A pastoral response to racism – Alain Walljee

People dance at the Black Lives Matter protest in Washington DC on June 6 2020 (PHOTO: Clay Banks/Unsplash).

“Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” — Matt 26:67-68 (ESV)

There is a very precious lesson in the above experience at the beginning of Christ’s suffering. See, Christ did not bother to focus on the details of who had slapped Him or who had spat in His face. Because when it comes to dealing with anger, feelings of vengeance and hatred, the godly response is the same, regardless of the details.

The level of forgiveness to be applied is the same for the one who spat on you, as for the one who slapped you and who the two were respectively. We may experience different degrees of anger and vengefulness to various instances of injustice, but the biblical response is the same for all anger and all forms of persecution. What is more, the standard by which any person is measured in terms of the Bible is the same for the racist and the victim of racism! Because in any response to any trigger, the victim becomes wrong if they respond in a wrong way.

Racial discrimination violates a person’s dignity and is a terrible prejudice to experience and even worse to disperse. The person who is racist against another does not reflect the character of God who made all people from one blood (Acts 17:26) and actually goes against God’s natural order. Any belief based on racial superiority is void of God’s truth and cannot, in good conscience, be called Christianity. Jesus said to his disciples that people everywhere would know that they were His followers by their love for one another. A few years later, when many Gentiles came into the church, they were still held to this same standard. And yes, there was some racial discrimination – especially from some carnal Jews among the believers, but God dealt with that in the church through Paul who taught: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” — Galatians 3:28 (ESV).

Self evaluation
Here are some Bible verses by which we can measure if we are racist or not and align ourselves to them prayerfully – fully dependent on God’s Spirit to transform us so that we can better reflect God’s light in the world:

“Love your neighbour as yourself” — Mark 12:31.
Just in case you might be confused over who your neighbour is, please know that it is more than just the person who lives next door to you. Jesus taught that your neighbour is anyone whom you can help and who helps you (Luke 10:29-37). There are various applications for this in regards to racism. Do you stand up for those who are being treated unjustly? Or do you pass by and pretend that you do not see their plight? If you are in a position to help someone, would you deny them help based on the colour of their skin? How would you like to be treated by others? Would you like others to give you special treatment or acknowledge what a great and wonderful person you are, or at least recognise your gifts and potential? Well, would you do the same for others regardless of the colour of their skin? And if someone treats you unfairly, would you wish the same evil on them if you do not like the evil being done to you?

Secondly, and this overlaps with the first point above, Jesus gave us the golden rule: “Do for others what you want them to do for you…” — Matthew 7:12 (GNB).
Would you like to be forgiven if you are wrong? Then forgive those who wronged you. You mean the racists? Yes! But they haven’t apologised! Apology is not a requirement for forgiveness, the heart of Christ is. See, forgiveness sets you free from the anger and bitterness that the injustice generated in you, but it does not acquit the wrongdoers from their deeds! They will still have to deal with the consequences of their actions but you will also experience bad consequences if you do not forgive.

The greatest picture of Christ as our Saviour is of Him on the cross praying, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” — Luke 23:34 (NIV).
Not only should I forgive them, but I should pray for their forgiveness. When I truly forgive someone I cannot wish evil on them, but Jesus does teach us to pray for them. So I cannot forgive someone and still wish they get hurt for what they have done. I know that this is not fair and it does not feel fair, for it often seems that the ones we must forgive are exactly the ones who least deserve it! But that is the heart of Christ; true forgiveness is always sacrificial and always comes with grace and mercy. Jesus taught us to pray: “Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us” –Matthew 6:10 (GNB).

How does Jesus teach us to treat those who hurt us? “But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” —Matt 5:44 (GNB). Also, look at Romans 12:17-18 (GNB) — “If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong. Try to do what everyone considers to be good. Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody”. Verse 21 continues: “Do not let evil defeat you; instead, conquer evil with good”.

Using the above biblical standard as our racism-meter and our response-to-racism-meter, do we need grace and forgiveness in any area in our lives? Or is there more we can do for others, including those of a different racial colour than we are? We must ask ourselves: “Can I be less defensive or biased towards others of a different race whom I do not know, because no one person is a profile of their entire race?”

If we are to win the war against racism, we have to move away from group identity and treat each person as an individual. This does not mean that we have to be careless and trust everyone unconditionally, no, but it does mean that we should not be judgmental and biased. Nor should we hold grudges and treat others because of pain and injustice inflicted by others of the same race in a past that they were not part of.

Finally, the Church is the hope of the world, including on the issue of racism. God has placed us in this world to show the world that racism does not have to be an issue. And the issue of integration will not always be easy because different people are raised differently, but then it’s true for many of the same race, let alone from different racial groups.

And remember, I am not my race and you are not your race. You are you and I am me and we are children of God through Christ Jesus. We are all one in Christ and that means we are of the same blood!

Disclaimer: This article is by no means intended to be an exhaustive address on racism and our response to it. But it does go to the heart of racism in a social context on an individual basis, and more specifically with regard to Christians who live according to the teachings of the Bible.

4 Comments

  1. Excellent article!!
    Thank you my brother!
    As always – balanced and Biblical.
    Your friend and sister

  2. So true. We have as difficult as it may be the responses of love only. This is why this life (eternal life) can’t be lived in the strength of the flesh. Beautiful write-up. Thanks sir.

  3. Annalise Potgieter

    Uitstekend Alain en dis presíés wie jy is & hoe jy jou eie menswees uitstraal.
    Voorwaar ‘n kind van God !
    Ek leer so baie van jou !
    Jy is vir my ‘n voorbeeld in elke opsig & my mentor in Jesus !
    Seënwense !
    Annalise