The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubery, Breonna Taylor, and innocent Black folks in America have sparked outcry, leading to protesting, dialogue, and the potential for great social change. You have opinions, you have ideas, and I would like to talk to you as a fellow Christian student. Specifically, I would like to address the non-Black Christian.
You likely are at home or in a place that you did not expect to be this summer as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being at home has provided a unique opportunity to speak to our families, our parents, our siblings, our friends, and clarify what race in America means to each of us. Race, inequality, and injustice must be the topics of our conversations. In Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, he writes that the one “who is more devoted to order than to justice” is the greatest stumbling block toward freedom. We must focus upon the origins of injustice, and to outright ignore the roots of injustice in favor of pointing at anything else is a disservice.
Racial injustice is a plague upon this country. Police brutality is not a novel concept, and it is sickening to continually see. As a student, you may be exhausted and tired. You might be afraid to speak up about what’s on your mind. What do we know? We are students, and we are still learning. Yet the adults in our lives, equally, are students, desperately desiring and needing to learn. Few, if any, are only teaching and never learning.
You may sense a generation gap between you and your parents and be uncertain of how to bring up this topic at home. You may have already found that they outright disagree with your beliefs, or may have been relieved that they align with them. Recently, a picture surfaced of Trump holding a Bible in front of St. John’s Church in Lafayette Square. What were your thoughts? What did your parents say? How did you react? Did you talk about it?
I want to address you, the Christian student, whether you are part of a fellowship on campus or not, whether you attended church last Sunday or last year, whether you learned about Jesus today or when you were born. I believe that your heart is stirred by all of this. Yet, our spiritual leaders in the church and perhaps even in our fellowships have been silent. We have heard nothing, so we are unsure how to react. Only recently have any conversations about racial injustice begun—for some of us, still none at all.
In my home, our discussion on racial injustice in America started at dinnertime. My father read from a parable that Jesus tells in Luke 18.
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
It was a lively discussion in my home. You may have had something similar occur in yours. You may not have had one at all. I hope that what I describe encourages you to have difficult conversations. Below is what I learned from my conversation with my family.
I would first like to draw your attention upon the Pharisee. This is a man of great religious renown who believes that he is of a higher moral ground. Maybe he’s right; he seems like a good person. He follows the rules and is faithful to his family. But he is prideful. And it is this very problem that has seized him. He does not even realize that he is looking down upon another human being with such contempt and disdain. The Pharisee has considerable power in the temple, as well, and he can dictate much of how the temple functions. His condemning prayer is awful.
The next man who prays in the parable is a tax collector. By our standards, we would be angry at him. We would not sympathize with him, and we would reject him. Complicit in the oppressive taxes placed on the Israelites and cheating the people out of their money—what good has this man done for anyone?
Yet God justifies him. The same cannot be said for the Pharisee.
At this pivotal moment in history, who are we? We would rather not admit it, but we are much more like the Pharisee.
The people in this country believe they are good. They believe that because they are “not as bad” as those who were part of past American society, they deserve a pass. They deserve to ignore the injustice in the country.
They believe they deserve to be content.
To be content today is to be ignorant and passive in the face of the reality of our country. Have we abandoned any hope to improve? While there exists a level of privilege to live in this country, there equally exists a disturbing level of inequality and disparity in wealth, status, and basic human rights.
The tax collector is not a perfect man, and our society would likely frown upon him. But he is willing to admit that he is wrong and desperate to change—and this step is important if we are to heal.
My hope is that we adopt the attitude of the second man. We must seek to rectify the horrible mistakes of the past. It begins with recognition that we are deeply flawed. Problematic biases and long-standing problems in this country have led to rifts in trust between communities.
We must pray for healing. We are hurting so much. We need to pray for forgiveness, for love, and for justice.
