The online journal of Luke Dockery

Scattered Reflections on Race-related Issues

Like many people, I have been distressed by so many aspects of the race-related incidents that have been erupting all over the nation:

  • The tragic and unjust deaths of African Americans, whether at the hands of overreaching and brutal law enforcement officers or racist vigilantes
  • The protests in response to these outrageous acts that have, at times, turned violent  (and seemingly, at times have been coopted and corrupted by outside influences)
  • In some places, the brutal and violent responses by police officers to even peaceful protests
  • The very poor handling of the entire situation by President Trump whose rhetoric only escalates the tensions
  • The negative attention received by countless law enforcement officers across the country who seek to serve and protect and want to be a part of the solution rather than the problem

Though I am deeply convicted by what I have seen and heard, I am always uncertain about how to respond, at least, in a public proclamatory way such as this. On the one hand, as a middle-class white guy in a largely-white context, I don’t presume to be an expert in such matters, and I have been doing my best to listen rather than to speak. Furthermore, I am not interested in virtue signaling, which can seem like an easy practice that doesn’t actually accomplish or help anything.

On the other hand, I have seen and heard from many black friends and acquaintances about how painful it is when white people (especially Christians) maintain silence, and how supported and loved they feel when people such as myself speak out in solidarity instead. So, that’s what this post is, in a disorganized sort of way.

Foundational Issues

As a Christian, there are two fundamental ideas that guide my thoughts on race before anything else:

  1. All humans are created in the image of God. This conveys the notion of being God’s representatives on earth, tasked with carrying out His will (we see this in Genesis 1-2). Unfortunately, due to sin, humans fail to properly reflect the image of God, but that doesn’t change the God-appointed identity given to each and every human. We are equal. This is antithetical to the notion and practice of racism.
  2. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with everything we have, and the second is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Loving my neighbor is also antithetical to the notion and practice of racism. Beyond that, loving my neighbor compels me to try to see things from my neighbor’s perspective, and appreciate that his/her experiences may be different from my own.

Personal Repentance

My position is a fairly simple one: I think we have massive racial issues in our country. I think we come by those issues honestly because they are an original part of our national DNA, and I think that the solution to the problem is challenging and will never fully be realized until Jesus returns (more on that below). But the solution must start with me. Here is a statement made by a (white) minister friend of mine, which exactly echoes my own sentiments:

I don’t like the phrase “there’s not a racist bone in my body.” Because if I’m being honest with myself, I am inclined to judge a man by the color of his skin. Just because I don’t like that part of me doesn’t mean it’s not in there. The recent unjust killings of black folks in our country shouldn’t only cause us to point fingers at the perpetrators, though we should demand justice. These killings should also cause us to lift the hoods of our hearts to see the racism that might be lurking there. My goal as a Christian is not to deny my prejudice but to repent of it. The God I worship seeks to bring people of all colors into His kingdom, to make us all children of Abraham through faith in Christ. So I must turn my racist bone over to God so He can renovate my heart. True change in our churches and systems and nation starts with my willingness to say, “Lord, change this wicked way in me.”

Personal repentance must be my first response.

Systemic Racism

Here is a definition of systemic (or, institutional) racism from an excellent article by David French (I will discuss this article further below):

A system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity. It identifies dimensions of our history and culture that have allowed privileges associated with “whiteness” and disadvantages associated with “color” to endure and adapt over time. Structural racism is not something that a few people or institutions choose to practice. Instead it has been a feature of the social, economic and political systems in which we all exist.

This is a hotly-debated topic (along with the corresponding idea of white privilege), and I don’t really intend to get into it in this post, but based on my reading and listening to the perspectives of black friends and acquaintances, it seems clear to me that this sort of racism exists in this country. We could debate how and where we see it and how intentional it is in its various manifestations, but it exists.

If that statement upsets you or makes you defensive, but you are open to having your perspective changed, I would recommend Michelle Alexander’s, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of ColorblindnessI read this book last year, and it was one of my top books of 2019, but let’s be clear: I did not enjoy reading it at all. It was a punch in the gut. But it was meticulously researched and footnoted, and it clearly established (to my mind, at least) one aspect of systemic racism.

I also recommend David French’s wonderful article that I referenced above: “American Racism: We’ve Got So Very Far To Go”. French is a thoughtful, conservative commentator, and shares his own journey in coming to terms with the immensity of the racial problem in the US. This is a calm, even-handed, and reflective piece, and I like the simple way he handles systemic racism as a logical progression (emphasis added by me):

  1. Slavery was legal and defended morally and (ultimately) militarily from 1619 to 1865.

  2. After slavery, racial discrimination was lawful and defended morally (and often violently) from 1865 to 1964.
  3. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not end illegal discrimination or racism, it mainly gave black Americans the legal tools to fight back against legal injustices.
  4. It is unreasonable to believe that social structures and cultural attitudes that were constructed over a period of 345 years will disappear in 56.
  5. Moreover, the consequences of 345 years of legal and cultural discrimination, are going to be dire, deep-seated, complex, and extraordinarily difficult to comprehensively ameliorate.

