Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ferguson, the Gospel, and What I Must Do

Like many of you, I have been watching the events of the last few weeks in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City with a mix of horror and sadness. I’m a news guy; the particular facts of those particular cases, where police officers killed suspects, are not mine to opine about. But I’m also a Christian. And as I have watched the racial divisions that have bubbled to the surface over the last few weeks, I have thought a lot about what must be done to mend these divisions.

Racial reconciliation has been a major issue for me throughout my life. I grew up in a small Mississippi town in the 80’s where racism was still strong. There were plenty of good people who weren’t racists, but the problem was still rampant. I know it is miles better there now than it was when I grew up. But I saw it first-hand; real hatred spewed from people who were in church every Sunday. And it didn’t fit with the Bible I was reading and hearing my grandfather preach from each Sunday. I knew something had to change.

Here’s the thing; the Gospel demands things from us, in general, and on this particular issue. Let me be clear – the Gospel offers grace, and it is grace that is offered freely. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, every person on the planet is offered forgiveness of sins and eternal life, simply by placing their faith in that Jesus. This grace is free, but that does not mean it is cheap. Once we are given this grace, again and again, the Jesus of the Gospel makes demands of us. We are told that because of what Jesus has done for us, that it is imperative that we must do some particular things. To do otherwise would be a slap in the face to the grace that has been offered us. And this is most certainly the case when it comes to racial reconciliation.

Now, we live in a world of a million prophets and no Israelites. Everyone wants to make high moral pronouncements about the way things need to be; no one wants to repent of their own sins. No one wants to look at their own lives and ask themselves what they must do. So instead of the things that other people must do on this issue, here are a list of the things I believe the Gospel demands that I must do.

- The Gospel demands that I seek racial reconciliation - The Apostle Paul couldn’t be any clearer – what Jesus has done for us has created a new kind of people, no longer separated by old divisions. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) Because of what Jesus has done, I have infinitely more in common with an African-American who is also a Christian than I do with a white person who is not. The job of racial reconciliation is making this theological truth a reality. It means focusing on the things I have in common more than the things that are different. I must do this.
The Gospel demands that I see others’ needs as more important than my own – But If I am going to seek racial reconciliation, it’s going to require that I lay down my rights to be right on some things.

                              “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have 
                              this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form 
                              of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking
                              the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he 
                              humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:4-8)

Notice Paul says that when we put others before ourselves, we are being like Jesus. When we place the needs and thoughts and desires of other people above our own needs and thoughts and desires, we are acting out the Gospel story, having the “mind of Christ. How does this play into racial reconciliation? It is incumbent upon me to listen much more than I speak, to care more about what others have to say infinitely more than what I think. I must reach across racial lines and divisions and seek to understand those who look different than I do.

- The Gospel demands that I speak and act with humility – The Gospel tells us two important things: 1) that we are infinitely more sinful than we could ever imagine, and 2) that God loves us more than we can fathom. When we understand these truths, they will humble us. And humbled people don’t need to always be right. As a matter of fact, humbled people realize that they are often wrong. And so the Gospel forces us to recognize that we don’t have all the answers; only God does. And God uses other people to help us get those answers. Therefore, it is incumbent upon me to speak gently when I speak, to act kindly when I act, and to always consider that I don’t have to win every argument. Jesus says I am right with God because of what he has done for me. I needn’t constantly seek ways to justify myself. I simply need to humble myself.

None of these things are easy. But they are certainly worth the trouble. In a world that is divided, the church ought to be a beacon of light, a place where people of different backgrounds and races and nationalities can come together and rally around the one thing that is more important than any other thing – the Gospel. It unites all those who believe. We are one body. Unfortunately, we have far too often pretended otherwise. But we can change, and that change starts with me.