Christ and Contemporary Culture

A Christian Denunciation of Racism

Image for A Christian Denunciation of Racism
Wales Window for 16th Street Baptist Church

Central Presbyterian Church and the denomination to which we belong, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, denounce in the strongest terms the tragic and wrongful killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor as well as the persistent evil of racism and racial injustice.

It grieves us that we should have to write the following words because they should be embraced without having to be expressed. But in light of the urgency of the moment, let us state clearly that the idea that one race is superior to another is directly opposed by God who created all men and women in his image and has imbued each one with equal worth and dignity (Genesis 1.27-28). All people possess a basic human right, given by God, to be treated with respect (Psalm 82.3). Racism in all its forms is an abomination to God because it distorts, diminishes, defames, and destroys those whom God has created in his image (Psalm 8.5).

Racism is not only a blight upon our society, but antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus ushered into existence the kingdom of God in order to establish true justice, righteousness, and peace (Romans 14.17). By his work on the cross, Jesus has torn down the dividing wall of hostility and hatred that may have once existed between peoples of different races and ethnicities. Through Jesus Christ, we are no longer enemies of God or of one another (Ephesians 2.11-18). In Christ, we are one family (Galatians 3.27-28). As a result, the church and all its members are tasked with a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5.11-20). We are called not only to receive God’s grace in Jesus Christ but to join Jesus in his mission to proclaim good news to the poor and to set at liberty those who are oppressed (Luke 4.18). The God of the Bible is committed to setting things right, and God likewise commands his people to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God (Micah 6.8).

We, therefore, affirm the right to peaceful protest, and we support those calling out for change that will bring an end to the unequal treatment of African Americans and all people of color within our society. How long, O Lord, must this evil persist? We call all individuals, groups, and institutions that endorse and perpetuate racism to repent and make amends (Galatians 2.14). Each one of us must also examine our own hearts in order to root out and confess all forms of implicit and explicit racial bias and ask God for forgiveness and deliverance from this heinous sin (Psalm 139.23-24). 

We likewise denounce all forms of violence and vengeance (Matthew 5.38-39). Some may advocate the use of violence because they believe that all non-violent attempts to eradicate systemic racism have stumbled or failed. We realize others may take advantage of the present crisis in order to sow seeds of discord or to steal, kill, and destroy with impunity. Regardless of the motivation or purpose, we lament the death, injury, and destruction of property that has been carried out in recent days, and the asymmetrical toll it places on disadvantaged communities. We call for an end to brutality and violence, no matter who the perpetrator may be, and we affirm that the only way to overcome evil is with good (Romans 12.17-21).

Lament is a form of Christian prayer that is often overlooked, but it is perhaps greatly needed during this time of crisis. Through prayers of lament, which are in ample supply in the Psalms, we express not only our frustration and sorrow but also our sheer inability to understand the suffering and pain we experience in a deeply broken and divided world. We direct our lament to the God who knows and loves us in the sure and certain hope that he will heal us and renew our world. We take comfort in the fact that God is not immune to our pain but joins us in our grief (Genesis 6.6John 11.35), and we praise God that he is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or think (Ephesians 3.20).

Prayer can only represent a beginning, but let it serve as a beginning rather than an end. Let us use this time as an opportunity to grow and learn from one another. God’s chosen instrument for bringing his kingdom to bear on earth as it is in heaven is the church. The church is meant to be a model to the world of how people from different races and ethnicities can learn to love and serve one another for Jesus’ sake. The church must lead during this time of crisis.

Speaking personally, I wrote this message with some fear and trepidation. At times, I struggle to find the right words to express my thoughts, feelings and questions as it relates to issues of race. But a friend reminded me that home is the place where one should be able to speak freely, and Central is our home. Within our community, we can speak and listen to one another on sensitive topics knowing that we have the power to extend grace and forgive one another for any words that do not come out quite right. I hope that you will offer that gift to me in this instance, if required.

As we seek to live together as a church family with all the differences of race, ethnicity, and culture that exist among us, we have the opportunity to learn from one another in a context of mutual love and care. We may make some mistakes along the way, but any effort we put towards the goal of racial reconciliation should inspire us and fill us with hope. As brothers and sisters living together in New York City, we have been granted a rare gift to be able to celebrate and enjoy our differences. It is only together that we reflect the fullness of God’s image in us. It is only together that we grow into the fullness of Christ.

For my part, I had previously developed a summer reading list of African American authors to help me better understand the African American experience and to learn how these authors used their words to express themselves. I’m all the more committed to this personal reading plan in light of recent events. In addition, I have initiated a new sermon series focused on the Life of Moses. One of the many reasons why I chose this theme for the summer is that the Exodus story has long provided the African American church with a framework for understanding how God would lead them out of their own Egypt, through the wilderness, and to the land of promise. My hope is that we will all gain new insight about what it means to be the children of God and the objects of his love and deliverance.

It should go without saying, but let me add that I would heartily welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters with you more personally. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me or any of our staff members or officers if you would like to further the conversation.

Let us give voice to our lament.  Let us humble ourselves and pray that God would heal the divisions in our country, lead us to repent of the sin of racism, and establish justice for all people without exception. Let us make a start.