By the grace of God, I have been a disciple since January 3, 1990. Gratefully our sins were forgiven at the waters of baptism and we received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). As Jesus foretold and as Paul points out in Romans 6-8, our sinful nature requires a daily battle against the devil’s schemes. In Romans 1:16-17, quoting the prophet Habakkuk, Paul tells the church in Rome that those who have made Jesus Lord are to live by faith. Becoming a disciple does not introduce us to a nicer world.
I am a 63-year-old Black man. I was in elementary school in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I vividly remember my teacher’s crying in front of scared children who were now panicking as we looked for our parents to arrive to make some sense of what had happened. I vividly remember the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 when I was in middle school. I wondered why people who vocally and peacefully advocated for equality were being murdered. I found it sad and tragic that in my neighborhood in the Bronx, New York, Jewish residents moved out when Blacks and Caribbeans were moving in and when people who identified as Puerto Rican moved into the neighborhood the Black residents moved out.
God has allowed me to serve as a therapist for many years and to secure graduate degrees in Criminal Justice and Social Work. I have also studied community policing and criminology where I was deeply alarmed and saddened to discover the prison population of New York State was made up of a disproportionate number of Black men and people of color coming primarily from nine impoverished neighborhoods in New York City. I have worked in different social service agencies in New York City in various capacities for the past 25 years. My social work studies specialized in mental health. In this discipline I was trained to validate my client’s feelings before teaching them effective coping mechanisms to address and correct inappropriate behaviors that stemmed from persistent exposure to various traumas. I was fortunate in social work school to be required to participate in course work topics regarding various aspects of racism. Currently, I am part of a leadership team that addresses systematic racism, as well as confronting organizational racism. I believe God has been preparing me for this time in our movement of congregations to help protect his flocks against the devil’s scheme to use racism to divide us.
It is my deep conviction that before disciples receive scriptures in lessons and sermons on what the Bible says about racism, oppression, and social injustices, they must be reminded about the power they have through the Holy Spirit. Three areas of crucial focus are empathy, listening, and spiritual growth. Look to God’s interactions with his prophet Habakkuk.
Habakkuk is unusual among the prophets in that he openly questions the workings of God.
The Lord’s Answer
The Second Complaint
God did not rebuke Habakkuk. God did not tell Habakkuk, “How dare you approach me when it was the sins of the people that led to their captivity.” Notice that God empathized with Habakkuk and validated his pain while calling him to faith and hope (Habakkuk 2:1-4 NIV). Subsequently, Habakkuk praises God as his faith and hope is renewed. And it is accompanied with beautiful music.
Our Current Complaint
The murders of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, as well as the murders of Ahmaud Aubrey and numerous other Black and people of color by mostly White police officers in the United States are still fresh in the minds of most Black brothers and sisters, their families and communities. This police brutality is systematic and not isolated. The myriad of emotions, including anger, are a reaction to systematic racism against Black people for over 400 years. As a result of the atrocities of slavery, our Black brothers and sisters and their children in our congregations need their voices and stories to be listened to and understood, especially by our White brothers and sisters and families. When the fellowship ends Black brothers and sisters and their families go home to a different set of interactions within society than our White brothers and sisters and their families experience. It is key to a congregation’s unity that their pains are heard and validated with love and compassion as God did with Habakkuk.
Spiritual Growth Moment
Now is the time for spiritual growth for every member in our movement, whether in the United States or abroad. All 711 churches in 150 countries in our glorious, God-fearing, multicultural, multiracial movement face issues of race and culture within their congregations. They have been addressed in different ways on different continents. Sadly in some of our churches in the US, we have failed to bring these issues into the light of Scripture. Let’s be humble to learn from those who have done this well. Now is not the time to fall into another of the devil’s schemes and be silent. Silence is no longer an option. Racism, cultural diversity, and social injustice must become a topic of open discussion in our movement. What can you do?
Pray for Wisdom: A great place to start is to pray for a discerning heart and wisdom (1 Kings 3:9-11 NIV). During these discussions let us all put on the full armor of God so we can stand firm in the righteousness that comes from the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:10-18 NIV).
I appeal to all brothers and sisters to never forget the waters of our baptisms and the new creations that God made us. The foundation of our new creation is that Jesus is Lord in every area of our lives, including are responses to racism and social injustices. Jesus was murdered unjustly by the brutal Roman regime and gave up his final breath, calling out to his Father, to stand up against injustice (1 Thessalonians 2:8 NIV).
Listen, Learn and Lament: All disciples of every nation must respond with righteous dialogues, individually and locally in our congregations. Invite brothers and sisters of color to share their experiences with racism in and out of the church.
Speak Up Against Sin: Racism, discrimination and prejudice are sins. Shouldn’t we who have been forgiven and freed from these sins be the most vocal in helping others and each other escape their hold on us and our cultures.
If we fail to listen, learn, lament and speak against the sins of racism, our movement will cease being a prophetic movement. Instead, we will become a dying group of older disciples that our children and the younger generation will not respect. Let us fearlessly and lovingly demonstrate the power of the Lordship of Jesus being lived out among us (John 13:35-36 NIV).
I will end with a word of biblical hope – the confident expectation of what God promised with the strength of his faithfulness. Biblical hope is that we live as the body of Christ, the family of God. That is what the younger generation is looking for and what the world desperately needs from disciples. Just as in Acts 6, when we hear the cries and meet the needs of suffering disciples in our congregations, the church is strengthened spiritually and the number of disciples will increase (Acts 6:1-7 NIV). To God be the glory.
Numerous churches in the US have teams devoted to biblical diversity called Social Cultural Unity and Diversity (SCUAD). Numerous others are starting their SCUADs. Click here for information on How to Start a SCUAD in Your Church.