Antwuan Malone is black. He’s a pastor. He loves Jesus. And in an online interview this Friday he asked listeners an important question. Why has the church been so passive—so silent—during the national upheaval of recent days?
I shared the question so his voice was encouraging and stirring. In the welter of angry speeches and grief-filled marches no clear voice is speaking God’s words. We hear those who see and hate the evil expressed in this particular loss; but who only shout, “Stop it!” It’s like watching a shark approach a surfer as crowds on shore scream warnings. And a life is lost.
The problem is deeper than the tragedy of one man being suffocated. And that’s not to lessen the wrong his death represented. Yet we’ve seen this before. Too often. And social reforms aren’t enough. The evil won’t end until hearts change. No legislation can stifle cultural attitudes that once embraced human slavery. Even today we allow inconvenient infants to be sacrificed before their birth. And display hard hearts as we collectively treat the broken souls among us as so much debris to be swept away into unseen corners. The truth is that we can’t choose right and wrong as we see fit and still claim to be moral. Capricious morality condemns us all.
What, then, is “God’s voice” for today? The Bible is blunt: the world is dead in sin. Enslavement to self-love starves hearts of compassion and allows broken souls to recast good as evil and evil as good. God calls for new hearts. For the Spirit’s new birth. He alone awakens souls to real love, joy, peace, patience, righteousness and truth. And offers a capacity to speak truth in love.
Police forces that use uncalled-for-brutality remind us of an earlier day when a good man was despised and rejected. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he remained silent in his pain. He received the racial, social, and demonic abuses of his day and eventually the police spit on him and scourged him. Then they stripped him and nailed him on a tall post until he bled out.
But Jesus wasn’t a victim. He came to swallow death. He knew the slavery of all the world is to “be like God”—to choose their own version of right and wrong. To chase selfish ambitions whenever the moment offers. At one level of society to chase personal wealth without offering equity to others; and at another level, to loot stores under the cover of meaningful protests. And for others, to hold the ambition to stay aloof from obvious evils as long as personal security endures. As all, alike, ignore calls to love God and neighbors with wholehearted care. Jesus came to lead such captive souls into eternal life. He died to save sinners, not the self-righteous.
Antwuan’s talk was dignified but—now using my words—he seemed to wonder who among his Christian friends understand the hurt blacks and others of color feel in a world biased to white privilege. The question, “Do black lives matter?” isn’t simply rhetorical. If every hair on each head is counted by the Lord—whether black, blond, red, or white—do we imitate Christ if we still value some people more than others? No. Full equality in faith counts others more important than self. This is the stuff of authentic faith, and not mere Bible waving.
So what should the church be saying in these days of crisis? We begin with humility. Jesus knew his mission was to die. Not for his sins but for ours. And if we embrace his humility—the humility of leaving every personal ambition at the cross—and refuse to speak of power or of status or of self-protection, but of mercy and compassion, then we can invite others to Jesus.
What voice should we adopt? Try this: “I’m so sorry. You do matter, and my heart is with you. May I walk with you for a time? You have things to teach me, and I’m still learning. I care.”
Thanks for your insight and your heart here, Ron. I’ve been moved to take a pause and spend some time thinking, praying and meditating on God’s word. I have felt some pressure to take a strong position but I sense that just jumping on the closest bandwagon won’t do much to fix the issue. Some are saying that to remain silent is to be part of the problem. I can see their point. I don’t want to be silent where God would have me speak. I also think about warnings in scripture about being too quick to speak.
Here’s what I can say right now. I believe that only the heart change you are talking about can possibly provide a meaningful solution. I don’t even trust myself to evaluate my own heart much less have someone else evaluate it for me, but I think I am beginning to see that those who are saying that I am privileged as a white man in America are probably right. I have been largely blind to this truth and it may take me a while to explore its implications.
I can also say that one thing I see over and over in scripture is God’s soft heart toward the foreigner, the widow, and the fatherless. I’m wondering if that isn’t merely the short list which would also include all who are powerless in one way or another and need an advocate. How could I call myself a Christian if that heart isn’t being replicated in me?
I agree with you that a Christian response has to center around the same kind of humility that Jesus showed at the cross. Christians have all of the civic responsibilities and obligations as everyone else, but we also love, fear and worship a triune God who gives us his Spirit and offers life and relationship with him. Some of the responses I’ve seen have more to do with alignments with political parties or social movements than with loving and serving people or loving and serving their Maker. Often times these responses seem to be leveraging peoples’ hardships in order to support their respective agendas. To me, grabbing power looks like the opposite of humility. If we as Christians are citizens of a kingdom, and if our King is also a Good Shepherd and humble servant, then it follows that we would love accordingly.
With those thoughts, I want to say that I also agree with the final paragraph of your post. What that will look like for me in the next day or week or year I really don’t know. I’m open to answers and I suspect I will find them in God’s word and in and among his true followers. I hope someone else jumps on here with more insight. I’m wanting to learn.
Thanks, Lee. It’s too easy to be passive, isn’t it, if we aren’t directly engaged in the hurts or losses of our neighbors. Your notice of the cross – where Jesus took the weight of our own sin on himself – felt more vivid to me as I watched (too often) the weight on George Floyd that ended his life. It’s dawning on me that the connection we all have, through Adam, of pervasive human sin is where we do have a direct engagement. I thank God that he isn’t passive.