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Racism and Retaliation The Ugly Nature of Sin

by Bob Russell

     The ugly underbelly of sin was fully exposed last week. Satan comes to kill, steal, and destroy, and he’s having a field day in the USA. Everyone with a conscience was appalled at the video showing a Minneapolis police officer using excessive force against an African-American man he pinned to the ground for eight minutes. The calloused policeman ignored the pleas of George Floyd and the concerned bystanders and refused to let up. Floyd, only 46 years old, died during that encounter. What kind of a hardened conscience does that to a man? That’s the hideous nature of sin.

        It was also appalling to watch the subsequent vandalizing, looting, and violence that took place in many American cities in retaliation to Floyd’s death. It was both perplexing and disturbing to watch the police do nothing while thieves broke into stores and set a police station on fire. Politicians had decided to give the rioters space to blow off steam and told the police to stand down and make no arrests. The ugly result of unrestrained sin was anarchy.

     The Bible says, “… sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15). Sin, left unchecked, brings chaos and death. That’s true individually, and it’s true for a society.

     That’s why God established parental and government authority and gave us the Ten Commandments, which included clear penalties for disobedience. Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jer. 17:9). When human beings are not restrained, they are capable of horrendous evil.

     What can those of us who are Christians do to help resolve this escalating problem? It’s depressing to see our culture come unraveled and feel helpless to do anything. But all of us who follow Jesus Christ, regardless of race, can seek to be lights shining in an ever-increasing darkness.

  1. We can pray for divine intervention. We’re to the point that only God can save us now. But He can! “Nothing is impossible with God!” If a virus, so small we can’t even see it, can shut down the world for two months, Almighty God can bring our nation to its knees in a second and initiate a spiritual awakening. That’s our only hope because our primary problem is sin, and only Jesus can save us from our sins and transform our hearts. So humble yourselves and pray and seek God’s face.
  2. We can reemphasize the importance of the church and the Christian faith. Several governors recently declared the church nonessential during the pandemic. Frankly, the casual response of many church leaders left the impression it doesn’t matter much to us either. But the church matters a lot!

     Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen once relayed a conversation he had with a Chinese Marxist economist who provided his analysis on America. He concluded that most Americans have no idea how critical religion is to the functioning of democracy. He told Christensen, “The reason your democracy works is not because the government was designed to oversee what everyone does. Rather, democracy works because most people voluntarily obey the law.”

     He added, “In the past, most Americans attended a church or synagogue where they were taught that they are answerable not just to society but to God. As religion loses its influence, where are the institutions that will teach the next generation that they too need to voluntarily choose to obey the laws? If you take away religion, you can’t hire enough police.” 

Let’s reemphasize the importance of the church, and it’s moral principles. 

  1. We can refuse to get sucked into the cycle of hatred. There’s an old saying, “You become what you hate.” So often, people’s reaction to hatred is additional hatred. People who despise intolerance become intolerant. People who say they detest violence become violent. People who despise racism become racist. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is a never-ending, escalating cycle. Nobody wins. The self-initiated penalties almost always exceed the crime. The end result is chaos.

     I have a son who is a police officer. He’s been a good cop for over 20 years. He doesn’t condone the excessive force used in Minneapolis, nor does any police officer he knows. Despite being treated with disrespect, called vile names, and cursed to his face, he doesn’t retaliate. Yet Friday night when I heard an angry African American scream into the TV camera, – “One of ours – two of yours!” I shuddered, and frankly, I battled angry, inappropriate thoughts and was on the edge of getting sucked into the cycle of hatred. 

     Then I envisioned my African-American, Christian friends. Friends I’ve taken trips with and roomed with and worshipped with numerous times. They aren’t a part of that unruly mob. While they are sometimes victims of racism, they don’t hold me or my son accountable for those injustices. Like me, they genuinely love the Lord Jesus Christ and seek to follow Him. In the past, they have loved and supported me and I them. We both need to refuse to be pulled into opposing sides. Because  “If you bite and devour each other, watch out, or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15). 

  1. We can do our best to empathize with those who hurt.  The prophet Ezekiel said, “I sat where they sat.” Imagine what it’s like to be a part of a minority race in America. We’ve certainly come a long way since the Jim Crow days, but admittedly we have a long way to go. There are still those in our culture who are rank racist and have arrogant, condescending spirits.

     Let’s do our best to understand what it’s like to live with the knowledge there’s a segment of society, including some rogue policemen, that despises you simply because of the color of your skin. You would be inclined to interpret every encounter in light of that awareness. That’s a heavy burden to bear every day. Let’s sit where they sit, and when we have contributed to the problem, let’s intentionally repent and change.

One of the things we love about Jesus is that He is a High Priest who understands our sorrow and grief. His followers should do their best to empathize with the hurts of those around them. Jesus said, “Blessed are thy merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” 

  1. We can go out of our way to practice love and forgiveness in everyday relationships. If we genuinely want to bring about social justice, let’s go out of our way to express love to minorities. If you feel victimized, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27). Let’s bend over backward to follow the example of Jesus Christ, who “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him, who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).

     One of the finest examples of that spirit I’ve ever witnessed was demonstrated last year by Brandt Jean, an African-American who was just eighteen 18 years old. Brandt forgave the policewoman who accidentally shot and killed his brother, who was his hero. The police officer thought she was going into her own apartment, but she was one floor off. She concluded the man in the apartment was an intruder and shot and killed him. Brandt Jean used his impact statement in court to tell the policewoman, despite what she took from his family, he forgives her and wants the best for her. 

     Then he told her his main desire wasn’t for her to go to jail but to “Give your life to Christ.” Then he said to the judge, “I don’t know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug, please?” As the two embraced in tears, the courtroom was mostly silent except for the sound of sobbing.”

     That’s the only way to break the cycle of hatred that is dividing our country right now. If blacks and whites, police officers and citizens, Republicans and Democrats, young and old would follow the basic teachings of Jesus, the brewing civil war could be avoided, and our stark differences resolved. 

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:174-21).

 

Bob Russell is Retired Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.

 




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If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Romans 14:8