Addressing Racism (Part 1): How to Deal with Injustice
By Renjy Abraham, M.A., Dean of Spiritual Life and Cultural Integration; Derek Chinn, D.Min., Dean of Multnomah Biblical Seminary; Paul Metzger, Ph.D., Professor of Christian Theology and Theology of Culture; and Jessica Taylor, Ph.D., V.P. of Diversity and Inclusive Development
The story of Ahmaud Arbery, a young, black man, shot to death in Georgia, has been widely covered by the media. The racially charged crime and a glaring lack of legal repercussions for Ahmaud’s killers, and now the recent unsettling events in New York and Minneapolis, has shocked and devastated the nation, and people all over the nation and the world are raising their voices, demanding justice.
These recent events have challenged the entire nation and every individual to consider what it means to combat racism and confront the harsh reality that it exists today. For the Multnomah family, it is our aim to navigate this cultural moment with compassion and the love of Christ and to empower and support our students, faculty, staff, and alumni to do the same. Multnomah University affirms the value of every human being regardless of skin color or country of origin. Our singular vision of community and our discipleship to Jesus compel us. We trust that we are stronger together, knowing that we are all made in the image of God.
ACKNOWLEDGING THE DISCOMFORT
Ahmaud’s death has stirred some uncomfortable questions for people of every race. There was video evidence—why were the killers not arrested? Why did the justice system fail? Was this a hate crime? Would this lack of legal response have happened if the victim were white and the assailants were black? What if the jogger was a woman? In our current political climate, these uncomfortable questions are being answered in countless ways depending on the person answering. It begs the question: how can we interpret the same situation so differently?
Many people are grieving, many are fearful for the safety of their loved ones who are people of color, and many are tired—another black man was killed and race was a significant contributing factor in his death and the lack of legal action against his assailants. This is an uncomfortable situation. Additionally, regardless of anyone’s position on the matter, people are grieving. A young man was killed and the nation is hurting.
A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE
Circling back to the question of whether or not this situation would have been different if the shooters were black and the victim white—sadly, the answer is, yes. It would have been different. That reveals there are systems in place and attitudes in our hearts indicating that, based upon the color of our skin, some people have more value and dignity than others.
The opening pages of the Bible make a profound statement that ALL humans are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27), which means that ALL people have inherent dignity and value. This declaration is an indictment against all oppression, abuse, and dishonoring of human life. James 2 names favoritism and treating one group better than another as evil. As Christians and representatives of Jesus, we must confront the evils that would dishonor the value and lives of others.
PRACTICAL AND EMPATHETIC WAYS TO RESPOND
There have been implied and verbalized cries from sisters and brothers of color calling on those with greater privilege, namely people of Caucasian descent, to break their silence about racial injustice in our country, and many are ready and willing to rise to that call. People are also looking to the Church to speak to this situation, and many congregations have stepped up to support and love their brothers and sisters of color. But, for those who cannot personally identify with this kind of injustice, it can feel like an overwhelming responsibility. You might be asking how you can respond, how you could use your voice to make a difference, and how to handle this with sensitivity and care.
Our shared humanity alone warrants authentic empathy and concern for those who are different from us. There are substantive ways to express this solidarity, even for those afraid to say the wrong thing. Here are a few ways to process and respond in a biblical and loving way.
- Grieve in community – The events around Ahmaud’s death have provoked a deep sense of fear and grief for people of all races. Regardless of anyone’s political views on what should or should not have happened, we all deserve the time and space to grieve and mourn. Losing someone to senseless acts of violence is a difficult thing to process. Human life is precious, and, just as God’s heart is broken, our hearts break. Consider reaching out to a trusted friend, pastor, or counselor to process your emotions around this tragedy.
- Give support and encouragement – There are ways that you can come alongside your friends in the African American community or other minority groups who might be feeling the tension of this cultural moment. You can reach out to offer your support, encouragement, and a listening ear. Recognize, however, that the experience of racism takes an emotional, mental, and physical toll, so it is important to give people space, grace, and time to process. Offering prayer and words of encouragement is a good place to start.
- Be humble in your responses – People are expressing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences concerning racism in conversations online and in person. It is important to listen and practice humility and empathy, especially towards people of color as they share how they are experiencing the current situation or how they might have experienced discrimination in the past. Pay attention to what you say and try not to dismiss the feelings of others’. Consider carefully and prayerfully how to appropriately and lovingly respond when people are vulnerable with you. It is okay to say, “I don’t know what to say, but I am feeling this with you”.
- Seek Justice – Contact the lawful authorities to express concern and an expectation that justice will be served.For followers of Jesus, issues of justice should not be politicized or polarizing—together, we have a responsibility to seek justice. Isaiah 1:17 says, “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and please the widow’s cause.” This does not run along a red or blue line. You can also take time to pray for those making decision’s regarding Ahmaud’s case and others in law enforcement. We pray that God’s will would be done.
- Ask thoughtful questions and educate yourself – Taking the time to ask thoughtful questions, research the history of this nation, and become a student of your own culture is an important part of addressing racism. Being an informed participant in ending racism requires scrutiny of systems at a national or institutional level, but also on a personal level. Consider and question your own biases, which shape your perspectives and interactions with others. Ask questions about why race continues to be a contentious issue in our culture and seek answers to understand what it would take to address the concerns raised. Approach this with an attitude of repentance and a prayer that the Lord would have mercy on us individually and corporately.
- Diversify your friend groups – A long-term way to respond is to cultivate friendships with people from different cultures, ethnicities, and/or races. This is a practical and Christ-like way of developing love, empathy, and awareness for others. Relationships with people of diverse backgrounds and different perspectives teach us to look at life in different ways. Learning to honor and respect all people even when you don’t understand or disagree is what it looks like to follow Jesus.
You don’t have to have the answers but each of us has the power to respond. Reach out, vote, call, write, and pray with fervor for the brokenness you see. Push back against actions that oppress and marginalize people, and together we will endure and prayerfully bring about positive change, even in our own ways of thinking and relating to others.
A WORD ABOUT REPENTANCE
Amos 5:24 says, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” These words are as relevant today as they were when the prophet Amos put these words down for the nation of Israel. We should also consider the context and be humbled by God’s words. The Lord speaks to His people, admonishes them for their tolerance of evil in their midst, and calls them to repentance.
First and foremost, repentance starts with us. As believers, we know the significance of Jesus going to the cross for our sins. Even if the sins are not our own, we can repent before God on behalf of our people and nation, as told in the book of Daniel chapter 9. The Gospel remains powerful for us because we know that a changed life in Christ demands a response. The injustice of racism as seen in the tragedy of Ahmaud Arbery’s death offers us the opportunity to respond in a way that represents the redemptive message of Christ to the world. Together, we can embrace the effort required for the task and stand beside one another to usher in the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven.
 On February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, a young, black man in Brunswick, Georgia, went on a run in a suburban neighborhood and was pursued and shot to death by two Caucasian men, Gregory and Travis McMichael. Ahmaud was unarmed. Though the incident was recorded on video, Ahmaud’s killers were not charged and no legal action was taken. On May 5, 2020, the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder surfaced and quickly went viral. Millions of people signed petitions, made calls to government officials, ran 2.23 miles to raise awareness around the day of Ahmaud’s death, and shared the story on social media.
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