Black Lives Matter

There are specific groups that use the “Black Lives Matter” slogan that have detailed ideologies, portions of which I disagree with (I am decidedly not a Marxist, for example). But “Black Lives Matter” as a slogan is completely true and I have no issues with it. Frankly, I have a hard time understanding those who do. From the beginning, to anyone who is listening, it is clear that the slogan means “Black Lives Matter too” rather than “only Black Lives Matter.”

“Black Lives Matter” is a true statement. It doesn’t need qualification (Here is a thoughtful article, written from a Christian perspective,  on that very idea.)

Colorblind

I was raised at a time when I think it was a popular idea to promote “colorblindness” as the solution to racism, and you hear these notions a lot today: “I don’t see people in color! We are all the same! There’s only one race; the human race.”

I think these statements generally come from very well-meaning people who truly wish that racism wasn’t a problem, but I think they are problematic. From a theological perspective, God clearly appreciates diversity, because it is what He created! The story of the Old Testament is the promise of God to save all peoples of the earth through Abraham and his descendants, and in the New Testament, we see this become a reality as people from all points of the globe become part of God’s multi-ethnic family. So much of the New Testament writings reflect the tension between Jews and Gentiles, and the answer isn’t a colorblind approach that pretends no differences exists or that forces one group to become just like the other, but for different parts of the body to learn to live in unity with one another! This same idea is what is portrayed in beautiful and vivid language in the Book of Revelation:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

(Revelation 7.9-10)

Furthermore, I think “colorblind” perspectives are also problematic because they fall short of loving our neighbors. Part of loving our neighbors is trying to understand them and what it is like to walk in their shoes. It is to sympathize with their struggles and support them in those struggles. I don’t see how we can do that while doggedly insisting that we don’t see color and failing to appreciate the way in which color shapes who we are and what we experience.

On this topic, I found a comment from another friend to be particularly helpful:

As a Native American man, I get nervous when I hear people say they don’t see color. In essence you are saying you don’t see the beauty and diversity of God’s creation. The Psalmist says that “we are fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139.14). The problem is not that we see differences—for God made us all intentionally and unique from one another. The problem arises when we conclude others are lesser because of those differences.

Notice different skin colors.

Observe the beauty of other cultures.

Admire different languages.

Then praise God for His creativity and love.

“…Brown and yellow, black and white – they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

Calls For Patience

Sometimes, well-meaning but truly oblivious people wonder why there is such an urgency to deal with this now. Why all the protests? Why the frustration? Why the violence? Instead, the suggestion is made, wouldn’t it be preferable to be patient and work for the change that you want to see?

Well, I certainly don’t approve of violence, but I wonder, just how patient can you expect people to be?

At times, it seems to me that we (as a society) ask African Americans to have superhuman amounts of forgiveness and patience: forgiveness for the inhumane ways they have been treated in the past (and continue to be treated), and patience as they wait for things to get better. Not only is this unfair, it is also highly ironic, considering the fact that, historically in the US, African Americans have been treated as subhuman. This is an undeniable fact, from the practice of slavery, to the 3/5 Compromise, to the practice of segregation, and more.

The following words from Langston Hughes touch on this, and are both prophetic and haunting:

Negroes
Sweet and docile,
Meek, humble, and kind:
Beware the day
They change their minds!

Wind
In the cotton fields,
Gentle breeze:
Beware the hour
It uproots trees!

The reality is that it has been far too long, and we are reaping the consequences of that reality.

The Solution to the Problem

I don’t actually think that the problem of racism will be solved until Jesus returns, because ultimately, it is one of the many consequences of sin that plagues the broken world in which we live. That does not mean that I think we should do nothing about it and just wait until Jesus returns to sort it all out. On the contrary, I think the sin in my own life will continue to be a problem until I die or until Jesus returns, but identifying that sin and repenting of it is a major concern of mine!

So, to be clear, I am in favor of efforts to root out racism and bring about reconciliation and equality in our society. It is my hope that recents events will lead to change in that direction.

Having said that, as a Christian,  I don’t believe that the primary way in which I am called to change the world is through the political process. Rather, it is being salt and light, living as a citizen of God’s kingdom, and being an agent of new creation in an old and dying world. This may sound naive (“Christians have excused and supported racism in all sorts of ways over the years!”), but I don’t think this is naive at all: if each and every person in the world who names Jesus as Lord actually lived according to the kingdom principles Jesus established, then the world would be radically different.

Ultimately, this will be the solution to racism. When Jesus returns, and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, then racism and every other form of sin will be a thing of the past. In the meantime, the best thing I can do is to allow God’s Spirit to transform my life and bring it in line with the character of Christ.

If all Christians, by God’s grace, were to do that, imagine the leavening influence that could have in our families…and our churches…and our communities…and our world.

