"To be a Christian is a constant showdown between our shallow desires and God's deeper vision of transformation, beauty, and joy."
I speak as one who serves Christ's bride as a campus minister. I speak as one who has a degree in criminology. I speak as one who, though I cannot fully empathize with them, has worked among black families in low-income housing and in educational settings. I speak as one who grieves at the gross injustice being done and the sin that abounds in our country. And I speak as one who acknowledges that he does not have all the answers.
Yet, I also speak as one filled with hope. It is not a hope in my own abilities, nor in human government. It is a hope that issues forth from the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a hope in the justice of God revealed in the gospel; the redemption, renewal, and peace which comes through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is a hope in the truth contained in the words of the Belhar Confession (3.2), which state:
God's livegiving Word and Spirit has conquered the powers of sin and death, and therefore also of irreconciliation and hatred, bitterness and enmity, that God's livegiving Word and Spirit will enable the church to live in a new obedience which can open new possibilities of life for society and the world (Eph. 4:17-6:23, Rom. 6, Col. 1:9-14, 2:13-19, 3:1-4:6)
But how is this hope realized? How is racism in all its forms stamped out, and reconciliation and peace between ethnic groups accomplished? As Christians, we must recognize and repent of what John Perkins identified as an "infected American Christianity"; a Christianity that has been captivated by individualism, selfishness, and greed. We must repent of our willingness to speak--sympathetically, politically, ideally--and our unwillingness to act.
However, it involves more than repenting of what we have done or left undone. For just as spiritual life, growth, and renewal comes through catechesis--formation through instruction and practice--so too does social (trans)formation.
Drawing on the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and Dr. John M. Perkins, Chris Rice lays out three R's that are necessary for the kind of change we desire to see: Relocation, Reconciliation, and Redistribution.
Perhaps the most difficult of the three, relocation calls for a "shared life" between peoples of different ethnic groups and from those at both margins of the socioeconomic spectrum. Practically, it is a summons to Christians to put their money where their mouth is. It is a summons to a people who comprise a new humanity, whose riches are in heaven and whose lives are second to the proclamation and establishment of the Kingdom of God, to intentionally move into depressed neighborhoods, to draw close to the stranger and foreigner who move into their community, and to fight alongside the oppressed and needy. It means placing oneself in uncomfortable, difficult, and, perhaps, dangerous situations for the greater goods of unity, love, and peace.
We have been called to the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). This means, first and foremost, proclaiming the message of reconciliation between sinful humanity and God through the work of Christ, but it also expresses itself in lives that seek reconciliation between peoples. It is expressed in, as Rice points out, "shared social space pursuing truth and hospitality between hostile groups." As Richard Hays notes, "We don't just announce reconciliation. We embody it." We must be willing to humbly listen, graciously speak, and work together (holding one another accountable) to see justice in its totality.
In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul writes, "In a severe test of affliction, their [the Macedonian churches] abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part." Seeing the plight of their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, these impoverished churches generously poured out their love and joy in the form of money and gifts. Caught up in our gross materialism and selfish desire to control what is "ours" (an ironic term since it is only given us by the grace of God), we view any taking of our time, money, or freedom as a terrible injustice. One has only to look at the vitriolic stance of gun owners at even small changes/restrictions in gun laws, of many Americans at tax rates, and of the numerous entitlements people expect. As Christians, we've allowed the love of money, and a craving for self-sufficiency and free choice, to harden our hearts to radical acts of generosity and giving--of time, money, and goods--to those in need. Instead, we must become like Macedonians and, out of joy (even in the midst of affliction/poverty) share and give to one another as, perhaps, never before in our history, .
Rice concludes by stating that these transformational practices--social catechesis--gradually detach desires away from the viruses of ethnocentrism, privilege, endless individual consumption, and the default mode of violence for addressing difference and conflict. Not only this, but over time, "put racial hostilities to death and form people who gradually unlearn cultural self-sufficiency, division, superiority, and inferiority."
For at the heart of our ethnic strife and the problems facing our nation is the depravity of humankind; a depravity that has seeped into, and infected, all things. The murders of black citizens and police officers are symptomatic of the darkness of the human heart; of our moral, economic, and governmental brokenness. And the only true hope for eradicating such things, the only light that can penetrate the darkness, is that of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. But it is more than that. It is the hope that as redemption--both personal and cosmic--has broken into this world, it will continue to grow and transform it.
And we, as Christians, have an opportunity and responsibility, to engage by the power of the Holy Spirit, in this work. The church, as an embassy of grace, sends us out as ambassadors of Christ; that in light of the gospel, we are, as God's people, to live holy and distinct lives among the peoples of the world. And a part of this should be through social catechesis: relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution. The church has a unique opportunity to do what our government, education, or any other system or institution cannot. Christians have a unique opportunity, and ability, to confront sin and contend for truth and justice because we has been set free from sin and uniquely empowered by the Holy Spirit for such work.
So let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24), and by God's grace, see love, reconciliation, and peace for the glory of God and the good of this broken world.
Quotations from Chris Rice, "Communities of Resurrection and the Transformation of Bodies," from Mobilizing for the Common Good (Jackson, MS: University of Mississippi Press, 2013), 145-160.