An Address to RCC: Racism and Our Christian Response
Dear Restoration City Church family,
I’m addressing the members of the church I pastor. This clarification is important because I hold scriptural authority over you as your pastor, something I don’t hold over anyone else. The following statements include biblical truths and commands you’re expected to believe and obey...not because of my own authority, but because of the authority of the Word of God. I’m making this statement public in the hopes that other Christians and nonChristians might be helped.
I want to apologize for being so slow to speak up. Thank you for your patience with me as I’ve been quiet, holding my tongue, watching, listening, and reading. I am not at my best when I’m tossing out hot-takes. I believe I’m at my best when I obey the Lord’s admonition to be “slow to speak” (James 1:19). The Lord also warns that “not many of (us) ought to become teachers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). That means two things: I am warned about what I do say and what I don’t say.
George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Sandra Bland. Tamir Rice. Oscar Grant. Terrence Crutcher. Philando Castile. George Stinney. Emmet Till. Crispus Attucks.
Say their names. Search for them on the internet. See their faces. There are too many to list here. My search for who they were and what was done to them was terrible and terrifying. Beyond saddening. Infuriating.
Let me tell you the truth--as far as I can tell--about them:
My friends, these people were image bearers of God--designed and born with the purpose of imaging who God is (Genesis 1 and 2).
Each of them were born sinners, enemies of God--just like me (Romans 3:9-18).
Each of them faced injustice from other image bearers which, ultimately, robbed them of their lives (Exodus 23:7; Romans 12:19; Matthew 5:21)
Whether any, none, or all of them had committed a crime, the aspirational guarantee of our nation and society is that every person is to be afforded justice, presuming innocence until proven otherwise--and that, by a jury of their peers--and so many of these people didn’t receive that guarantee.
Each suffered either directly under racism, or indirectly, under a system of justice twisted to injustice--whether overt, abject racism, or the quieter, nearly odorless “polite” racism of indifference. Racism is sin (James 2:1; Galatians 3:28-29).
I am urging all of us, especially my white brothers and sisters in Christ, to be “slow to speak and quick to listen,” even in the house of your own mind and heart. The Teacher of Ecclesiastes tells that there is, indeed, a time for everything. The “what about’s?” you’d like addressed ought to be addressed. But, let us listen and learn first, in humility, above all things.
I don’t have the time or energy--I am, after all, just like you, only a limited human--to address each and every injustice in the world. Yes, I do care about starving people in war-torn countries in Africa. I do care about political oppression in China. I do care about our homeless and uncared for U.S. veterans. I do care about aborted babies and the countless unadopted children. I do care about the victims of evil, wickedness-conceiving criminals...of any and all colors. For me to speak up and address this--to call you, church family--into Christian action doesn’t rob any of these other hurts and ills. I’ve been addressing these and other issues through the preached Word for eight and a half years. For the moment, racial reconciliation is on my mind, as well most of our nation’s.
As your brother Christian, as your friend, and as your pastor, I believe I must charge us, as a church, to obey the Lord in the following ways:
To learn and hold fast to the Truth: your primary, formative source of information about what’s going on in the world may, for better or for worse, come from a news channel, website, or social media. But your primary, formative source for how you think, feel, and respond to this world needs to come from the Lord--not a human pundit, provocateur, or president. The Word of the Lord is the Word of Life and we are to submit our thoughts and our feelings to God. This means wrongful killing (murder) is a grievous sin (Exodus 20:13), racism is a grievous sin (James 2:1; Galatians 3:28-29; 1 John 3:15), and the Lord is serious about his commands to care about and to protect the oppressed (Zacheriah 7:10).
To take an honest, unflinching look at yourself: if we believe, as Jesus says, that someone else has a speck in their eye, we are to first have the log in our own eye removed, so that our hearts and minds can see clearly...in humility, motivated by welfare for the other person (Matthew 7:3-5). The “what about” many of us constantly ask often becomes a deflection--a distraction--from having to look at our own state of mind. Before justifying or qualifying the death or harm to someone who may have been a criminal, we must...hear me, family...must ask ourselves what Christ has done with our own great crimes against him.