Healing is a process that takes time, and we must pray and look into our hearts and ask, “God, what would you have me do?” If you are angry, pray. If you are confused, pray. If you are worried, pray. If you are uncertain about what to do next,
God is love. If we want to reflect the image of God and share the Gospel today, then we must do that very action:
As Christians, Jesus is our example and paves the way for how we can respond. We are called to speak up for the marginalized and oppressed and to “defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9, NIV)
You have heard of many possible actions to take, including:
Donate to worthy causes, such as the Minnesota Freedom Fund, the Communities United Against Police Brutality, Black Lives Matter, or another group that you have found needs donations at this time. A comprehensive list of such groups can be found here.
Take social action: sign petitions, call your local and state officials (if you cannot call, use ResistBot, a free texting service that can draft up a message on your behalf to send to your local or state official), or peacefully protest. There is a list of resources and ways to help here that we believe are informative and helpful.
Educate yourself and others in all of the communities you exist in. This spreadsheet has an extensive list of articles on racism in America.
As Christians, learn more about the history of the church and its response to systemic racism, as well as how we can direct our effort and energy to achieve justice. Here is a list of reading recommendations and resources to learn more, compiled by college students.
Be an active member of change, especially in communities that we are leaders in and in our church communities, which may be silent when it comes to these matters.
Correct in love and with grace.
As Isaiah 1:17 (NIV) says, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” This is the non-negotiable Biblical call to become more educated and specifically learn what is the “cause of the fatherless” and “the case of the widow,” so that we can take them up and plead with them.
I ask you to do more than pray. You are part of many communities, and you might be a leader in some. Use your voice. Jesus calls upon us to speak up for the marginalized and oppressed, and that means standing with our Black brothers and sisters in Christ.
I ask you to take action. Do not be apathetic. Hold the conversation. Too often, as members of the body of Christ, have we not taken action soon enough. We have stood on the sidelines of history. As members of the Christian community, we belong to a religious body that has historically and presently partaken in direct or indirect acts of racial injustice. We are filled with disappointment and regret looking back upon those moments, yet we remember and are encouraged by the transformative power of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. We have been provided the opportunity to repent and receive forgiveness, and further, to be healed. Jesus guides us forward and calls us to promote justice in our society. As we wrestle with the silence coming from many churches today, we remember the rich history of activism and scholarly work done by Black churches and leaders that have helped shape modern movements.
I ask for you, your fellowship, and your church to do more than release a statement or offer a short prayer.
I ask you to remember what Jesus called us to do, and take action.
We are deeply saddened and moved in regards to the tragic deaths of innocent Black people in America. Cornerstone stands with those who are affected, and we stand with our Black brothers and sisters in Christ. Cornerstone’s mission is to celebrate the truth and beauty of the Gospel, and that entails that we reflect the image of God and the example that Jesus has set for us by advocating for justice and demanding change.
Cornerstone will not be silent to these matters. We recognize that while we have a staff that is majority POC, we have few Black-identifying members on our staff. We will work to improve the makeup and content of our publication by focusing on relevant social issues today. We call upon and encourage other Christian publications of the Augustine Collective to do the same.
We pray for all the families and people affected. God is a God of justice - we pray that rightful justice is served.
Please reach out if you have further questions or would like to talk. We encourage other Christian publications or fellowships to engage in these discussions. Our email address is email@example.com. The email address of the writer of this piece is firstname.lastname@example.org.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8, ESV)
God bless you.
This piece was updated on June 10, 2020.
The Student Activities Office (SAO) of Brown University has stated that student groups can donate their raised funds to a non-profit organization. Upon learning this, Cornerstone staff unanimously voted and agreed to donate the remaining $500 of our unused funds for the ‘19-’20 school year to the Black Arts Collective (BAC). The Black Arts Collective is an organization that organizes Black artists and builds community power.
A statement recognizing the history of activism and scholarly work done by Black churches and leaders was added. A clarification on the specific “Christians” (i.e. non-Black) that this piece was addressing was also added.