This past weekend white supremacist groups gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, ostensibly to protest the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee. According to some within the protest the gathering was intended to rally the white nationalist community nationwide, and make a statement to the country about their presence. Counter-protesters gathered, and vitriol and violence ensued as the two groups faced off. The violence turned deadly when a young white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of people, injuring nineteen and killing one young lady.
The ongoing racial conflict that has flared up each summer the past few years, leaves me with an array of emotions: sadness, anger, determination mixed with hopelessness, to name a few. “How long, O Lord?” cry the martyred saints in Revelation 6:10, and that cry has undoubtedly gone up from the hearts of His people these past days and years. How long, until you bring reconciliation? How long, until you bring peace? How long, until you bring judgment upon those who harm and kill others because of their ethnicity or the color of their skin? How long, until you bring vengeance (either conversion or condemnation) upon those who kill your people, sometimes even in the name of your Son Jesus Christ? Ultimately, the answer to those questions is found in the return of Jesus Christ on the last day: God’s answer to the martyred saints is “that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also” (Revelation 6:11). In no way do I assume that all those killed by racial violence have been disciples of Jesus Christ – but many have been, and so the text applies.
Until the day Jesus returns, however, what do we do? How should Christians think and respond? Much could be said, but the simplest thing to say is that we must denounce and abhor every vestige of racial supremacist thinking and acting. Whether the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazism, kinism, or Aryanism, arguing the supremacy of one ethnicity over another (in this case, “whites”) is sinful, demonic, anti-Christian, and anti-gospel.
The Bible teaches us that every man, woman, boy and girl is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26; 9:6; James 3:9) – as the old children’s song went, “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in God’s sight.” God’s purposes have always been for people of every tribe, tongue, and nation to worship Him together. Gentiles were always welcome to become worshippers of the one true God (see Genesis 17:13-14; Deuteronomy 4:5ff.; I Kings 10; II Kings 5). God’s house was, and is, to be a house of prayer for all the peoples (Isaiah 56:7). Jonah’s sin against the people of Ninevah was surely in part a sin of thinking he was superior to this foreign race, more deserving of God’s grace because he was a Jew. And the Lord rebukes him for his lack of compassion.
In the New Testament, we see Jews of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds living together in the church – albeit not without struggle, but after the appointment of deacons, in unity (Acts 6:1-7). We see God revealing to Peter that he “should not call any man profane or unclean” (Acts 10:28). We see God making no distinction between Gentiles and Jews, cleansing both their hearts by grace through faith in Jesus (Acts 15:9-11). Indeed, we all come from one man (Acts 17:26). We see the gospel going forth to Gentile churches, and Christians learning that “there is neither Jew nor Greek” but that we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28), and that we are to accept one another across all cultural/ethnic/racial lines, “just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). The fact that Jews played a part in killing Jesus never led the church to deny that the gospel was for the Jew first, and for the Gentile. Anti-Semitism cannot be argued from the Bible. The gospel has broken down the dividing wall and has made all believers from the various tribes, tongues, peoples and nations into one new man in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:14-16).
These passages, among others, show us that it is contrary to the Bible and to the gospel of the Bible to feel oneself or think oneself superior merely because of what you look like or how much money you have been given or what your ethnic heritage might in God’s providence happen to be. What’s more, the call to love our neighbors, and especially our brothers and sisters in Christ, cuts across all human distinctions. To hate anyone is to live as a child of Satan, as the offspring of Cain (I John 3:10-12). It is to forget that “spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another” is a mark of our former, unconverted, unregenerate lives (Titus 3:3).
And therein lies a great challenge and irony of our current situation. In decrying and abhorring the hatred and racism and violence of white supremacists, Christians must be on guard of becoming like them. Two wrongs do not make a right. Hating the haters, looking down self-righteously on those who self-righteously view Jews and African-Americans as less than dirt, responding to violence with violence, repaying evil for evil, taking personal revenge rather than trusting the state to bear the sword and God to bring justice – none of these are acceptable for Christians. Paul’s words are pertinent: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:18-21). Paul’s “if possible” assumed there are times it is not possible to live at peace, and this is one of those times in terms of the ideas being propagated. We absolutely, invariably cannot act as if white supremacy is normal or accepted in our country – but we must stand in defiance against these aberrations with a commitment to the law of love, even toward those who hate.
Listening to and reading the rhetoric of the white supremacists, as well as the antifa, I suspect that things in our country are about to get worse before they get better. Let us pray that God would grant calm, that He would give wisdom to our leaders, that His church would lead with love and compassion to the hurting. Behind the hatred lies great pain and great anger, in the hearts of participants on both extremes and within the middle. Let us be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). May the Lord grant repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, for the gospel of Jesus Christ is truly our only hope.