Race and grace

I’m often struck by the beautiful gift that Jesus is growing at Knox Church – I’m thinking of our international, multi-cultural make-up. We are a community gathered from so many nations, people, races and languages, united in the bigger identity of God’s Kingdom. An outside observer would look at us and ask “How did this assortment of people end up in the same room?” And the only answer is Jesus.

This will always be a beautiful sight to behold, a joy to participate in, and it is a treasure we must grow and encourage as well as guard and protect. Therefore, in light of the ugly white supremacist marches in Charlottesville, VA, we need to speak out. Such racism cannot be left unaddressed because our silence is sin and would betray any call to reconciliation.

What happened in Charlottesville was a public display of the evil of racism that has been energized and emboldened by nationalistic ideologies. It is the face and strategy of the elemental powers and principalities of darkness. (Eph. 6:12) While this white supremacist racism splashed on our media feeds comes from the U.S., do not be lulled into a comfortable smugness that we are immune to this in our north of 49 multi-cultural experiment. Toronto has its own history of KKK presence. In this city, often referred to as the most diverse city in the world, you are four times more likely to be stopped by police if you are black than if you are white. In Canada, twenty-five percent of federal prisoners are aboriginals (while they are only 4% of our population); and while blacks make up 2.5 percent of Canada’s population they make up nearly 10% of our prison population. Consider all the missing and murdered aboriginal women (the RCMP notes that there are 1,200 cases since 1980) or the appalling living conditions of squalor in many of the Aboriginal communities in our country.

Or better yet, talk to someone of colour with whom you worship every Sunday; ask about the racism they’ve had to endure. From too many in our church I hear stories of ugly racism that snakes it’s way into everyday interactions with far too much regularity.

It’s not only down there; its here too. And it’s inside of us.

Let me say it plainly: racism of any and every kind is sin and evil. It has no place in the life or thinking of a Christian or Christ’s Church. Never.

Scripture presents clear teaching about the sin of racism rooted in God’s magnificent vision of harmonious diversity. It begins with the creation of humanity in God’s image – meaning every person carries the imprint of God’s image and so are due respect, value, and honour. The bible concludes with people from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne of God (Rev 7:9). This is the vision of what all of creation will one day dwell in – and anything which thwarts that reality stands against God and his purposes.

And in center of the story we see Jesus Christ, whose person, life and teaching stand opposed to all bigotry and division. Through his life and death, Jesus has “purchased for God members of every tribe and language and people and nation. (Rev. 5:9). The good news is that in Jesus Christ the barriers of separation have been shattered; in him we have our peace who has “destroyed the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14)

We stand opposed to every form of racial prejudice because it is a denial of the gospel and the principle of grace. Racism is a form of self-righteousness, a self-justifying system convincing ourselves of the superiority of our own race or ethnicity. Anything that supports or rebuilds the barrier Jesus destroyed is a grave sin. It is anti-gospel.

Let me repeat: at Knox Church, we reject all forms of the sin of racism and stand in the gospel message of Jesus Christ that establishes equality, respect, and justice for all.

So what must we do? Micah 6:8 is our charter: act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

Act justly: we must not only speak up against racism, we must act. We must refuse to let ourselves be unconcerned with these matters or too busy not to care about them. Spend time listening to voices that we may have previously ignored and embrace the call to work for reconciliation and right relationships in our city.

Love mercy: We need proximity to people different from us – people of different races and cultures. Listen, learn, eat together, and build friendships. And then we need proximity to those who harbor racist views. I recently watched the documentary Accidental Courtesy (available on Netflix), in which Daryl Davis, an African-American, is haunted by the question: “how can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” The film chronicles the hope of transforming an enemy into a friend. Mr. Davis sets out to befriend members of the Ku Klux Klan and through this friendship, common ground is found, real change occurs, and reconciliation comes alive. This personal, relational context – slow, often difficult and uncomfortable – is the context for the gospel’s reconciling power.

Walk humbly: Ask God about the racist tendencies that lie in your own heart. What have we done, or failed to do, that have given room for distortions of the gospel? And then in all our justice-seeking action, walk humbly. If you read the instructions given by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to his fellow justice-seekers, they are calm, humble, quiet (see image below). So much social media incites rage which is not helpful for long-term hope and will not be the fuel for a long obedience in seeking peace and justice. Yes, feel anger at this evil – but never to demonize the enemy. Rather, in the face of such wrong, let us learn to walk humbly with “a calm and loving dignity” that will serve the purposes of God’s reconciling gospel.


And of course, pray. Pray for God to give you the guidance and strength to act in love and mercy; pray for healing and God to bring his peace and justice to our world.

Friends, we have been entrusted with a rare and precious treasure – a church that is a diverse gathering of cultures and races, a splendid display of the power of Christ to unite and transform. We will guard, grow, and protect that beautiful gift, allowing its wonder to shine before a world that struggles mightily to live together in love and unity.

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