“There is just one race, the human race.” Have you heard that one? “The only answer to racism is Christ, because we are all one in Christ.” How about that one? These are the types of phrases that we routinely hear in the body of Christ. There is no question that there is usually great truth behind them, but if we leave it there, such beloved truths of God’s kingdom can quickly become empty platitudes.
Allow me to explain. The day that I got married my wife and I became one flesh. There’s no doubt that this is what the Bible teaches. But imagine the impact on my marriage if every time my wife wanted to have a discussion, point out an area that I had hurt her, or explain her perspective to me on some important issue, I responded by saying, “No, no, we are one and that’s all that matters.” Or I told her, “Why are you trying to be divisive? We just need to be unified because we are one flesh now. I don’t need to hear or understand your perspective. We are one, and that’s that.” Of course, that wouldn’t go over very well. And the reality that we are two who have become one quickly turns into a joke.
We are all one in Christ without a doubt, but it cannot stop there. That’s just the beginning. What comes next is a lot of hard work, a lot of challenging observations, and a lot of willingness to consider the perspectives and experiences of others as even more important, in many ways, than your own perspective. But unity demands constant communication, effort, and growth. Otherwise, statements about unity cease to be truth and start to be conversation-stoppers instead.
The more diverse we are, the more perspectives and experiences we will bring to the table. We have to listen to one another, honor one another, and be committed to not shouting down, attempting to silence, or not really listening to each other. There is much to do. With that said, what can disciples do in regard to differing views on injustice, racism, and similar topics in our country? This is not the place for an exhaustive discussion but we can get a start. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here are some thoughts.
1. Pray constantly (1 Thess. 5:17). Pray for those that you agree with. Pray for those that you disagree with. Pray for those that you believe are victims. Pray for those that you believe are perpetrators or unjust. Pray for all sides. Pray before you post things. Pray before you speak. Pray for guidance and for God to show you what you can do in addition to prayer. And if needed, fast along with your prayer in the face of really challenging situations.
2. Proclaim the kingdom of God at every opportunity. Every problem the world has is because of sin. Fallen humans put our own interests first and do our own will rather than God’s. To accept the good news of Jesus as King and to live by the values of his kingdom is the only true solution for the world. We must never lose sight of that (Luke 9:60; Acts 8:4). We can be active in different ways, but in the end, all roads must lead back to showing people what the life of the true kingdom looks like and how that can change the world, one heart at a time. Many are proclaiming things other than the kingdom a whole lot more often and louder than they do God's kingdom and his church. It is amazing to be part of a fellowship of all nations, tribes, and languages that love one another. Shout that to a watching world. It's unique. Embrace it and be proud of what God has done.
3. Love your enemies. If you think a brother or sister is bigoted, not listening, or unloving, love them. If you think someone is deluded, subjective, and emotional, love them. If you think someone is a victim, love them. If you think someone is a perpetrator, love them. If you think I am wrong, love me. If I think you are wrong, I will love you. Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him and yet none of the other disciples had a clue. That means that Jesus loved all of his disciples, including Judas, the same. Regardless of whether someone is your friend or your enemy, the world should see no distinction in your kindness, patience and love for them. That’s challenging, but is at the very heart of what it means to be a follower of Christ.
4. Help those who feel like your enemy. If you think someone is a perpetrator of violence or racism, go volunteer in their world and find a way to love them. That’s true discipleship. You want to go love those you view as victims or whose perspective you share? Good, do that. But even the world does that (Matt. 5:43-48). Go help, volunteer with, and build bridges and relationships with those that you think are in the wrong. That’s big boy stuff. If you support the brave policemen in our world, but think that there are too many policemen out of control, go volunteer with them and get to know policemen on a heart level. Make a difference in their lives. If you think that the problem is with those who protest what they see as injustice, or those that even instigate violence, etc., then maybe you should go volunteer in areas of unrest, or the inner city, or wherever the appropriate situation applies. Love, help, and support those that you disagree with. Double your efforts of love and reaching out to those who you violently disagree with. That’s what will really stand out to the world and show them the true life of the kingdom. If it is another brother or sister with whom you disagree, you can avoid them, ignore them, argue with them, try to shut them up, or even just “tolerate” them. You can do that, but it’s not godly. Guess who is the first person that you should be having over for a dinner to lavish love on? Not to try to change their mind, but to lavish love on them.
5. Remember that the road to freedom runs through the cross. Jesus lived that message out his entire life. So did Paul. Men like Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela learned it. We will never enact change or bring freedom by putting the suffering on others, even if we think they deserve it. We will likely never bring much change by refuting or shooting down their arguments or beliefs. If that was the case, Jesus would have come and put everyone else on the cross. If you want to really make change, be prepared to bring the sacrifice on to yourself. This is perhaps the largest missing piece of many groups today that want justice. They are yet unwilling to take the sacrifice on themselves. As Jesus’ people, this is our calling every single day (Luke 14:27).
