The racists came out in full force on Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia. KKK hoods, Nazi salutes, lynching torches, swastikas and Confederate flags. It was a disgusting demonstration of blatant racist hatred.
So I write to all who follow Jesus Christ to say that our time has come to speak out against the bigotry and the shameless voices of racism that seem to grow louder by the day.
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ there is only one side.
The side of God, who in His Word has declared once and for all that every person is created in His image. The Imago Dei resides in all people. And because of this, every person has innate value and is worthy of equal dignity and respect—regardless of race, gender, wealth, ethnicity, immigration status, background or any other factor.
Jesus reminds us there is nothing exceptional about loving people who think, look, dress, live just like us. That’s easy. What is difficult is opening our homes, churches and lives to those who are dramatically different. Jesus shows us a brand of love, a kind of church that transcends race and nationality.
I have three challenges for the church (Christians everywhere):
Acknowledge We Have a Problem
When people deny and dismiss the problem, it only makes it worse.
If we keep dismissing the marginalization of minorities or remain silent about the demonizing of immigrants, the attitudes will never change.
I often hear people say things like, “If Muslims really are a people of peace, then the leaders and clerics and peaceful Muslims must condemn violent radical Islamists, like the Taliban and ISIS.”
OK, now you—followers of Jesus Christ—must speak out against the racist white nationalists, members of the alt-right and the xenophobes in our society.
Today is the day for pastors and preachers and Christian university presidents and faculty and denominational leaders to loudly take a stand against racism of all forms. Denouncing it. Categorically condemning it.
And these leaders should conversely become voices for oneness, acceptance, love, unity, respect, reconciliation, celebrating the other, lifting up all people and embracing the foreigner among us.
Most Christians and churches do not intentionally put up walls between races, but the society we live in has created divisions and barriers. Those barriers must be town down.
We cannot begin to make changes or heal until we admit the problem is real. A problem cannot be dealt with unless we acknowledge its presence.
Confess Your Role
Confession creates all kinds of discomfort. We resist admitting our wrongs.
My challenge to you is to confess that in some small way you have contributed to the problem.
If we are honest, to a degree we have all failed at some time, in some way, to love or accept or include. I ask you today to look deep inside and confess your own biases against other people, other nationalities or ethnicities. Confess the stereotypes you have formed, the words you have spoken under your breath, the thoughts you have harbored. This is very hard to do, but it is much more damaging to live with unconfessed sin in your heart.
And confess your apathy and silence. Too few of us have said, enough. Too few have intervened or defended the cause of the marginalized.
The people of God can do better.
Commit to new attitudes and actions. Our natural tendency is to find affinity with those who are like us. That’s easy. That comes naturally. My invitation to you is to find affinity with people who don’t look exactly like you.
The call to be one is a central theme of the New Testament church. Paul the Apostle writes, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”1
All Christians talk about being one with God, but can we be one with God when we are not one with our neighbor? And of all the commands in scripture, Jesus says this one is the greatest, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
And He gives us a Golden Rule to live by: show others the same love and respect as you wish for yourself.
But all too often, we have separate our relationship with God from our relationship with people. We make our spirituality so ethereal, so personal, so much about our mind and soul that we ignore Jesus’ call to love our neighbor. That part of the Gospel we don’t talk about so much.
But how we treat and love our neighbor is at the very core of what it means to be an authentic follower of Jesus Christ. Because until we are one with our neighbor, with our community, with the other, with the least and the last, we can never be one with God.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said that Sunday is the most divided day in America. That’s discouraging. But we can change that.
Churches and their pastors must lead the way in closing the distance between communities. We don’t need to wait for governments and laws to do what God has already ordained us to do.
So end your silence and apathy. Silence is a form of condoning.
Of all the places in the world where people gather, the Church has to be a place where ethnic diversity is celebrated and promoted. Why? Because heaven is like that.
In the final pages of the Bible we read, “I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne. [And] they sang a new song with these words… ‘Your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’”
If heaven is going to be filled with people from every background and every race, then our living rooms, our offices, our dorm rooms, classrooms and churches and our dining room tables should look the same.
The only question that remains is, will you remain on the sidelines—silent about the blatant racism all around—or will you join in leading the charge to end all the prejudice, and instead prize all of God’s people? When the history books are written what will they say about you? What will your children and grandchildren say when they talk of you? Will they say you remained silent while millions were dehumanized? Or will they talk of your brave stand, how you stood up and spoke up and embraced and loved them all—just like Jesus.
This is your day to shine.
This is the movement of your lifetime.
The silence is not golden.
Palmer Chinchen, Ph.D., was raised in the jungles of Liberia and later returned to Africa, where he taught at African Bible College in Malawi and Liberia. Palmer now leads The Grove in Chandler, Arizona. He and his church are committed to working tirelessly together to eliminate extreme poverty, eradicate malaria and end injustice in Africa. For more info on the Barefoot Tribe, visit: JoinTheTribe.org.