How To Respond to Racial Tension: Thoughts for Christmas Eve


In a few short years our children and grandchildren will ask us what we remember about the racial tension of 2014. I know they’ll ask us because my daughter recently had to interview someone who remembers the Cuban Missile Crisis. Years from now, students will be asked by their college professors to interview us after reading articles and watching video clips of all that’s happening in our nation today. What will our memories be?

For Christians, a more significant question might be posed: “How did you respond to the racial tension of 2014?”

It’s an important question since we worship the Prince of Peace and he’s our focus at Christmas. We read passages like Isaiah 61 that tell us Christ was anointed to preach good news to the poor and heal the brokenhearted; he came to release captives from sin and darkness. We read this encouragement and yet we see friends, strangers and communities embroiled in frustration and hate; words, fists, and bullets are flying in fear and bigotry. And we see ourselves, longing for the oil of gladness to wash over our spirits of despair.

Some might say that any despair about America is a refusal to focus on what is great about our country. But I would say that Christians are burdened because we choose to focus on the wounds that still need healing in America. And since Jesus calls us to be peacemakers, we know deep down we should play a role in racial reconciliation. At least that’s what I feel deep down.

It will require owning America’s sins, of course. Whatever we thought we understood in grade school about American history needs to be etched in our minds anew. We can process life with adult eyes now and we all must acknowledge this harsh reality: enslaving 4 million people for 300 years and denying them economic and educational freedom for another 100 years is going to have terrible consequences. The tension between black men and police is one of them and it isn’t anything new. It has simply exposed the wound that festers beneath the surface of our nation’s racial progress. Our knee-jerk reactions and taking of sides; the circling our racial wagons and desire to blame all alert us to the legacy of division left to us. We can’t wish it away or ignore the elephant in the room. It’s not about white guilt or black irresponsibility. It’s not a black thing or a police thing. It’s an American thing.

Once we admit this individually, we can take action collectively. And it’s the concept of taking action that we should ponder so we can answer our grandchildren some day in a way that will make them proud. Here are my ideas.

We can renew our minds about the fight we’re fighting. For Christians, what’s happening in America is not just political wrangling or social unrest. There’s a spiritual battle that can only be won by loving others as ourselves. Unfortunately, Satan’s ploy to make us disciples of politicians and pundits is really working. He lures God’s people into mean-spirited, accusatory debates that ruin the testimony of Christ. So even though it’s easier to share what’s controversial and manmade; even though it’s easier to keep the dialogue political and secular, we Christians have to keep it Christian by being hopeful, caring, and compassionate. It doesn’t mean we will agree with everyone. We simply have to find redemptive ways to express our points of view.

We can remember Moses. Before we criticize those who shatter windows or wear a t-shirt, let’s acknowledge that it’s natural to react – even irrationally and  sinfully – when we observe suffering and injustice. We need only look at Moses who became so enraged by the oppression of his brethren that he committed murder. Ponder the significance of his reckless passion in light of all that’s unfolding around us. At the same time, take heart. Years after his criminal behavior, God used the murderer Moses to deliver his people. So many among us realize we need national leaders to speak courageously and unite us all around our common desire for progress and reconciliation.  Let’s pray that God will raise up men and women like that.

We can reframe our church’s vision. I applaud funds and goods sent to the poor around the globe, but what about our neighbors around the corner, our fellow Americans who stare at poverty, crime, and despair every day? Every congregation can focus on nearby needs, adopt a family, a school, a fatherless child, a prisoner. Invite police in to shake hands. Invite citizens in to share hearts. When we do, we don’t need a news camera. We just need to build some bridges with prayer and expectation of what God will do if we try.

We can redirect our money. Christians may never agree on the decisions made by grand juries, but everybody believes in education. Education is the ticket that carries children out of the poverty and crime policemen are called to enforce. So become a tutor or a Breakfast Buddy. Drop off toilet paper , crayons, or iPads at that inner city or rural school.  Establish a foundation and raise money for teachers. Donate to private schools and colleges by directing your scholarship funds to support their neediest applicants. If we invest in education now, we’ll have something tangible in 30 years to show our grandchildren that we did to make poor communities stronger.

We can rebuke the bigots in our lives. Equipped with God’s heart and lens of love, it’s our obligation to be salt and light when co-workers, parents, and siblings go off on some racist rant or generalization about blacks, whites, “bully police” and “thugs.” Whatever image we have in our minds about who’s to blame has to be balanced with the knowledge that all are created in God’s image. What about that? Jesus was a champion against bigotry and he embodied that by engaging with people from all walks of life. Prostitutes and beggars. Tax collectors and thieves. Jesus died for all and calls us to see everyone through a redemptive lens. If we don’t speak up to challenge hateful talk and defend our neighbors, our children and grandchildren will inherit racism from us.

We can join a chorus for peace. I’d like to leave you with the children of PS22 in Staten Island singing Let There Be Peace on Earth. Their young voices call us to unity and ownership of the peace we want to see in America. “And let it begin with me” is a fitting garment of praise.

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