3 Different Responses to Racism By The Church

The names of Ahmaud Arbery and, more recently, George Floyd have been circulating in the news and in social media of late. What do these two have in common?

Both were unarmed African Americans, both were killed by white assailants, and both of their deaths were filmed and posted to social media. Arbery was jogging when he was shot and killed by a father and son who suspected him of theft. Floyd was killed by a police officer who was filmed placing his knee onto his neck for almost 9 minutes over an alleged fraud valued at $20.

Their senseless deaths (particularly that of George Floyd) have provoked nationwide outrage, with some protests leading to violent acts of their own.

How should the church respond to all this? Since the North American church is predominantly white [1], many of us are on a learning curve when it comes to racism and the responses can typically be narrowed down to three types: denial, indifference and change.

1. Denial

Perhaps you don’t feel like racism is an issue. Since it doesn’t affect your daily life, then why bother dealing with it? Perhaps you live in a predominantly white community, where it’s “out of sight, out of mind”.

Distancing oneself from the reality of racism does not eliminate the problem, it exacerbates it. Such an attitude exposes the truth behind white privilege.

Understanding “White Privilege”

White privilege means that there are inherent advantages to being white in a society characterized by racism and injustice; and such privilege is often taken for granted. White privilege means that a white shopper is less likely to be followed around by a store clerk than a black shopper.

It means that a white employee is more likely to get a promotion over his/her black colleague with similar credentials. It means a white driver is less likely to be pulled over by a cop than a black driver.

Ultimately, white privilege means that a white suspect is less likely to be killed by the police than a black suspect. Does this mean that white people can’t face hardships? Of course not.

White privilege simply means that, in our society, there are considerable advantages to being white than there are in being black. Once we can accept this truth, we can begin a conversation about race.

2. Indifference

Indifference acknowledges that there is a racism problem but that it’s somebody else’s problem. Many white people feel that, just because they have some black friends or because they have never used the n-word, then they’re off the hook. If you’re Canadian, as I am, perhaps you think that systemic racism is only a problem in the U.S.

Is God colorblind?

One of the phrases we use to dismiss the notion of our part in racism is by claiming to be colorblind. While well intentioned, Scripture reminds us that God isn’t colorblind; He is the Author of this diversity.

The apostle John testified of seeing “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Rev. 7:9). Instead of avoiding the topic of diversity, we must embrace it as the heavenly vision describes it.

How do we respond to “Black Lives Matter”?

When confronted with the slogan, “Black Lives Matter”, the impulse is to respond “All Lives Matter”. But is this really the right response? Of course, all lives matter but to ignore the disproportional amount of black victims of police violence is to deny the facts. One has said, “all lives will not matter until black lives matter”.

The church is quick to condemn antisemitism when Jewish people are persecuted, and rightly so. I reckon we would be more accepting of a “Jewish Lives Matter” slogan because we understand it in its proper context. Such a slogan would serve to highlight the fact that Jews have been targeted for persecution through the ages.

We recognize that the Holocaust of the last century is a historical fact resulting in 6,000,000 Jewish lives being extinguished. So, my question is, why are some of us still offended by the phrase, “Black Lives Matter”? For African Americans, the institution of slavery was their Holocaust, the effects of which have lingered to this day. Are we sensitive to the black experience or are we indifferent to it?

3. Change

The church’s response toward racism, which I feel to be the most appropriate, should be to acknowledge that there is a problem, that it’s our problem, and that we need to change. Here are some things we can do to promote change:

  • Listen: It’s time to stop lecturing our black friends about their own experiences. Rather, it’s time for us to listen to them and take them seriously when they tell us that there is a problem.
  • Learn: Even if you live in a predominantly white community, that alone doesn’t prevent you from learning about the black experience. Online resources and books about African Americans are not just for Black History Month; they’re relevant at all times. 
  • Lend your support: If your church is looking for a cause to support, why not research a cause that serves to advance minorities? While there are many worthy causes in overseas missions, there are plenty of needs on the home front as well.

In conclusion, we haven’t begun to scratch the surface when it comes to confronting racism. It’s a process, and I’m still learning. But if we are committed to saying that Christ died for all (2 Cor. 5:15), are we then committed to serving all for whom Christ died?

