taking the words of Jesus seriously

The trag­ic events we have encoun­tered over the past few weeks, the hor­rors we have watched, and the words we have heard, bruise us, wound us, shat­ter us. We are in shock. How should we respond? What would Jesus have us say and do?

Per­haps you are ask­ing sim­i­lar questions.

No more,” we moan. ​No more.” We strug­gle to com­pre­hend, much less speak, of what is hap­pen­ing. What is the Lord say­ing to our coun­try? To our church­es? What words can ade­quate­ly cap­ture the sor­row, anger, and long­ing of our hearts for jus­tice for our land, our congregations, our homes, our friends, and yes, for our enemies?

As I write I ask myself, What right do I have to tap out words about injus­tice? I have expe­ri­enced life in Amer­i­ca as a white man, with all the accom­pa­ny­ing priv­i­leges. I have not tast­ed the bit­ter water of dis­crim­i­na­tion. I have nev­er suf­fered for the col­or of my skin. Nev­er. Not once have I feared a light­ed torch, a bull­whip, a Ger­man shepherd’s growls, a hood­ed face, a burn­ing cross, the lynch mob and hangman’s noose, the inva­sion of my home, red lights blink­ing in my mir­ror. I have not strug­gled to breathe with a knee plant­ed on my neck.

What to do? What to say?

First, we come qui­et­ly and respect­ful­ly to our dear friends and col­leagues of col­or. We lean into them and soft­ly say, ​I’m sor­ry. It shouldn’t be this way.”

But this is not enough. I pon­der the words of Donn Thomas, a Chris­t­ian leader of col­or, who gen­tly and insis­tent­ly prods, ​Some­thing must be said. Our white friends are so silent. We can’t hear them.”

And so, as pres­i­dent of Ren­o­varé, I am com­pelled to speak. I am com­pelled to write. But as I write my fin­gers freeze and my eyes tear up. ​Lord, I have ben­e­fit­ed from the very abus­es I con­demn. It should not be this way. Oh, Lord, it should not be this way. Have mer­cy, Lord. Have mercy.”

Who am I to speak? I am sim­ply God’s image-bear­er, as are you. Per­haps that is enough.

I sit to grieve with Black and Brown friends and col­leagues. And oth­ers. It is their mourn­ing bench, not mine. ​Do you have space for me?” I ask. ​May we pray and lament together?”

Yes. Of course. We hoped you would come. There is room for all.” How kind of them. How patient. How gra­cious. And so, we sit, we pon­der, we pray.

Togeth­er, we grieve the events of these past weeks. We lament, though, not sim­ply the recent days. The voic­es and actions of injus­tice are long. Months, years, cen­turies have swept by, leav­ing in their bloody wake the trou­bled waters of pain, sor­row, ter­ror, cru­el­ty, and death. ​Lord, do you not see the suf­fer­ing of your peo­ple? Do you not care? How long, Lord? How long?”

READ: How Much Longer (By Common Hymnal)

As I sit with them, I sense the Lord speak­ing. He is call­ing us to repen­tance. The Holy Trin­i­ty calls to me, to the our com­mu­ni­ties, and to the white Chris­tians of our nation. We bow the knee. We make no excus­es. We name our sin as specif­i­cal­ly as pos­si­ble. We ask for grace for gen­uine repen­tance. And we pray: ​Lord, have mercy.”

  • We have refused to lis­ten atten­tive­ly to our black and brown broth­ers’ and sis­ters’ cry for jus­tice. Lord, have mercy.
  • We have not heard the prophet’s call: ​And he looked for jus­tice, but saw blood­shed; for right­eous­ness, but heard cries of dis­tress.” (Isa­iah 5:7b). Lord, have mer­cy.
  • We have been intel­lec­tu­al­ly lazy and moral­ly obtuse. Our minds and hearts lis­ten only to voic­es that rein­force opin­ions we already hold. Lord, have mercy.
  • We have not seen our com­pla­cen­cy and com­plic­i­ty. Lord, have mercy.
  • We have car­i­ca­tured or ignored books, poems, art, and films that chal­lenge our prej­u­dice and rebuke our igno­rance. Lord, have mercy.
  • We have been com­plic­it in a cul­ture that delights in false­hood and dis­re­gards the truth. Lord, have mercy.
  • We have expect­ed applause for our fee­ble thoughts and tot­ter­ing steps toward your pre­cious image bear­ers who dai­ly expe­ri­ence the hatred and vio­lence of racism. Lord, have mercy.
  • We have been self-absorbed and self-deceived. Lord, have mercy.
  • We have pre­ferred teach­ing rather than being taught. Lord, have mercy.
  • We have manip­u­lat­ed and exploit­ed. Lord, have mercy.
  • We have feared los­ing our ​rights,” while with­hold­ing rights from the gen­uine­ly oppressed and des­per­ate. Lord, have mercy.
  • We have lacked steady com­pas­sion and stur­dy courage. Our response to the evil of racism has been short-lived and shal­low. Lord, have mercy.
  • We have loved the big deal and shunned hid­den ser­vice. Lord, have mer­cy.
  • We have hat­ed our ene­mies and loved those who love us. Lord, have mer­cy.
  • We have equat­ed the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca with the king­dom of God. Lord, have mercy.
  • We have embraced pow­er and ignored the demands of love. Lord, have mercy.
  • We have delight­ed in cul­tur­al con­flict and dis­dained the pur­suit of peace and under­stand­ing. Lord, have mercy.
  • We have walled out the alien and the for­eign­er. Lord, have mercy.
  • We have enact­ed unjust and oppres­sive laws. Lord, have mercy.
  • We have incar­cer­at­ed the poor and released the rich and pow­er­ful. Lord, have mercy.
  • We have glad­ly trav­elled the wide and easy road that leads to destruc­tion and avoid­ed the nar­row road that leads to life. Lord, have mercy.

Oh, Lord, we have sinned,
against you and against our neigh­bor,
in the things we have done, and the things we have left undone.
We acknowl­edge our igno­rance and will­ful neglect. 

For­give us. Cleanse us. Renew us.
Reset our moral com­pass.
Fill the wind of our sails with the breath of your Spir­it.
Pro­pel us to the places and peo­ple who can teach us to love in new and unex­pect­ed ways. 

We plead for deep­er courage and com­pas­sion.
We ask for a qui­et, teach­able spirit. 

Give us love and humil­i­ty to erase the bound­ary lines we drew in fear.
Expand our vision to life and flour­ish­ing for all – from the unborn to those liv­ing on death row. We invite you, we wel­come you, to plant new seeds in the gar­den of our minds and hearts.

The Lord is call­ing us to sac­ri­fi­cial love, a love where the cur­ren­cy of our words is backed by the gold of our lives. We have not yet reached this con­gru­ence. Jesus beck­ons. ​Walk with me into a future that seems uncer­tain to you. It is not to me. I have a much larg­er pas­ture for you. Oth­er sheep are wait­ing for you there. And I promise you, I will always be your Shep­herd. Trust me. Be not afraid.”

This piece was first shared on Renovare.org

About The Author


Christopher A. Hall is president of Renovaré. He is associate editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, and his books include Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers, and Worshiping with the Church Fathers. Hall previously served at Eastern University for over twenty years in several roles, including chancellor, provost, dean of Palmer Seminary, dean of the Templeton Honors College, distinguished professor of theology, and director of academic spiritual formation.

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