselves with Christ. We are all one. In Christ.

How should we treat one another? The same Holy Spirit inspired Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

This sounds innocent enough, doesn’t it? “Bear one another’s burdens.” How does that work? What does that look like in practice?

An historical issue with Bible interpretation – or misinterpretation – is taking God’s Word out of context. So let’s look at Galatians 6:2 in context:

Brothers and sisters, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Galatians 6:1-3

The context here is sinning – being caught in any transgression. And then restoration with the help of others. Who are the others? The body of Christ; the church. What is “another’s burden” then? Is it their sin? Am I supposed to bear the sin of my brother or sister? If I didn’t sin, I think not. But what if I am guilty of the same sin? I think so. Especially if we have been delivered from said sin. Isn’t this why we suffered in the first place? 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 states:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

We suffer – sometimes at our own hand. God delivers us, perhaps with the help of our brothers and sisters who are obeying Galatians 6:1 – the church – who restore us in a spirit of gentleness. Then we comfort others who are suffering in the same way. We are wounded healers.

Too often in the church we rush to the holy doormat and dust off our sandals; too often we shoot our wounded.

“Bear one another’s burden’s” includes bearing with our brothers and sisters as they struggle with sin. This is hard. Bearing with our brothers and sisters while they sin requires a tolerance that only the Holy Spirit can supply. Too often in the church we rush to the holy doormat and dust off our sandals; too often we shoot our wounded.

The test of tolerance is the intolerant. Tolerating a sin of intolerance is not possible without God’s help. We are commanded, though, to bear this burden. That’s why I am writing this post: to reach out to my (currently-) intolerant white brothers and sisters.

To My White Brothers and Sisters:

To my white brothers and sisters who think “they bring it on themselves,” I would say two things: There is data you must explain. The data says institutional racism exists and that – all other things being equal – black males are three times as likely to be incarcerated for the same crime. No one wants to be incarcerated; no one brings that on themselves, so that’s wrong-headed thinking. But let’s suppose for just a moment that you’re right about our black brothers and sisters bringing all this on themselves; aren’t we commanded in God’s Word to bear their burden?

So…

If you believe that our black brothers and sisters are suffering unjustly, we white Christians ought to speak up.

If you believe that our black brothers and sisters “brought this upon themselves,” we white Christians ought to bear their burdens and restore them in a spirit of gentleness.**

There’s no “out” for us, white brothers and sisters.

There’s More

Do you feel your heritage is being destroyed? Let’s say you’re right about that (for the record, I believe you are. [While this is a fine quote to take out of context, I implore you to read on first…]). What does God’s Word say about it?

Romans 14 speaks to people who believed eating meat was a sin because some meat sold in the market came from sacrifices to idols. Others thought eating meat – even meat sacrificed to idols – was acceptable because they gave thanks to God for the meal before eating it.

Who’s “right?” Who’s “wrong?” Paul gives some very interesting answers in Romans 14, please go read the chapter. I’ll wait.

Done? Cool, let’s continue.

Did you catch the Holy Spirit’s conclusion on the matter? It’s all over the second half of the chapter:

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. Romans 14:13

And

For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. Romans 14:15

And

Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. Romans 14:20-21

Please bear with me as I ask some pointed questions:

  1. Are you judging our black brothers and sisters in Christ?
  2. By clinging to our heritage, are we destroying the one for whom Christ died?
  3. Is it good to not have statues that cause our black brothers and sisters to stumble?

What’s more important, our heritage or our testimony as Christians? It’s fair to ask, “Why can’t we have both?” We cannot. Here’s why:

The Holy Spirit does not say, “if your brothers and sisters are offended, re-educate them.” The Holy Spirit does not say, “If you brothers and sisters are offended, share with them the error of their ways.”

I don’t know how much more plain the Holy Spirit can make this: If our heritage offends our brothers and sisters in Christ, we must let it go. In Jesus’ Name, we must let it go. This is the commandment we are given: Let. It. Go.

Why does the Holy Spirit command such a thing? 2 Corinthians 10:5-6 points out there are arguments, opinions, and thoughts that are “against the knowledge of God”:

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. 2 Corinthians 10:5-6

How are we to respond to arguments, opinions, and thoughts that are “raised against the knowledge of God,” church? They are to be destroyed. They are to be taken captive to obey Christ.

I urge every white brother and sister who feels hurt by losing our heritage to pray and to consider their consciences before Christ in this matter. I am not denying your pain, I promise. I am – humbly – suggesting to you a better way: obedience to God’s Word. God’s Word is clear: When faced with a choice between what we want – when what we want is a sin, surely; but even if what we want is not a sin – and offending a brother or sister, we are commanded to let what we want go.

“It’s Not Fair”

Brothers and sisters, I write this with much love, I promise: Fair left the building when Christ died for your sins and my sins on the cross. Consider Christ’s example, brothers and sisters:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:4-8

Have the mind of Christ. Please.

I have prayed over this matter of heritage and legacy and history and reached this conclusion: If statues that commemorate my heritage offend my black brothers and sisters, then they must go.

Tread with Care

And so I urge us all, church, to tread with care. There are warnings for me and for those who agree with me:

  1. Let’s not ignore the Holy Spirit’s warning in Galatians 6:3, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Let’s not deceive ourselves.
  2. Let’s not play the role of the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 and thank God we are not like our brothers and sisters who struggle with the sin of racism.

Let’s instead follow the Holy Spirit’s command in Galatians 6:1 and restore them in a spirit of gentleness.

Let’s echo those who heard the message of the disciples on the day of Pentecost and re-ask their vital question, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peace.

*To be fair, I tell my children “just do what the officer says.” But my children, who appear white and are mostly white, do not face the same level of hostility as black children.

**I do not believe black people are “bringing this upon themselves.” I share this advice in prayerful hope that white Christians who do believe this will begin communicating with their black brothers and sisters about racism – both overt racism and institutional racism – and that God will use this communication to change the hearts of white Christians who believe thus.

Post-post Note: I continue to examine my heart over the issue of race relations. I do not have all the answers; but I know The Answer. Like all idols, idols of privilege (“that’s the way it is”) and pride are insidious. Calvin said it well: “…man’s nature is a perpetual factory of idols…”.