Woke or Not Woke? How about love?
A lot of what I see unfolding is a complicated mess and no one side is devoid of sin, selfishness, and tribalism. I am mainly talking to professing Christians, especially the ones who believe they have a monopoly on how truth should be applied or viewed in the culture. I see your post, but I do not see your love.
The polarizing issues seem to be unavoidable right now: police brutality, statues, protests, riots, criminalization, respect of life, etc. I do not have the time or space to touch on COVID and masks. I want to primarily address the sentiment of racial justice that is permeating the national conversation and tone right now. When the media stops talking about it, this issue will remain unavoidable for me because it affects what neighborhoods I run in, how we play at the park, or who I can trust to have my safety and livelihood in mind.
Let me start by saying, the label ‘woke’ is unhelpful, especially when utilized to explain a Christian or the church. Nor should ‘it is a sin issues not a skin issue, its about grace not race’ be utilized as a catchphrase to express your religious piety. It is one thing to pray those sentiments and another to be dismissive of someone’s concern for racial injustice. What does that even mean beyond theoretical platitude? A biblical command we could use instead is ‘love your neighbor.’ This is hard because this command requires self-reflection and personal responsibility. It is much easier to feel like you are doing something by merely attacking what you disagree with. Nonetheless, as it relates to love your neighbor, the answer to the question, “Well, who is my neighbor?” has already been answered for us in the book of Luke. Start with loving people in your immediate (and God-given) influence and go out from there.
Who do you know that is particularly vulnerable, confused, frustrated or angry during this time? What do they need in the short-term? What do they need in the long-term? How can you help them become more like Jesus? How can you be conformed to be more like Jesus?
None of those questions should be theoretical. You may not know the answer to any of those questions for your unique circumstance. Here is a suggestion Christian, Ask! Maybe the one black friend you have is not ready to lay out their personal history of racial injustice with you. However, I do not know a black Christian friend opposed to: How can I be praying for you right now? How can I as a Christian friend serve you in these trying times? How can I help you and how can you help me be more like Jesus right now?
These questions should be very helpful towards your engagement in loving your neighbor today… right now. If you are a Christian, reach out to the person whom you worship with, confess sin to, and break bread with. Part of the problem is we are so segregated on Sunday. Part of the solution is yesterday was the time to start overcoming superficial ‘church’ and move on towards the fellowship that Jesus died for (Ephesians).
Racial justice seems like one particular issue in which we may know someone is potentially impacted and yet we extend little to no patience, hospitality, or love towards them. We are Christians and we should be bearing one another’s burdens. I am not saying anything you do not already know. However, I am not suggesting that love is easy. If you are willing, it will likely require you to step out of your comfort zone. As a Christian, you are going to be too ‘woke’ for some and not ‘woke’ enough for others. If you thought following Christ was about the easy life, then your complacency has blinded you to the reality of Christlikeness.
1). Engage the Other Side
It is most obvious and frustrating when people, committed to their narrative, talk across one another rather than addressing the real issues and intent of each other’s argument. Unfortunately, I see Christians put up straw men and mock one another on false premises. How many discussions have you seen on the platforms you listen to or watch with credible representatives from both sides of the debate having a mature conversation? I hear the excuses, “No one is willing to come on and talk on my platform!” Yet these same Christians will tweet quote one another continuously.
Ultimately, what we see on these big stages is what is happening in our local communities. I am proposing an alternative approach in which we engage one another instead of operating in our monolithic echo chambers of scriptural interpretation. The nature of social media is that we see a lot of people who are convinced about their narrative and unwilling to open themselves up to anything counter to their prescribed commitments. There seems to be an adamancy to double down in the face of opposition, rather than reconsidering and opening up one’s perspective to alternative views. I will say it another way: Just because you agree with John MacArthur, John Calvin, and you can quote a couple of verses does not mean 1) that you are right and 2) that you are not worldly in your application of the scriptural principles of justice, love, humility and so forth. The same is true for those who want to quote MLK Jr, Jesus, and other advocates of social change.
I know Christians who scoff at the idea that Jesus is for social change. The supernatural, spiritual transformation of the gospel has material effects upon the here and now. This is how people are to know we are His disciples (John). True religion is this, to take care of widows and orphans and to keep oneself unspotted by the world (1 John). Christianity is about being and doing. A gospel that does not include a response is no gospel at all. Once the gospel changes you, you are then empowered to now change the world – by Him, through Him, and to Him.