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

  1. https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/racial-and-ethnic-composition/

Hanniel Ghezzi

    8 Comments

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    A very disappointing article. It slavishly follows the politically-correct story being sold by the liberal American media, and never even questions it. It “embraces” (to use the author’s word) the Neo-Marxist submerging the individual in identity-politics groups, and blithely accepts that “white privilege” is a real thing, one that creates justified guilt on anybody whose skin happens to be lighter in shade, regardless of the truth about their lives or history. It asserts the absurd story that roving gangs of policemen (of all colours) are hunting down “blacks” for sport, out of sheer racism. It transfers the alleged American problem to the “North American” (i.e. Canadian) problem. And it accuses fellow believers generally of “racism,” “indifference,” “denial,” “insensitivity,” “[presumably unjust] privilege” and collectivist complicity in the history of slavery.

    That Jews and Gentiles, men and women, (and all peoples) are forgiven, cleansed and brought into one body by Christ is an absolute distinctive of the Church. Instead, this article attempts to revive and underline racial difference out of misguided sympathy for the world’s errors.

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      Further to the comments above, there have been some more recent allegations that the creators of BLM have deep associations with organizations Christians should think twice about associating themselves with. It would be prudent, and Christian, to investigate the sources linked in the original article prior to passing on these allegations. But they are certainly very serious, and worthy of further investigation by anyone who has more than a merely-cosmetic interest in this important topic. One article provides the following…

      “This (shameful alliance with liberationist organizations and Christians) has been going on for decades, of course, but its most striking manifestation of late has been the near-total failure of the Christian church to expose and reject the destructive fraud that is Black Lives Matter.

      That kind of failure requires extraordinary ignorance, extraordinary cowardice, or both. After all, it’s not like the veil hasn’t come off Black Lives Matter, if it was ever there in the first place. Its founders openly profess their allegiance to Marxism, history’s most genocidal ideology. Its members repeatedly encourage violence, destruction, and even murder. Its website calls for the “disruption of the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure”, the end of accepting heterosexuality as normal, and the avoidance of “environments in which men are centered”.

      At least two of its leading lights—Patrisse Cullors and Malina Abdullah—practice a Yoruban zombie religion in which they may, or may not, sacrifice animals to invite the spirits of the dead to possess their bodies during their nightly riot activities. (Abdullah says she’s become very friendly with the spirits of the dead, and has had a lot of laughs with one named “Wakeesha”).”

      The links that are highlighted in the article are available at https://www.steynonline.com/10607/tal-bachman-christians-come-back. Certainly the supposed links with Marxism are public knowledge, and are true; what remains to be investigated are the occult associations.

      In any case, this is clearly no movement with which any real Christian ought to want to have anything to do.

      Reply

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    Amen to Orvis above. Be careful what we let influence our thinking. If we are thinking more like the world, that means we are spending too much time being influenced by the world.

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    Please show us all your facts of targetted police violence because there’s other black professors at Harvard saying this claim is false. Can you cite the facts pointing to your conclusion?

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    Jerry & Orvis, I will attempt to address some of the things you point out about the article, an article which you clearly did not like (which is entirely your right). Let me begin by saying that I believe racism is a sin and, like any sin, believers need to be aware that we are not immune to it. I have blind spots about many areas of my life, be it pride or lust or anger. I also have blind spots about race and I suspect that I’m not alone.

    I should also explain something about myself which was not in the article; that I am a child of a mixed marriage, between a Peruvian man and an Anglo-Canadian woman. Despite their respective backgrounds, my parents’ marriage is a Christian one. So, while I recognize that we are indeed all one in Christ, the Lord didn’t tell us to renounce our respective languages, ethnicity or culture. Yes, there were rites and traditions practiced by the Jewish nation that can be deemed obsolete because they were a shadow of what came with Christ.

    The Bible tells us that the grace of God is indiscriminate. For that reason, we can all be sons or children of God; in that sense there is “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Some people will use that verse to deny racial identity among believers. But the verse also says there is “neither male nor female”, yet God clearly says that there are distinctions between the genders, which we must also recognize. So, it’s God’s promises through faith that are indiscriminate; not our racial identities or gender identities that remain.

