Church's Response to Civil Rights Revival
Ever since sin entered the world in the beginning, there has been oppression. Israel, God’s chosen people, were rescued from slavery before Christ even walked the earth. History has seen prejudice in many forms, but the church as a body has often stayed silent, inactive or, even worse, participated.
Could the renewed focus on racism in America be a revival of the Civil Rights Movement? And if so, what position should the church take? While individuals within the church fought against the sin of racism, they often did so without the support of their church. Some even experienced rejection and excommunication.
When slavery came to America, slave owners sat in church uncondemned. The Southern Baptist Church was founded in part to support the politics that kept slavery alive. As the Holocaust murdered millions of people across Europe, the church sat silently despite pleas for help. According to The Gospel Coalition, the American Civil Rights Movement was “condemned by the majority of white evangelical denominations” in the South.
With its ability to show us our mistakes and fill us with regret, history has spoken on this moment. Those on the side of racial equality were right and the white Christian organizations that staunchly supported keeping segregation were left with a need to confess their sins to God and reconcile with those they sought to harm or failed to help.
Did we learn our lesson?
Our failures to see the parallels between the past and the events of today make me think we haven’t. The white and black communities are not truly reconciled. We are not the peacemakers we’re called to be. Our modest gains toward equality are superficial and we are not pure of heart.
This lack of reconciliation comes from an unfinished work. Prejudice and racism did not end with the conclusion of slavery. Not with Brown vs. the Board of Education. Not with the Civil Rights Movement. White and black brothers and sisters in Christ sit in the pews next to each other in church, but are too often strangers outside of it. White parishioners don’t see the fear the black community lives with every day or the frustration of navigating a culture that demonizes and degrades them.
When a professed brother-in-Christ kneels before a football game to draw attention to police brutality against the black community, the church responds exactly as it did during the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins: it demonizes him. Instead of pouring soda over his head, we pour down memes of hate.
When black artists like Lecrae and Sho Baraka sing praises to our Lord and Savior but also speak out against racism, they’re shunned and their music banned.
And even worse is the silence from the pulpit about the very real and local issue of police brutality. The years of ignoring them or refusing to weep with our brethren have resulted in black evangelicals leaving the church in droves.
The church is teetering on failing our brothers and sisters in Christ all over again, being on the wrong side of not only history but more importantly, the will of God to love each other. I have hope, because I also see Christians listening, speaking up and acting against bigotry and racism.
I see the Southern Baptist Convention denouncing the alt-right movement, a movement that openly spews hate and has brought the issue of white supremacy to national attention. Its tentacles reach from college campuses to the White House itself, but the conservative SBC was brave enough to take on this issue and be vocal in speaking out against the lies of white supremacy.
I also see grassroots movements coming out of events like IF:Gathering in Texas. In 2016, a church staff member named LaTasha Morrison came out of this gathering with the determination to create Be the Bridge to Racial Unity, which coaches and inspires leaders across the country to gather together in diverse groups to advance racial reconciliation. A member myself, I see the possibilities organizations like this have to truly effect change on the individual level.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matt. 5:6-9, English Standard Version)
The church is its people, chosen by God to show His love and do His will. So as the church, what can we do to be a force for good in the face of evil?
1. Listen when someone cries out about injustice. The Greek word for righteousness also translates as justice, which shows a profound call for us to seek justice within the words of the Bible. In the Beatitudes, Jesus calls us to hunger and thirst for justice and promises we will be satisfied when we do. With justice as our goal, mercy and incorruptibility come into practice. And finally, in seeking justice we also seek peace. Because we can’t have peace when there is no justice. This is why the issue of civil rights is still alive and well today. We’ve neither reconciled our sins nor found justice for those hurt by hatred and racism. To truly seek and listen makes us peacemakers, and we shall be called sons and daughters of God.
“By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:10, ESV)
2. We need to take our newfound understanding and speak out against racism. When we raise our voices for justice, we show love to our brothers and sisters in Christ who are carrying the burden of racism. When we speak up for them and with them, we are beginning to make right the wrongs of our past. We should also be encouraging each other to dig deep into the sin of racism - to confess it and repent of it. It is a painful journey to undertake, and we each need to be lifted up in grace and mercy. Christian unity is a strong light for the world to follow.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:10, ESV)
3. We should act. There are endless ways to act out our love for God’s creation of humanity. There are quiet ways and loud ways, individual ways and group ways. But act we should, to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. Starting within our own homes and spreading to our churches and community. There is plenty of work to be done.
Just as people divided over the protests of the 1960s, Christians across America are divided on how to react to race issues. My hope is that we’ll rise above politics to recognize the human truth behind race issues. Lives are at stake. Platitudes and internet memes aren’t enough. If a new civil rights movement is dawning, His church must believe, speak and act in love for our neighbor.
Regardless of whether or not history applauds our efforts, our Father God will rejoice at the seeking of justice and peace.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.