Steps in the Race

During the time of Judah’s exile in Persia, the prophet Nehemiah received word concerning a remnant of Jews who had escaped the exile and were living in Jerusalem. The report described a broken people, crumbled city walls and gates destroyed by fire. Nehemiah responded with anguished weeping, mourning, and fasting. As he cried out to God, he said,

“…let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.”
 
As we witness the series of injustices done to George Floyd, Christian Cooper, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, systemic racism is being exposed with greater clarity than ever. The protests in major cities has forced us to see that these are not isolated, coincidental incidents that just happen to involve a Black person being victimized, but the working out of a deep-seated racism pervasive in our country.

Recently, I’ve become more aware of how our Christian forefathers in this nation permitted at best and often were at the forefront of intentional racism against Black people even before we became a nation. The Civil War was fought over this issue and thousands of Christians fought on the side of the Confederacy to defend this institution. Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian denominations split during this period meaning that Christian leaders defended the right to own and sell people. And while the Civil War ended slavery, as Jemar Tisby says, ‘Racism doesn’t stop, it just changes forms.’ Jim Crow laws were enacted that limited liberty for Black people. Many evangelical believers remained silent or stood against the civil right movement in the 50’s and 60’s. The narrative of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during NFL games to protest policy brutality morphed into an anti-military, disrespect for our flag narrative, obscuring the issue of injustice. This false narrative has been espoused and repeated by many Christians.  While many Christians have spoken up about these injustices, many, including myself, have remained silent on the sidelines.

As an Asian American Christian, I have often felt that the discussion regarding race has largely been framed as a Black and White issue – those most oppressed by those with the most power. Racism against Asians and other minorities seem like a footnote in the broader discussion of race and racism. But racism has also touched our Asian shores. The recent scapegoating for the “Chinese virus” has led to racial slurs, intimidation, and in some cases to physical assaults. According to a report by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council and the Chinese For Affirmative Action, over 1,500 incidents of racism towards Asians were reported through April. Racism in all its forms is wrong and dehumanizing.

As you look at what’s happening you may feel compelled to do something but you don’t know what to do. Should you join in the protests? Should you become more politically active? Each of us should seek the leading of the Holy Spirit for specific ways to be involved. I would like to offer a few suggestions.

Grieve
Allow your heart to be broken by what is happening all around us. Allow your heart to feel a deep sadness for the systems of racial injustice that continues to hurt our Black brothers and sisters. But also grieve our own culpability for what is happening. This is why Nehemiah’s prayer is so significant. Nehemiah was not yet born when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian empire in 586 B.C. yet in his prayer he confessed the sins of his people and used the pronoun ‘we’. He went even further by saying ‘I and my father’s house have sinned.’ Nehemiah recognized the solidarity he shared with his people. He did not personally commit the sins that led to Judah’s captivity, yet he identified himself with his people and humbled himself before the Lord. Grieve the historical racism of our Christian brothers and sisters. Ask the Lord to examine your own heart and grieve if you’ve held your own prejudices or have been silent when friends or family have whispered racist sentiments or when you failed to speak up in the face of injustice.  

Speak Up
What has been impressed on me is that silence in the face of racism and injustice is wrong. Ecclesiastes 3:7 says there is a time to keep silent and a time to speak. It is time to speak. Our voices are important. Our voices do matter. One day a multitude of voices will join together from every nation, tribe, people, and language to worship God (Revelation 7:9-12) and God is bringing those voices together today to cry out against racism and injustice, especially against those in the Black community.

Become More Aware
Learn more about the history of racism. RightNow media has a number of resources on this subject. I highly recommend watching or reading “The Color of Compromise” that gives a sweeping perspective on the church’s culpability in racism towards Black Americans throughout our nation’s history.

Build Relationships
Intentionally seek to build relationships with people who are different than you. Relationships are the pathway toward dismantling racism. The gospel transforms the heart, relationships help that transformed heart to live out the full implications of the gospel. Listen to other people's stories so you can get a better perspective on how racism has impacted them.

Stay Committed
Being a person who brings reconciliation, justice, and peace is not a sprint but a long journey. It will be difficult and hard and filled with disappointments. Loving people who are different than you is always hard. In the story of the Good Samaritan, it was the person who was different that was called the neighbor. 

4 Comments


Jacklyn Tan - June 5th, 2020 at 4:47pm

Love it! I'm all in. Yes so important to let this kairos moment from God hit us, search our hearts, form our character, inform our minds and hearts so when we need to act, we'll be ready. Let's move with the Spirit's wave right now.



Karen - June 6th, 2020 at 1:31am

Wholeheartedly agree! The church must come together to support our black brothers and sisters. Change is necessary as we can't go back to the status quo. History, since the 1400s really, can't continue to repeat itself. God help us!

Wayne Kuo - June 6th, 2020 at 12:44pm

This is so great! Thanks, PJ! Yes, for nations with a colonial history, this is a moment for us to grieve and lament the violence and injustices that have been carried out against Black and indigenous communities for centuries. I’m praying that this is a real moment of change and that the church will awaken!

Rachel - June 6th, 2020 at 9:46pm

Thank you for these words, Pastor Joe—so true! It’s important for us as Christians to see, acknowledge, lament and repent from the church’s historic complicity in racial systems that have oppressed indigenous, black, Asian, and many other brothers and sisters. May this be a time of turning, both individually and communally, toward a Kingdom vision of wholeness and wellness that is captured in Shalom. (Isaiah 58) Thank you for articulating this vision for the church!