    My father is from Peru, where Marxist ideology at one point influenced a movement that terrorized the nation for more than a decade. You may have heard of that on the news 30 years ago. I understand the dangers of certain ideologies which Orvis points out. But that doesn’t erase the root causes behind the problem. The outrage stems from the fact that when I go to my father’s country (in which the majority of the people are brown or dark-skinned) the print and TV ads are not indicative of the majority because they use white models and white broadcasters. There are establishments in that country which are easier for me to get into than my darker-skinned cousins, even though we have the same identity and they’re natives of the country and I’m not. There is a clear racial line between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. This is what I mean by white privilege. I use my experiences outside of North America to show that it’s not just a problem where whites or lighter-skinned people are the majority; it is a serious issue anywhere whites historically have had the power and advantage. Would you say that there is no advantage to being white in North America?

    As for the issue of police violence and black people, I made two statements accordingly: “Ultimately, white privilege means that a white suspect is less likely to be killed by the police than a black suspect”, and, “to ignore the disproportional amount of black victims of police violence is to deny the facts”. I do stand by those statements. There are a few sources which I’ve listed below, bearing in mind that white population in America stands at about 72-73% and the black population is between 12.5-13%. This needs to be taken into account when comparing any groups (same as coronavirus trends, “who’s at greater risk?”). Also, you’ll get no argument about the fact that blacks are incarcerated at a disproportionate rate. On the latter, some of the conclusions we can make include either of the following: A) black people are more predisposed to crime than white people; B) the justice system convicts blacks at a higher rate because of systemic racism or; C) due to centuries of oppression, black people have been put into conditions which might elicit criminal behavior. I do not agree with Option A as I believe it to be a racist ideology, but I believe the truth might lie somewhere between B & C.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6080222/

    https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/unarmed

    https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2019-08-15/police-shootings-are-a-leading-cause-of-death-for-black-men

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    Hanniel,

    I’d like to suggest a few thoughts for you to consider in regard to Black Lives Matter, which you referenced in your article. Clearly I believe that the lives of black people matter. I desire that my life individually would be free of any attitudes or behaviors that are contrary to this belief, and I desire the same for my home assembly.

    However, I also believe that it is impossible to use the expression “Black Lives Matter” without the very real possibility of someone associating this with the Black Lives Matter organization and thereby reach a very wrong conclusion that I am onboard with the goals and agenda of the Black Lives Matter organization.

    If you have not done so already, I would encourage you to examine the website of the Black Lives Matter organization, and in particular examine their goals and agenda:

    https://blacklivesmatter.com/what-we-believe/

    It is unfortunate that the Black Lives Matter organization has diluted its message with issues unrelated to the unjust treatment of Black people. Frankly, it seems deceptive for them to provide themselves with a name that implies a goal of achieving racial equality, and then to bury within their website an agenda that goes far beyond the issue of race. Their statements that they are “queer affirming,” that they “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family [which is not “Western-prescribed” but rather “God-prescribed”], and their desire to “dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk” are totally unrelated to racial equality and are very harmful goals and serious deviations from Biblical teaching. I do not want to create any opportunity for someone to get the impression that I agree with the goals of the Black Lives Matter organization.

    I would also encourage you, again if you have not done so already, to take some time to understand Critical Race Theory, a concept that was entirely unknown to me until recently. I have pasted in links below to an article from the Gospel Coalition as well as an article from Gentle Reformation’s website, that indicate BLM’s embrace of Critical Race Theory, and the fact that it is not compatible with Christianity:

    https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/incompatibility-critical-theory-christianity/

    https://gentlereformation.com/2020/06/18/marxism-postmodernism-and-critical-race-theory/

    Finally, you might want to read the article in the link below which was written by one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, Alicia Garza. Note her statement “When I use Assata’s powerful demand in my organizing work…” The word “demand” is a red hyperlink that will take you to a site with a picture and article by Assata Shakur. I suspect that most people today don’t know who Assata Shakur is–she is also known as Joanne Chesimard, and she was a member of the Black Liberation Army which was engaged in an armed struggle against the US government through tactics such as robbing banks and killing police officers and drug dealers. She was ultimately convicted of being an accomplice in the first-degree murder of a NJ State Trooper. Yet one of the founders of BLM uses in her “organizing work” the “powerful demand” of a person (Assata Shakur) who advocated and took part in violence to achieve her goals, and ultimately is a convicted murder:

    https://www.thefeministwire.com/2014/10/blacklivesmatter-2/

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assata_Shakur

    Again, I am totally supportive of the truth that the lives of Black people matter. But there are many very serious problems with the BLM organization and its agenda, and I don’t believe we can use the phrase “Black Lives Matter” without being associated in some way with the BLM movement and organization.

    Carl Foresti

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    Hi, Carl.