You are commanded to care: I know that most, if not all of you beloved family have never endeavored to harm or injure or insult another person because of their race. I understand how bewildering it is to feel like you carry some guilt for what other people and other generations have done. The only way I see from the Bible for us to handle that is to follow Jesus. Here’s what I mean: Jesus, the only sinless, guiltless person ever, came to humanity with the specific mission of taking responsibility upon his shoulders for a problem he didn’t cause. We are called, as ones who have died and risen with Christ, to shoulder responsibility and care, with wounded hearts, about problems we’ve had no direct hand in causing. We are commanded by our Lord to care--actually engage in and feel the sorrow, pain, fear, and tragedy with those under these burdens (Romans 12:15).
Lament and cry out: speaking of engaging sorrow...it’s profoundly godly to lament. To feel sad so much that you have no other recourse but to cry out in prayer to God. The best stage upon which to lament may very well be your own, private prayer closet, and in close, small quarters with those are directly affected by sin (Romans 8:15, 26)
Humble yourself so you don’t humiliate yourself...and harm the name of Jesus. Enough said, I hope (Psalm 138:6; Proverbs 29:23)
Listen: not just because you need to learn and identify and sympathize with others, but because those who are hurting and oppressed need someone to hear them. How has it felt in your life to be alone--lonely--and no one seems to care, check up on you, and ask after you? To have a complaint or concern and neither your spouse, your friend, customer service, or the legal system doesn’t seem interested in hearing your side? Call a friend--in this season, probably a black friend--and tell them you’re here for them. If they want to talk about how they’re feeling, you’re going to listen. Be willing to shut your mouth, don’t worry about offering wise-sounding things, don’t be afraid if you find yourself disagreeing or not understanding their feelings. They’d really be helped if they knew someone was seriously listening. Our Lord does this for us--God knows, he sees, he cares, and even our weakest, ineffable groans in prayer are understood perfectly by God (Romans 8:26-27). How good is it to know that God is listening? How good would it be for your neighbor to know that they were listened to?
Take the next step of obedience: the sins we face in racism, misunderstanding, willful ignorance, and how to address it all--it’s so large. It’s not just American, not just black and white. It’s not just now and it’s not just the last two-hundred-plus years since the American slavery system. It’s global and its history begins in Genesis 3. It’s like a huge elephant that needs to be eaten and, since you and I know we don’t have big enough bellies for it, we get overwhelmed, paralyzed, and throw our hands up, resolving to do nothing--since it doesn’t seem like it will matter. But, if God’s people will just commit to taking the bites we’re in the position to take, we’ll find that the Lord will do more and greater work than we first thought. Do what you can and ought to, today, where you’re at.
What about the riots? The looting? The burning? The violence amidst all the protests? I can’t condone those things. I can’t agree with them. How could I? The Bible’s commands include the following: do not steal (Exodus 20:15), obey the laws of the governing authority (Romans 13:1-2), honor the emperor (1 Peter 2:17), over and over again--don’t kill or harm one another. Nevertheless, the sins of others don’t excuse us from our responsibility to address our own sin and our need for repentance and holiness.
What about the protests? Of course, Christians have the freedom, not only biblically, but under the rights of our nation, to speak up prophetically--to stand as a witness to Jesus in the face of ungodly societal or governmental authorities. Indeed, it was John the Baptizer’s quite vocal protests against his king, Herod, that got him imprisoned. And, to return to all that I’ve laid out above...we protest under the binding authority of God’s Word.
I call us, as a church, to trust in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. To find our hope and rescue in him and no other. To act as agents of gospel-reconciliation in a broken world. We must do this, in the face of every sin-begotten issue. In this season, the Word of the Lord must be applied to racism and the injustice it brings about.
I love you and I truly am humbled you let me be your pastor.
~ Pastor Matthew Ford