I write this as I am recovering from surgery. It is late at night and I am finally having a few clearer moments so wanted to share a few thoughts with you tonight about the recent unrest we have been seeing in our world.
As I was busy making preparations to be away from my daily duties for a little bit as I would need time for this recovery, I was grieved along with the rest of the world because of the death of George Floyd. I’d like to say that I was shocked, but I wasn’t. This has happened far too often to be a surprise. Outraged? Yes. Surprised? Sadly, not in the least. In our context here in Ontario, our premiere talked about how different things are in Canada. While there are, naturally, differences between Canada and the US, the evils of racism still run rampant here too. I found those comments strangely self-righteous for a country that struggles so much with institutional racism towards indigenous communities, and deals with its fair share of corruption and leaders who abuse their power.
As I have been recovering from surgery, through the nights of pain and the days of mental fogginess, I have felt hesitant to offer anything to this conversation. There are so many other voices that we all should be listening to, people who have lived and experienced much of this kind of racial injustice who can and are offering wisdom and guidance at a time like this. Many Christian publications are doing a great job at helping us learn from the people we need to be learning from. But as the pastor of NLCF, I felt it important to write to you, my church community, at this time, because as one of your faith leaders this is something I can not be silent about—and I finally feel clear-headed enough to put a few thoughts down on this digital paper.
Racism is a Sin
This should not even need mentioning, but obviously in our world it does. God made all of humanity in His glorious image. To treat other cultures, ethnicities or people of different skin colours as if they are somehow lesser is to insult the handiwork of almighty God. And like any sin, the solution God desires is not one of blasting away the sinner, but rather God desires repentance, which means to change our ways, and to follow God’s path instead. So like any other sin, let us all treat racism in this way and commit ourselves to following God’s path and continually invite others to do the same.
Keep The Focus On Things the Important Things
When people are hurt by terrible abuses, the gut-wrenching pain often causes “undignified” responses which so often get critiqued by those around them who are less affected by those crimes. Abusers love to take advantage of this, and put all the focus on how people who are hurting didn’t graciously articulate all their words. Yes, the way people speak while in such pain might not be palatable to the general public, but they just want the injustice to stop. Let’s learn to be gracious with others as they grieve and seek to put a stop to injustice and corruption instead of getting side-tracked. Focusing on the imperfect responses to corruption and injustice only help to keep those abuses going in everything from domestic abuse to police brutality.
Then there are the opportunists who seek to grow their own platform and push their own agenda by using situations like this, which is also a toxic distraction.
Keep the focus on the important things, which is putting an end to these abuses and—whether or not we succeed at that—showing God’s love to those who are hurting.
Friends, a deep need in each of us is to connect with others, which includes being heard. We all feel the need to be listened to and to be understood. In times like this, those of us less impacted by these injustices should spend less time sharing our opinions, and more time listening to those who are more directly affected by these issues. I feel bad even writing this because I don’t want to take the spotlight away from the voices that should be heard. But listening to the stories of the oppressed is important. James 1:19 tells us that, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Listen to others with an open mind, and think about all the challenges they are telling you about, and what that might have been like. Learn to be empathetic and compassionate. Be a friend in the same way you would want to have someone be a friend to you.
In the spirit of listening, I want to share a video that I came across today by Michale Jr., a comedian many of us in church have enjoyed watching, who shares a not-so-funny story about one of his own experiences with the police. Listen to it. Hear his hurt, pain, fear, and struggle. Hearing real stories from real people help us all remember that isn’t about ideology and politics (though some try to make it about that) but about human beings with names and faces who are made in the image of our Lord.
Put Your Trust In God, and Do His Work Here On Earth
I am skeptical of governments and human systems as being our salvation. Our government openly declares that they are not going to even remotely try to “legislate morality”. It’s been a catch-phrase used for years. So why would we think that these same governments would suddenly want to legislate for greater morality against racism or against police brutality? Why is it only in response to enormous pressure that they do such things? It seems the only way to get governments to do what is right is to make it in their own self-interest. Yes, I do write letters to my government leaders at times. And I believe in taking action. But as I said, I do not believe the government is ultimately our source of hope.
Friends, we should ultimately place our trust in God to be our salvation, hope, and peace. He is the only true source of such things. Yet let us not allow this truth to dismiss the fact that we also ought to help others in this world. As being followers of God, we are also called to do God’s work, which includes seeking justice, and loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). It includes defending the widows and orphans and caring for the oppressed and needy (Isaiah 1 and Amos 5). After all, Jesus taught us to pray that God’s kingdom would come, and His will would be done, “on earth as it is in heaven”.
So let us work to create a world that is more pleasing to our God. And when our governments and our laws and our courts fail us, as they inevitable will, let us remember that salvation and justice and peace will be found in the end not in the courts of our government but in the hands of God, who we can trust to do what is right.
There is so much more that can and should be said, but this is all I have for now. Keep your hearts from bitterness, my friends, and let the example of Jesus strengthen you as you seek to follow God in our world. In the words of Hebrews 12:3, “Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.”