Christianity is filled with helpful ways of understanding modern racism. The way in which Christians view the world helps us understand our individual roles within a larger system of racial injustice. Yet the Gospel is terribly underutilized as a framework for racial justice and reconciliation.
We have heard people claim “I’m not a sinner, I’m basically a good person!” and a similar phrase “I’m not a racist, I’m colorblind!” But we know that everyone has fallen short. There is none among us that hasn’t defied God’s intentions for us at some point in our lives. Likewise, there is none among us that hasn’t judged our neighbor (even to the point of contempt) for the clothes they wear, the car drive, or the music to which they listen.
For those of us in positions of privilege, it goes one step further because we benefit from an institutionalized system of racism. We get hired easier, make more money for the same work, have better health care, and live in better security than our economically-matched sisters and brothers of color. We benefit from corporate sins, transgressions that we perpetuate as a group. We didn’t ask for this, but here we are. The best we can do is to help undo the mechanisms that got us here.
We continue deal with the consequences of Adam and Eve’s mistakes, thousands of year after the fact. So as Christians, we should understand why today we still bear the consequences of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation These transgressions are MUCH more recent!
When God’s people built themselves a golden calf, the next generation bore the consequences as well. Surely the younger group said among themselves “it’s not our fault that our parents were so sinful. We know better now.” And yet, they continued to wander the desert. There may have even been those present at the time that disagreed with what was happening, but sinned passively by remaining silent.
But we know that God “punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:7) and that “our fathers have sinned…and we have borne their iniquities” (Lamentations 5:7). It’s terribly difficult to break out of generational sin because of the subtle, cultural habits and norms that are passed down from parent to child. The consequences of continued disparity are accumulated and passed down to the next generation. We maintain the brokenness, both by leaving our own privileges unexamined, as well as by remaining complacent in the prejudices of others.
The Good News is that, as Christians, we know not to despair! We understand that Christ came to redeem a broken world in a way that we could never fully do for ourselves. The cross represents the singular moment of perfect reconciliation and perfect justice on earth.
We understand that justice, through the death of Christ, was an essential component in God’s plan for reconciliation. We cannot have reconciliation without justice. God’s righteous judgement had to be fulfilled It must also be so when we seek restored relationships on earth. We must work to rectify racial injustice if we hope to reach reconciliation.
Because Christ died to restore a broken world, we have hope that all will one day be made right. But we do not despair in the meantime. We are not paralyzed by the magnitude of our own sin. Instead, we rejoice in the opportunity to be co-laborers in Christ’s work on earth. We do not continue in racial sin, but turn from our ways, having now received God’s gift. We trust that He is bigger that our brokenness and can use us for His good purpose.
In addition, Christians have a framework for working out reconciliation with each other on an individual level. We understand the importance of speaking the truth in love, and holding each other accountable to God’s will. We know we are to confess our sins and seek forgiveness. In turn, we are to offer each other grace and healing, abiding with one another in the face of division. This is how the body of Christ is to deal with one another in the face of racial brokenness.
We understand that we live in a broken world. We observe pain and inequality. We see that the world is not as God intended it to be. We know that some aspects of that condition will not be changed until Jesus comes again. But we also know that we each perpetuate our broken state through our individual sin, both active and passive.
In the same way, we live in condition of racism. A long history has bred division and disparity, and on some level we recognize that we will never attain true unity on earth. But we also know that each time we choose our own comfort over embracing the full body of Christ, we contribute its division.
These are truths of the Gospel. The rhetoric with which we convey its message is uniquely suited to deal with racial injustice. The world needs to see the model of Christian reconciliation lived out in our individual lives and in our churches. When we live by this example, it is a witness to God’s glory. When we fail to work toward restoration, it cheapens the power of the Cross.
Katelin Hansen (@strngefruit) is the editor of By Their Strange Fruit (BTSF), an online ministry facilitating justice and understanding across racial divides for the sake of the Gospel. BTSF explores how Christianity’s often-bungled relationship with race and racism affects modern ministry and justice. Recognizing that racial brokenness hinders our witness to the world, BTSF strives to increase the visibly of healthy and holy racial discussion by approaching justice and reconciliation from a Christ-minded perspective.