What is a Christian Response to Racial Tensions?

Recently racial tensions in America have been high and in many situations, they have boiled over. Two weeks ago the world watched as chaos erupted in our city. I don’t know about you, but many times that week I felt like I was in a trance, especially when I was watching live video of the police and rioters. I have seen footage like that before, but not in my own city, in the city that I love. Then, just a week later it seemed like much of the chaos has dissipated. Of course, the major underlying issues had not been resolved, but for most people things got back to normal. It is very common for people to feel like major issues, especially those close to home, are all consuming, but when things dissipate, it is also common for people to quickly forget all that swirled around and within them and simply move on.

While that may be a normal response, now that the riots have ended, I want to challenge you to consider putting more thought into how we are to process and respond to situations like this. As members of a church located in the heart of a city that has faced this chaos we should ask ourselves:

What is a Christian response to racial tensions which are heightened and in many cases are boiling over in America?

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Before we go on I think we need to define the issue we are discussing. The issue is that the world is broken. This article is not about how we are to respond in one specific case. This is not a debate as to whether protesting is good or helpful. This article is to help us consider this big picture issue: although our country would like to think that it has progressed to the place where racial issues aren’t a problem, that is clearly not true. At this time in history, there are heightened racial tensions that are boiling over. The world is broken. In light of that, what are we to think and feel and do?

I am not claiming to be an expert, nor am I claiming this is the final article which contains all of the answers, but as a pastor who could have seen this city’s turmoil from our church’s front steps, I felt like it would be helpful to push the issue a bit (hopefully towards Jesus and not to unrest), to make us think, to stir us up towards love and good deeds.

Here are some thoughts about what we should think, feel, and do:

Mourn: When we see brokenness one appropriate response is to mourn. As racial tensions have boiled over there is always a mix of emotions, but one must be mourning. Mourn the loss of life, the tensions, the polarized worldviews, the riots, the destruction, the unrest, the need for riot gear and the National Guard. Mourn the brokenness. One of the ways God can use this crisis so close to home is to help us learn to mourn properly.

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it,  saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side  and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you because you did not know the time of your visitation.”  Luke 19:41-44

Pray: While the world may think prayer is insignificant, we know better. We are called to plead before God for peace, healing, repentance, protection. And, as we did in worship recently, when the world is not right we are called to prayers of lament, which is why the words of Habakkuk are fitting at times such as these:

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?  Habakkuk 1:2

Wrestle with how to respond to the issue biblically: To say “This issue is so complex, I am just going to shut down”, is to take the easy way out. Isolating each individual case in an effort to dismiss and not deal with the big picture is once again the easy way out. Considering the complex issues with no clear solutions and seeking to respond biblically takes much more effort. Don’t dismiss or shut down, go to the Word and seek a biblical response.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16-17

Search your heart: One way God uses times like these is by helping to expose sin that we didn’t even know was within us. So, if we want to make the best use of these times we will search our own hearts. Is there any shred of racism? Is there any hate filled thought? We must repent.

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!  Psalm 139:23

Expand your perspective: It is so easy to see things our way, but sometimes we need godly friends/resources to help us see another perspective too. One way that I have found to be helpful in leading me to repentance is by listening to godly resources with diverse perspectives on how to respond biblically. I encourage you to seek a deeper understanding of the situation by having conversations with friends and engaging helpful resources.

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.  Proverbs 11:14

Remember the real solution: In issues like this, the world draws lines demands that you immediately declare your allegiance. While it might sound trite to some, we are the people of God and that impacts how we view every aspect of the situation. The world might ask what Jesus has to do with this, but we have to keep in mind the solution doesn’t lie in a program or in training. We know that it is only through Christ that hearts are changed and that there is peace and true reconciliation takes place. So, we must resolve to keep in mind and hold up the fact that he is the only solution to this broken world.

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.  
Psalm 121:1-2

Use your words and actions to glorify God: When talking to others, those with similar or opposite perspectives, let us hold ourselves to the standard of speaking in a way that glorifies God. Let us speak words of wisdom and compassion, words that give life and give grace.  Use words that build each other up, not tear one another down.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Ephesians 4:29-32

Hope: Although this world will remain broken, it will not remain broken forever. That truth brings hope, but there is also hope now knowing that although in this world there is trouble, Jesus has overcome the world. Let us never forget that even in times of mourning, we have a current hope and a forever/future hope.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

Even with this list of nine things, my guess is that the world, and maybe even some reading this, will say that this is not satisfying. Some might be thinking this went too far wondering “should we even be talking about this,” others might feel this doesn’t go far enough. Although I am sure there are more things that could be added to the list, I think our main calling in these situations match Paul’s words in 1 Cor 2:2 “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Although that reality might seem insignificant to the world, we know Jesus is the world’s only hope.

The world is broken. Jesus is the redeemer. We are his people. Let us glorify him.

Author: Dave Kulp

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