Yet again the evil of racism is revealed in all its ugly horror. The shootings in Atlanta, Georgia - killing eight people, six of whom were Asian women - is one link in a long chain of anti-Asian hate and violence in the United States and Canada. This comes on the heels of the horrific violence against black people that ignited rage and riots across the U.S. last summer. While these events emerge from U.S., the same evil is very much here in Canada where we have our own sobering history of racism, both historic and very current (Toronto mayor John Tory says anti Asian racism now sits at the top of reported hate crimes). The underlying evil of racism infects each culture and every country.
And it’s also slithering here, in my life too.
In this post, I’m not the one to prescribe a way forward towards racial justice and reconciliation. For that we must listen to our friends, neighbours and brothers and sisters in Christ who are Black, Asian, Indigenous, and people of colour (see the end of this post for a few more resources). But as a pastor of our church, I must outline the Christian foundations for our convictions on why racism is an evil that must be renounced and resisted, and use my voice to call for this to be an urgent matter of discipleship.
Simply put, the gospel of Jesus Christ stands utterly opposed to racism. Let me outline only a few beliefs that undergird this foundational conviction:
Created in God’s Image: God created human beings in his image and likeness (Genesis 1). The human diversity of racial variations is a glorious fact of life in God’s world, but they are subordinate to our common humanity which is stamped with God’s imprint. Each and every human being - no matter their race or colour - bears this image of God. Each person, therefore, possesses an inherent dignity, value and beauty as a reflection of God. Racism is an attack on the image of God, a disobedient refusal to honour God’s image in one another. It tells a counter story to the gospel, weaving instead a demonic narrative of racial superiority and inferiority.
Original sin: Christianity bears witness to the truth that there is a fatal crack in humanity, a fundamental complicity in the corruption and brokenness of our world. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” says the apostle Paul. No one gets a pass. In the specific context of racism, the gospel does not allow us to evade and shift blame. The most honest - and Christian - admission is to humbly admit: “I’m guilty.” This teaching must lead followers of Jesus to take unflinching looks in the mirror and to cross-examine our own culpability in the broken patterns and corrupt systems of this world that lead to oppression and violence.
Reconciliation through Jesus Christ: the gospel tells us that through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the dividing wall of hostility has been destroyed (Eph. 2:14) Racism rebuilds that wall, dividing the human family into antagonistic camps. It peddles the lie that human beings from different races are ultimately irreconcilable, that racial divides are deeper, more foundational than sacrificial love of God in Christ to heal them. To say this is to deny the gospel itself and the power of the cross.
So far I imagine many of you would agree; we stand together in these convictions. But I need to press in deeper on an often neglected Christian conviction and its application for the church, especially for white Christians in the church.
Corporate sin: in the West the church has assumed the spirit of individualism to such a degree that we have little to no corporate understanding of sin. We then misconstrue the gospel to think solely of sin and salvation in individual terms.
Certainly we must change and convert individual hearts from the sin of racism, but we must also deal with the sinful structures and systems of oppression. For white Christians, this means we need to admit we are part of a system of racial prejudice and privilege. It’s called white supremacy and white privilege.
Did I, as a white man, personally create this? No. Do I repudiate it? Unequivocally. But do I participate in it and am I today responsible for it? Yes. And does the gospel call me to repent of this? Without a doubt.
It’s the teaching of scripture that compels us to do so. There are many instances of this corporate sense of responsibility but let me point out just two. Look at Romans 5 where Paul outlines how it is in Adam’s sin that we all are guilty—it is an inherited guilt. Anyone shaped by western individualism is scandalized by this—“if I didn’t commit it, how am I responsible?” Christianity, however, asserts that by virtue of being connected to the human race, there is a responsibility we all bear for things we didn’t do. We are born under the enslaving power of sinful systems that make it impossible for us to freely act in love without a grace to liberate us.
And this is the good news, that in Christ’s death and sacrifice we find the liberating salvation that is not of our doing. This, too, scandalizes because we receive something for which we did nothing to deserve nor could ever do to achieve (so very hard on the ego for achievement oriented individuals). But this is the heart of the Christian gospel, a redemption and restoration won for us by Christ that is gifted to us without our deserving. Do you see what is going on here - the underlying structure of the gospel rests on this corporate understanding, of being connected to a sinful humanity and yet also being united with our Saviour, Christ.
In another biblical passage, Daniel 9, Daniel prays while he’s in Babylonian captivity. Taken from Jerusalem as a teen and exiled in a foreign land, Daniel now confesses the sins of his people, assuming culpability for sin that his ancestors committed.
How can he do this? Again, for many raised in western individualism, we reject this notion as offensive—“if I didn’t commit it, how am I complicit?” But scripture, and Daniel, understands the deep connections that a culture produces. Daniel acknowledges the sins of the past culture of which he’s a product and participant in. Everyone of us are shaped by our culture, and we participate in that culture, receiving its goodness but also malformed by its sin. In the context of racism, then, we must be open to the reality of how cultural systems have misshapen and distorted our view of others, even if we may not be able to see it ourselves.
I continue to wrestle with these questions myself. How could I not see so much of the racism that is a daily reality for people of colour? How can I be so blind to the privilege I enjoy and the injustice this plays out over a whole culture? It’s because I am part of a sin-distorted culture that has shaped me. The gospel calls me to name this and do all that I can to repent of it. In the context of the evil of racism, it means we cannot talk about racism without naming the evil of white supremacy and talking about white privilege, all the ways whites benefit from racist systems simply by virtue of being white. This is the hard but necessary work for the white church.
As we near Holy Week, remembering Christ’s passion in which he takes away the sin of the world, it’s a most opportune time to grieve and lament the continuing evil of racism that rages in our world. To our brothers and sisters at ClearView of every race and colour - and particularly at this moment, we name our Asian brother and sisters - your church stands with you. We affirm God’s image in you and the consequent dignity, value and beauty you possess because of that image. Together we pray for God’s tender grace to protect and heal in a cultural moment that must feel like deep and repeated trauma. Together we repudiate racism in every form as a witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And as white brothers and sisters in in the body of Christ, we repent of white privilege and a culture of white supremacy that has incurred violence and promoted injustice for too long.
We believe God is reconciling all things in Jesus Christ—all people, all cultures, all systems. Lord, in your mercy, make it so. Come Holy Spirit.
Your friend and pastor,
— Phil Reinders
I know this has been a long post but let me urge you also to watch and read the resources below.
- Listen to and stand with your Asian brothers and sisters call for solidarity in this moment-
- read this powerful statement from Jennifer Lau, Executive Director of Canadian Baptist Ministries - https://www.facebook.com/cbmin.org/photos/a.211942715486098/4518903661456627/?type=3
- read the the response from the Executive Director of the Christian Reformed Church in North America: https://www.crcna.org/news-and-events/news/statement-about-atlanta-shooting
(art work provided by Christine Yishuh)