As a child of the 60s, growing up in a Northern Illinois city that was and still is very racially divided, I have been recently reminded of some of my grandparents’ closest friends. They would come to visit and often stay for hours. He always had a hat in his hand, and she was always clothed in a smartly fitted dress. They seemed more financially well off than many of the others who came to my grandpa and grandma’s home, but that difference didn’t matter to my grandparents. Neither did the color of their skin. Those differences didn’t define our feelings about them. What mattered was who they were—they were Kiki and Lena. They were friends.
Since the time of our country’s inception, we have long confused who we see with what we see. And that confusion has allowed us to classify and condemn individuals based on the color of their skin and their country of origin. The confusion is part of the disease that took George Floyd’s life almost two weeks ago, Ahmaud Arbery’s and Breonna Taylor’s lives, and too many others in the years and decades before.
That disease is one of the two powerful diseases we see erupting in the United States right now. Both are similar in their viral effect, but the difference lies in the length of time they have have existed and the way healing is to be experienced.
The novel coronavirus has only been around for a short time. Yet, in the not too distant future, a vaccine will be discovered, and healing will soon take place from “the outside in” through the medical community.
The other disease, racism, has been around longer than many of us really care to admit. It was woven not only into the DNA of our country at its formation, it became part of the genetic make-up and culture of many families, being passed down from one generation to the next. As pastor and friend Chris Davis said in his article, “‘I Can’t Breathe’: Reckoning With Our Racial Atmosphere,” it’s been in the air we breathe. And the air we breathe has everything to do with how our heart functions, the organ most affected by this dreadful disease.
Some have maintained that this can be cured from “the outside in” with governmental laws and guidelines. However, the approach has done little to rid us of the disease. We know this to be true because there are times in our lives when something will happen to reveal that racism is still very present today, causing deaths and wounds with life-altering pain that never goes away.
I took part in a Zoom call this week with pastors of our local churches and listened as several of my friends and colleagues shared their stories. What I heard grieved my heart and caused many tears to flow. The pain that these men have experienced in their lives and through the lives of their sons in this 21st century America is overwhelming. The cause of it is racism.
This is one disease that can’t be cured by the medical community, and it can’t be cured by the government either. The eradication of this disease has to take place from “the inside out,” as the change has to be made on the inside before it can ever be experienced outwardly. Inside our hearts, before it will be seen in our responses. “The inside” is where Jesus does His best work. A change of heart is where it has to start, and then it must manifest itself in our actions.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul says that we are called to freedom, but not to “turn our freedom into an opportunity for the flesh,” to indulge our human nature. Injustice and oppression are about expressing power over others, and expressing power is an opportunity of the flesh. It contradicts not only what Paul said in serving one another through love, but it contradicts the words of Christ Himself. “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve” (Matt 20:28). Somewhere, somehow, many us have inverted the words of Jesus and called it truth. We want to be served more than we want to serve.
Now is the time that we, as The Church, must finally address this dreadful disease in our country. It’s time that we, both individually and collectively, sit down with our brothers and sisters in Christ and listen to the stories of those who have experienced racial injustice. We need to understand what we are facing—the depth of the injustice and the wide-spread oppression that still occurs in our society today. It’s time we acknowledge that racial injustice isn’t just a thing of the past, but it’s of our present, as well, and it’s time for The Church to act.
It’s time we start taking an active role in helping to initiate a cure for this disease. It’s time we, as Christ’s Body of Believers, step into Christ’s prayer for The Church—and come together in unity as a true family. We need to recognize our friends for who they are, our brothers and sisters, instead of letting society define them by what they see. We all look different, but most siblings do. But it’s up to us to start changing the culture; letting others know different isn’t wrong and different doesn’t mean bad. Different doesn’t justify racial injustice.
It’s time that we, as The Church, do what should have been done years ago. It’s time that we get down on our knees and repent. Repent of our desire for power. Repent of past actions. And repent of the hurt we’ve caused, even going back generations. It’s time we come before the Lord and others and ask for forgiveness.
It’s time to humble ourselves, and look for ways to serve others, instead of looking to be served—to come alongside others, stand with them and take action whenever we see injustice occurring. Our Father is all about justice, and as His children, it’s time we are too.