6. Denounce all forms of violence and murder (Isa. 2:1-4). This is incumbent upon all disciples. But we must also remember to be mature. If someone says that they think people need to repent of greed, it is bit odd to then accuse them of not caring about lying or lust. If someone speaks out against what they believe to be unjust killings or some such thing, to then accuse them of not caring about millions of babies being aborted, or other situations of death and injustice is also unfair and to quite miss the point. The world is quick to mischaracterize others and charge someone who cares about one cause with not caring about another cause that they are not as active with. Let’s avoid the temptation to do the same.
7. Peacefully demand equal justice for all people (Prov. 20:23). This is important but do remember that your obsession must be for the kingdom and not for worldly justice. We can strive for it but will never achieve it outside of the full coming of the kingdom. We will have very different perspectives, but I remember how crazy some people went when they believed that OJ Simpson was escaping justice and they decried the legal system. That’s how many others feel when they see videos of what they believe is clear unprovoked violence or killing and, because of their experiences, have a hard time trusting the justice system. Others implicitly trust authorities and the justice system because of their experiences. Be gracious with one another and create space in your worldview for differing perspectives. Don’t be guilty of extrapolating someone else’s view to unfair conclusions. For example, it’s never a good thing to be disrespectful or resistant to authority figures, but because someone feels that this should not be a crime punishable by gun shot, does not mean that they support violence towards policemen. And just because someone tends to support policemen does not mean that they are prejudiced.
8. Accept one another (Romans 15:7). This is primarily for disciples and how we interact with each other. Accept differing perspectives and respect them. Be open-minded and listen. Don’t grow weary of doing good. Read Romans 14:1-15:7. These were important issues over which they violently disagreed and yet Paul called them to respect one another and to unity knowing that they may never agree. Your perspective on opinion issues, no matter how strongly you might believe in them, can never come before your unity with and love for your brothers and sisters in Christ.
9. Try not to get caught up in political points of view. Far too many Christians come to their opinions or worldviews based on their upbringing, their culture, or because someone in the media or some such thing made a convincing argument. Whenever you hold an opinion, simply ask yourself if it is rooted in Scripture. Every position we hold should be Scripture-informed. Many disciples forget or ignore this. But it is also possible for disciples to hold two different opinions and both feel that they have come to their position based on their understanding of the Scriptures. In those cases, refer to #8 above.
10. Let your love and unity be evident to the world. If Christians can’t be unified despite differences and start to fracture and divide or devolve into arguments and blocking one another on social media sites then we have lost already (1 Corinthians 6:7). It is worth restating: unity and respect for one another is more important than your opinion.
11. Validate the experiences of others. I have never been sexually harassed or whistled at as a I walk down the street. I’ve never seen it happen to a woman. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. How demeaning would it be if I told women who have experienced harrassment that those things don't happen anymore? Hear each other out. Ask one another what they have experienced. Sometimes we can spend too much time letting the media form what we think. Don’t let your experiences or what your favorite news channel or website tells you cause you to discount what so many others have experienced in their life. You may still see things from a different viewpoint, but be empathetic and try to see things from the place of others.
12. Consider that you may not be right. I may not be either. This is where we have to remember that in such complex and experience-based situations, statistics are usually not very helpful. It is far better to listen to one another without already having made up our mind. And if you believe vehemently that I am in the wrong, I can expect an amazing night of hospitality at your house soon :)
13. Forgive. We will need to forgive one another (Colossians 3:13). Count on it. In the body of Christ, we will hurt each other, offend one another, fail, blow it, and get on each other’s nerves. Conflict doesn’t mean that we have failed. Division does. When Paul and Barnabas had a sharp conflict, the church didn’t try to hide it. It was recorded forever in the book of Acts. But they remained unified and focused on the mission. You may find that you need conflict resolution. If that’s the case seek godly, spiritual leaders that can help with that in a biblical way. Be humble, though, and follow the biblical principles during that process and in leading up to that process. That means if you do have a sharp disagreement, don’t scurry off to gather allies against your “foe.” The very first thing you should do is to get with the other person and try to work through it as brothers or sisters. Only when that has failed, should you seek to bring in others to help.
14. Spend time with those that think differently than you. If you cannot agree on these issues go share your faith together, pray together, encourage one another, pray for each other. Remember that you have Christ in common and that will always outweigh all of your differences.
Michael is the teacher for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Church of Christ. He is currently working on the book Crossing the Line: Racism, Race, Culture, and Kingdom which will be released later this year. For more on this topic, please watch the Crossing the Line series.