In October of last year, when it was possible to do things like this, Steph and I took a vacation. As you may know, it didn’t go exactly as planned. Onboard the cruise ship, emotions were raw and tensions were high. Passengers were frustrated by the lack of communication from those in charge, and that frustration was quick to come to the surface in areas that went beyond the intinerary changes.
One day, close to the end of the cruise, we were in the buffet, and I passed by a woman who was venting her frustrations on the cooking staff. She was berating a particular person—a young man of colour—for a litany of culinary offences that he had allegedly perpetrated. It quickly got very personal and deeply inappropriate.
In that moment, I couldn’t stay silent and allow injustice to be on full display right in front of me, because being silent would have meant being complicit. And so I turned to her and told her that she was out of line. Whatever she had experienced was clearly upsetting, but that didn’t excuse her tirade and personal attack.
It was a small intervention that was fairly risk-free, but it was still hard to do because it felt so awkward. That wasn’t my fight. Who was I to step in?
I’ve had the chance to think through that experience over the past week as I’ve watched the situation that’s been unfolding in the US. The unjust murder of George Floyd has led to widespread protests and a bafflingly incompetent leadership response from the president, who, it appears, believes that the Bible is a prop one can hold in a photo op as though he was posing in a photo booth.
As Canadians, there is not much that we can do about systemic racism in the US. But we cannot be silent, because to be silent is to be complicit. The church must find its prophetic voice to speak into injustice. How do we do that?
First, we need to check our theology. Scripture is clear that there is no distinction between human beings before God. None will be justified by the law because all have sinned and fall short of his glory, and all are justified by his grace as a gift (Rom. 3). Every person is a unique creation of God, deserving of dignity and respect as a fellow image-bearer.
There is no place for racism or prejudice in the kingdom of God. And each of us must be absolutely convinced of that fact.
Second, we need to check our own hearts. We may intellectually know that we’re all the same, but each of us has grown up in a particular cultural milieu that has ingrained in us certain unspoken and often unintentional perspectives that do not bring glory to God.
But upbringing is not an excuse. We must be willing to take every thought captive for Christ—to allow him to transform us by the renewing of our minds. Allow the Holy Spirit to interrogate your own spirit and reveal to you any areas of prejudice that you may possess and surrender them to him in Jesus’ name.
Third, we must take action. In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul says, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Paul knew that it’s not always possible to live peaceably with every single person around us. But if we are to experience a lack of peaceful relationships with others, it can’t be because we got in the way.
But the call of the kingdom actually goes one step further. It’s not enough simply to say, “I’m not part of the problem.” We must be part of the solution. We are called to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9), and making peace is an active process.
The problem of racism and race-related violence is not limited to the US. It happens here. It happened in Vancouver in May, when a 17-year-old was assaulted on a bus because she was wearing a head scarf. And that’s only the most recent example.
Our responsibility as followers of Jesus is to take action when we see racism happening around us. We cannot stay silent. We must stand up. We must be heard. We must be willing to overcome the excuse of, “It wasn’t my place to say something” and embrace the fact that it is our place.
Because if it isn’t our place to say something, whose place is it, exactly?
The world will see Jesus through our love: love steps up, love protects, love says something. None of us can change an entire system, but each of us can change the world one interaction at a time by simply saying, “That’s enough.”