Discipleship and Racism–Where Does Jesus Stand?

In the past few months, I have been called both a fighter for justice and a racist (that part not to my face), both based not on what I believe, what I say or what I do, but on whether I am willing to support a specific movement. So, as I write this, let me make clear, I am not particularly interested in any movement or label. I will stand with anyone who stands with what our King has taught and commanded–to the extent that they do. When they diverge from the King, I cannot and will not say I support them. This, I believe, is Christian discipleship.

Responding to current issues like racism, many ask the question, “What would Jesus do?”. This has become so common it is the basis of comedy routines. I can’t say I am interested in what Jesus would do, because the question is subjunctive–it assumes possibility, not reality. Instead, I believe it isn’t a question of what Jesus would do, but what He has done and is doing (can we remember He is alive?).

First, we need to understand Jesus’ position. He isn’t white. He isn’t black. He isn’t brown. If anything, He is more of an olive color–the color of the Mediterranean Jews of the first century. He wasn’t even that until He took on the form of His creation and became flesh. His Kingdom–and His Church–is not white or black or brown or any other color. Therefore, those of us who serve Him have to remember that our worldly identity is secondary. We are citizens of the Kingdom and our allegiance and identity are not in this world. Jesus is ruling a kingdom that is not of this world, but which has many citizens stationed in this world.

Second, we need to remember Jesus’ commands and not attempt to make scripture support other agendas. Critics of Christianity point out that scripture has been used to support not only racism but even genocide. My response is, “Of course it has! Satan twists scripture and so do those who follow his priorities. This isn’t new. He even tried it on Jesus Himself! But this doesn’t invalidate the truth of scripture. In fact, Jesus used scripture to defeat this misuse of scripture!”

We argue today over the honor of those who founded this worldly government as though we were defending the honor of the King Himself. Were the founders racist? Of course, they were! They allowed, supported, and often even participated in slavery and genocide. This cannot be questioned by people of integrity. Were they motivated by greed? Often, yes (we have historical records supporting this). But even if they weren’t, does it matter? I am confident the people who were enslaved or killed wouldn’t think it was ok as long as the people who enslaved them or killed them meant well.

Jesus demands (not suggests–demands) that those who follow Him practice love and fairness toward all people. Anyone who ignores this command knowingly disobeys the King. This is not a position I want to be in.

So, how does love and fairness (the Greek word could also be translated justice) play out today? That seems to be where we get into trouble. There is more than one way to be loving and just–and while we can disagree about which is best, we can agree that the goal is the same, and respect one another as we seek to obey the King. In the meantime, we can and should all agree that some things are not loving or just. Continued racism–by government officials, law enforcement, or next-door neighbors–is unfaithful to the King. No Christian can claim to love the Lord and do these things.

Third, Jesus is Truth and demands truth from us. This means when someone says something that we don’t like, we have to look beyond our feelings and ask whether it is true. Are many white Americans still racist–or at least complicit with racism out of a lack of awareness? The evidence is overwhelming that this is true. Followers of Jesus, then, try to discover the truth, and speak that truth–in love–no matter what it is.

Are many Black and Brown Americans becoming (if they weren’t already) racist? The evidence is equally overwhelming that this is true. I hear almost daily some statements about what “White people” are like, think, or do, as though we are all the same and can be stereotyped. This is the very definition of racism, and racism will not be defeated by practicing more racism! The Apostle Paul–a man often persecuted because of his race–told us to never return evil for evil. So, followers of Jesus speak this truth–in love–even though many in the world condemn us for not being selective in speaking the truth.

Disciples of Jesus must fight racism–seriously, but effectively.

For example, I do not understand anyone who follows Jesus honoring racists, slaveholders, or those who were willing to fight a war–killing thousands of people–to maintain this evil. I don’t understand anyone who believes it is acceptable to label another human–regardless of the label–and treat them based on that label.

Racism is wrong. Period.

But Christians need to remember that we fight racism because this is what the King commands. The only ultimate success will be when each of us who belongs to the King–regardless of race, culture, age, or gender–identifies with the King as not of this world. Regardless of what we are able to accomplish or not accomplish in this world, it will be burned up and discarded as the King creates a new heaven and new earth. The true answer to racism is for those of us who know this to be true to take seriously our role in leading others to understand this, and to be reconciled to the King. No amount of freedom or justice in this world will help anyone who doesn’t have eternal life.

So, disciples of Jesus join Him in loving, speaking the truth, and keeping our focus on what is important–eternal life. This is how we respond to and defeat racism.

Know Jesus and Be Faithful!

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