Can you name a credible representative that opposes your narrative? Are you able to articulate with a degree of clarity what they believe in a way that they would affirm? We ought to see Christians able to do this. What I often see is a very educated and adamant Christian denouncing BLM as an organization, yet your Christmas Tree and Halloween traditions also come from pagan roots. The hypocrisy is off-putting. It comes off as if you see someone drowning and fighting for their life and your response is ‘Yeah but…’ The truth of the phrase ‘black lives matter’ is not beholden exclusively to some organization. Likewise, if a Christian aims to redeem Halloween, surely the same exists for the fact that black lives do indeed matter. There is not an entity on earth that is perfect, including the local church by which you align yourself. Show your support by actually engaging with the other side and seeing the holes within your own viewpoint. Notwithstanding, I encourage thoughtful responses pointing out the holes in mine.
2). Educate in Love
The stigmatization around educating oneself about racial injustice from both sides is not love. One side argues for reading prescribed literature to expose you to black history and systemic injustice. There is an expectation that white people should know and agree with your view of systemic racism. The other side argues that somehow educating yourself outside of the Bible on a particular topic of injustice is unbiblical. If you communicate any words besides ‘Jesus,’ ‘death,’ ‘burial,’ and ‘resurrection’ you are a social justice (and unbiblical) warrior. Then our leaders fear being disliked and abdicate their roles to shepherd ALL people groups towards Christlikeness. Many leaders are acting like sheep following the narrative that best fits their culture, experiences, and/or preferences. I am frustrated with both sides skipping the crucial step of loving their neighbor. A relationship is not just one conversation, it is cosmic friction only able to be knit together by the gospel. It is a golden commitment in which we treat each other like we want to be treated. It is a death, burial, and resurrection in which we die to ourselves and become more like Christ. If we can get off of our pedestals for a second and love our neighbor we would transform racism and this world.
It is possible that through our relationship you are therefore inspired to read some literature. Maybe we read various viewpoints together and discuss. Maybe you are inspired to preach the gospel, encourage forgiveness, or just sit and listen. Either way, I am not sure how you can even begin to love from a distance or from your social media account. How would you even know the ways in which you can stand up against injustice without starting to know your coworker or fellow church member?
3). Identify with Christ
I see idolatry and ‘intersectionality’ on both sides. Everyone identifies with something that is other-than-Christian. How do you fill out a form for anything? For address, do you put heaven because you do not identify with anything else but Jesus Christ? It is not as though Jesus has come and erased the very things that He beautifully and wonderfully made in us – gender, ethnicity, work-skills, etc. God is able to divide spirit from soul. We are not so easily able to separate our experiences, ethnicity, and culture from our Christianity, nor should we. Christ wants you and everything He created you to be. For those whom will disagree, please explain practically the implications of your viewpoint.
Jesus created us for community and there is beauty in the various cultures and styles which will be displayed in the kingdom. They are a reflection of His goodness, creativity and beauty. At the same time my allegiance is not ultimately to a cultural, political, or ethnic identity. Nor is it to my church denomination, family traditions, or sacred rituals. Belief itself is centered on one’s relationship with Jesus Christ. Therefore, our fellowship to one another should focus on relationship. However, we must know one another in order to have relationship. We must go beyond superficial interactions that are commonplace in the church. The same is true for our relationship with Jesus. There is a correlating relationship between knowing Him scripturally and fellowshipping with Him. This concept of love, which I get from the Bible, is not devoid of accountability and wisdom; yet its manifestations in our lives are built upon and sustained by the love of Jesus Christ.
4). Act with Compassion
I am not saying the standard for tolerance of racism is zero. This is an impossibility in a sinful world. In the same way I would not say motor vehicle fatalities, COVID deaths, nor even unnatural events such as murder have to be at zero before we deem society safe for all people. However, I am saying that we should be outraged when injustice prevails. [I can hear the whataboutism ringing loudly. I am willing to engage about black-on-black crime, black fatherlessness, and abortion in the black community, but right now we are talking about our response to one another as believers.] When politicians, police, and any person abuses their power and privilege stand up against it. When people are not afforded the same benefit of the doubt or are not given the same assumptions of positive intent as you are, stand up. When people are hurting, have compassion. When sin abounds, preach and live out the gospel. Get uncomfortable and allow for diversity of thought, opinion, practice and theology (within Christianity) in your personal space. Do not dismiss people because they do not protest how you would. Do not dismiss people because they do not express frustration in the language that you feel is acceptable. Do not look harder for a reason to disagree with them more than you are looking for areas to support them where you can agree. Die to yourself, your comforts, your idols, and your image. Live for God and for neighbor.