For the past several weeks, I have been deeply grieved by the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and by the continued abuses of biracial people, indigenous people and people of color in America. In the 21st century, men, women and children should not have to live in fear for their lives because of the color of their skin. But they do. Daily.
Racism is alive and well in our nation. Tragically, racism has been alive and well in America since the birth of our nation.
As a follower of Jesus, I believe that all people are made in the image of God – which is, by the way, not necessarily a literal image. This means that all are created by God and thus are inherently valuable, regardless of the color of their skin. The church should be the most diverse community of people in the world. It should look like the Apostle John’s vision in Revelation 7:
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (ESV)
Our church in Sacramento, California, is an example of this heavenly community. We are 40% black, 40% white and 20% hispanic-Latino. Our greeters welcome members in Spanish, English and what we amusingly refer to “Spanglish.” Whenever I get on stage to preach on Sundays, I am delighted that the first thing I notice is multi-racial and -ethnic families sitting next to each other, worshipping together.
Sadly, the church has not always been united on its stand against racism and discrimination. But we cannot continue to stand on the sidelines arguing with each other while injustice lifts its ugly head. Only a multi-ethnic, multi-generational firewall will prevent the virus of racism from infecting future American generations.
Speaking up against injustice is in fact what God calls his people to do in Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
More than two and a half millennia later, the prophet Micah’s message is as timely to America today as it was to Israel in the 8th century B.C. Here’s three ways it can help us move forward during this crisis:
I call my fellow believers and all people of faith to rise up and speak out against the heinous injustices that continue to be propagated in our land. We have to preach against racism. We have to teach against racism. We have to protest peacefully. We have to use our social media presence to advocate for justice.
If we are a nation that truly desires “liberty and justice for all,” then we also have to call for our government leaders and members of the police force to be held accountable for their actions. The federal government and the Department of Justice should establish a national commission to address the broken trust between the African American community and law enforcement. What happened to George Floyd and what has happened to so many others must never happen again.
Our country is never going to overcome the sin of systemic racism until we decide to confront it head on. It is not enough to claim that we are “not racist” or that we “don’t hate” certain groups of people. We must be actively anti-racist.
Practically, this looks like living in solidarity with people who do not look like us. We have to establish and maintain relationships with those who come from different backgrounds than we do. We need to get out of our comfort zones and listen to and learn from our brothers and sisters who have been oppressed. We have to serve one another in love, not only with our time but also with our treasure. Whatever natural or spiritual gifts we possess must be used for the good of our fellow human beings.
Walk humbly with God.
Lately, I have been meditating on God’s words to the prophet Ezekiel: “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” (Ezekiel 36:26 NLT).
In modern terms, we could say that God is telling his people that they need heart transplants. Their old hearts need to be replaced with new ones.
This is God’s word to us today. Our spiritual hearts are just as vital as our physical hearts. When we have a problem with our spiritual heart, it affects all parts of our lives. When our hearts are full of hatred, arrogance or indifference, we live in hateful, arrogant and indifferent ways.
The truth is that our laws can prosecute crime and deliver the justice we desperately need, but they cannot legislate the human heart. We must ask God for new hearts and submit to his careful, precise hand as he removes hatred, arrogance and prejudice from our hearts.
I don’t write this as someone who has all the answers. I write this as someone whose heart is broken by human suffering and who desires to play a part in fulfilling Jesus’ prayer for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). If we commit ourselves to doing justice, loving kindness and humbly seeking God, then perhaps our nation’s wounds will begin to heal.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and the pastor of New Season in Sacramento, California. He is a civil rights advocate, best known for his work with immigration reform and racial reconciliation.