    I’m familiar with the ideology of certain groups and organizations that use the “Black Lives Matter” slogan. A couple of points need to be made before I respond in earnest. First, as a movement, BLM is a decentralized network with no formal hierarchy. Second, nobody actually owns the trademark for the phrase, “Black Lives Matter”. Why is this important to point out? I believe it’s important because we need to recognize that not all groups with the BLM banner share all of the same views (which, as you’ve pointed out, can be extreme). The groups may agree on the principle of black lives mattering but they may differ in practice. Also, no entity actually ‘owns’ the phrase Black Lives Matter. It began as a hashtag #blacklivesmatter and grew from there. So, I can say “Black Lives Matter” without being beholden to a specific organization or ideology. You’ve pointed out that, in principle, Black Lives Matter is a true statement; and I happen to agree. Black lives either matter, or they don’t. As a Christian, I’m beholden to the truth, and if the phrase is true, I can say it without shame or guilt.

    Would you call yourself evangelical? While we are certainly evangelical in principle (in that we promote and believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ), there are those who organize themselves around the evangelical banner whose views may differ from us. Some preach a prosperity gospel while others view Evangelicals (capital E) as a political entity. Other so-called evangelicals hold radical or extremist views. However, I will not deny being evangelical simply because of what others have done with the term. I may correct those who wish to categorize me politically, I may need to explain the truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ, but to deny the term would be denying the truth. I use the same approach with Black Lives Matter.

    On a final note, I think it’s telling that the white evangelical church didn’t come up with the phrase “Black Lives Matter” first. The phrase would be more accommodating had we come up with it, but we didn’t. As believers, we are to place a premium on the truth (Prov. 23:23). Had the church spoken up sooner to condemn racism, perhaps the movement wouldn’t have needed to become so radicalized. The fact that saying “Black Lives Matter” can be deemed as radical and divisive proves that we have a long way to go. Therefore, I hold the church to a higher standard than secular, human rights groups.

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    Hi Hanniel,

    Thank you for taking the time to read my comment and offer your thoughts.

    If I type the simple phrase “black lives matter” into my Google search engine, the first hit I get is for http://www.blacklivesmatter.com which calls itself “the official #BlackLivesMatter Global Network” which “builds power to bring justice, healing and freedom to black people across the globe.” The first sub-heading under this is “What We Believe” which describes their agenda including affirmation of homosexuality and disruption of the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure*. This is why I personally feel there is too direct of a link between the phrase “black lives matter” and the agenda that is promoted by “the official #BlackLivesMatter Global Network.” That being said, I respect your right to see this differently, and I don’t believe it is fruitful to go on with a protracted debate about this.

    In answer to your question, no, I do not call myself an “evangelical.” For me a very real (although secondary) concern is the likelihood of my being associated with attitudes and actions which are attributed to “evangelicals” and which I don’t feel are Christlike and/or in keeping with the Word of God. As such, I have the same concern with the term “evangelicals” that I have with the phrase “Black Lives Matter”—it’s one of association.

    But the primary reason I don’t call myself an “evangelical” is that this is an unbiblical label. It is based upon an understanding or belief that there are multiple varieties of Christians such that a label needs to be put in front of “Christian” to clarify what kind of Christian one is—Reformed, Pentecostal, Progressive, Fundamentalist, or in this case, an “evangelical” Christian. I believe this is contrary to Scripture (see Ephesians 4:4 and 1 Corinthians 1:12-13). I refer to myself as a Christian, and a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, because these are the only titles that I am aware that the Bible provides (Acts 5:14, 11:26 & 26:28; 1 Timothy 4:12 & 6:2; 1 Peter 4:16).

    Ultimately each of us needs to work through these issues in the sight of our Lord. I merely posted my previous comment in answer to your question “why are some of us still offended by the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter?’” Hopefully my previous comment explained that I am not offended by the phrase itself, but simply desire to encourage Christians to at least consider whether they want to potentially be associated with some of the agenda items listed on the BLM website. It’s not my place to tell you or any other Christian not to use the phrase Black Lives Matter, but I also feel that it is not helpful for Christians to demand that other Christians must use this exact phrase or else be accused of being indifferent to the issue of black people being mistreated.

    *This is sadly ironic given that many black children are disadvantaged from birth by the fact that the nuclear family structure as ordained by God is largely absent from many black communities. 70% or more of black children are born out of wedlock and are then raised by single mothers or grandmothers.

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