This was the title to my last blog post: Trayvon Martin, Racism, and the Church’s Problem. Perhaps my remarks about the incident involving Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman were a bit premature. Nevertheless, the post was really not about the recent killing of Martin as it was about racism in America and why this problem is the church’s problem. Unfortunately, my post elicited some rather shocking comments that in actuality, only illustrate how deep the problem of racism is.
I believe racism is a social cancer, as deadly to human community as cancer is to the human body. That is why we cannot ignore it or pretend it is not that big of a deal because to do so is to make a perilous mistake, just like it would be to do so with cancer. That is why I wrote my post. I did not mention the Trayvon Martin case for any reason other than it is the most current event that illustrates the problem of racism among our society. The “White Tenants” picture you see was chosen for no other reason other than the fact that it illustrates the historical problem of racism. But I was accused of being a racist for inciting racism with my post and having an ulterior motive for choosing the picture I chose.
My motive for yesterday’s post was to speak about Christianity in America for one reason. The majority of Americans have been Christian and yet America has a sordid history of racism. That means that it has been Christians by and large who have promoted and/or tolerated racism in America and that makes it not just an American problem but a Christian problem or a problem with the Christian church in America. What is so disturbing to me about the connection between racism and Christianity is that scripture is clear about the social consequence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus and the cross he died on that God is reconciling all people to himself and one another (cf Eph 2.14ff). So I am speaking out because I believe the problem of racism is ultimately a theological problem. That is, racism is a rejection of the social claim the Gospel declares.
So here is a reality check. Christians cannot address the issue of racism so long as we are accusing each other of having ulterior motives, or as though we are being racists by inciting racism because we speak out against racism. Neither can we adequately address racism so as long as we want to turn the problem into a western political issue between Democrats and Republicans, political liberals and conservatives. It is not a political problem for Christians, it is a theological issue.
Neither can we address the problem of racism by resorting to further violence, ad hominem arguments, or by making absurd remarks about racism. I am aware that the New Black Panther party has issued a $10,000 bounty for the capture of George Zimmerman saying, according to this news article “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” How foolish! Harming or killing Zimmerman or committing any further violence will neither bring about justice nor will it bring about reconciliation. It will only further divide.
But making remarks about racism that seem to dismiss the issue will only further divide too. Yesterday I had someone make a comment on a now defunct FaceBook thread that said “black fear is not racism.” Really? I not sure if a black person would feel the same. It is likely only to be offensive and thus create further hostility.
For Christians (and I speak here as a deeply committed follower of Jesus Christ and his way of life), the only solution to racism is, as I have stressed, theological and by that I specifically mean by way of Jesus and his cross. To return to the main passage, the Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:14-16:
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility (italics mine).
Here Paul is clear that Jesus has taken all of this hostility upon himself by being crucified. But where Paul speaks of the cross, he also has in mind the resurrection. That is why Paul can speak the language of victory and accomplishment, because Jesus has born the hatred and evil of the world and conquered it through crucifixion and resurrection.
The good news (gospel) is that there is no more battle to fight. The only battle worth fighting has already been fought and won by Jesus. That means, as Christians following Jesus, the only thing for us to do is love our fellow humans regardless of their ethnicity, regardless of whether they love or hate us back, and regardless of whether they are violent or peaceful towards us. When we learn to do this, racism will begin to be replaced with reconciliation. It won’t happen overnight, rather it will start out one person at a time as (and as I suggested in my last post) we sit around the table of hospitality listening and understanding each other.