Lord, have mercy. And come quickly.


Additional Resources to Consider:

“Racial Turmoil in America: A Biblical Response”

“A Christian Response to George Floyd’s Death in Minnesota”

7 Comments

  1. Robert

    Hello Luke.
    You made the following comment:
    “The very poor handling of the entire situation by President Trump whose rhetoric only escalates the tensions.” Would you please provide any quote from President Trump that backs up your statement? I did see where he warned mayors and governors that if they did not stop the looting and burning of innocent people businesses, homes and government property he would do it. I don’t see this as “poor handling” but responsible handling, which actually got results. Maybe I missed something for which you can enlighten me.

    • Luke

      Robert,

      Thanks for reading, and the comment.

      So, the second part of the statement is objectively true: President Trump’s rhetoric escalated tensions. Eventually, things have calmed down, but there is no reason to argue that it was President Trump’s words that caused this; he threatened early on and things continued to unravel.

      The first part of the statement (“very poor”) is more subjective, but is based on the second. In a time of national unrest, fanning the flames and making them worse is very poor leadership in my opinion. It’s not how President Obama would have responded; it’s not how President Bush would have responded. Sadly, it is to be expected from President Trump, who is rarely careful about what he says.

      Honestly, I don’t see how this is a controversial statement. Reserved, respected figures such as Condoleezza Rice and Jim Mattis have criticized President Trump for his rhetoric. Even Pat Robertson did.

      The President basically declared war against the citizens of his own nation on his Twitter feed. Video evidence (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxYmILDya0A) shows a largely peaceful group of protestors being violently suppressed in order to clear a space for a near-idolatrous display of a Bible in front of a church. When a 75 year-old man was peacefully protesting and violently knocked down by a law enforcement officer (resulting in hospitalization and brain damage), Trump suggested that he was a member of ANTIFA (for which there is no evidence).

      The list goes on and on: I stand by the statement. If you want quotations of tension-escalating rhetoric, you are welcome to read the President’s Twitter feed: you will find years of such quotations there.

      • robert waters

        No sir, it was not Trump’s comments that escalated tensions. It was the liberal (Democrat) owned and controlled media that did that. This was all by design. It was the next plan in the Democrat playbook in their effort to defeat Trump. It is sad that a gospel preacher would make such a disrespectful comment as you did. It ruined your article. I don’t understand why you seemed to think you need to take a shot at Trump. How that that in any way help the situation. Do want him to lose the next election? Do you not realize that he is pro everything that Christians and patriots are for and that his opponent is virtually the opposite? Do you not realize that a very high percentage of professed Christians, especially among conservative ones, are strongly for Donald Trump? And for good reason. And get this, the patriots and Christians who elected him (against all odds) did so after much prayer and they chose him not to be the spiritual leader but to drain the swamp, protect the constitution, the borders and bring law an order back. He is doing all these things regardless of the Democrat’s constant effort to stop him. If you watch different TV channel than what you have been watching, maybe Fox, you will see things develop in the near future regarding the latter — indictments of Democrats are coming and they have rock solid evidence against them. Democrat’s evidence against Trump was trumped up. No pun intended. You would do yourself and your readers a favor by staying out of politics, at least until you know something about it rather than to spew the hate that you have allowed the Democrat party to impart in your heart.

        • robert waters

          Oh, I meant to include the link to Trump’s great speech, which liberal owned media has stifled. Here it is:
          https://www.facebook.com/Rightthinkings/videos/647570796101968/?t=0

        • Luke

          Robert,

          I am not sure how to respond to this. It is clear to me that we come from very different perspectives.

          From your comments, it seems clear to me that you are a devoted Republican, are convinced that Democrats are the enemy, and that Donald Trump is not only a great president, but also the best way forward for Christians in the US.

          On the other hand, I am a largely apolitical (or at least, nonpartisan) person who is convinced that my enemy is not flesh and blood (Ephesians 6), that the support of Donald Trump has done a lot to damage to Christian witness, and that the best way forward for Christians in the US is for us to focus on our allegiance to King Jesus rather than partisan politics.

          Rest assured, I am not a Democrat; I am deeply concerned by many planks of the Democratic platform (abortion chief among them). But it was not Democratic partisan politics that motivated my comment about President Trump in the initial post. It was an observation about his behavior that is shared by many, and in my response to you, I mentioned three specifically, who are not leftist Democrats.

          We do not know each other, and it seems clear that my comment has greatly offended you. That was not my intention. Because of that, and the difference in the way that we view the world, it seems unlikely to me that you and I will come to an accord via an online discussion.

          You said that it was sad for a gospel preacher to make the comment I did, and also that I should stay out of politics. Let me just close by saying this, and humbly, sincerely, encouraging you to do some self-reflection. In a 2,300 word article about the very real problem of racism in our country, I wrote 17 words in passing about President Trump. The rest of the article was about race relations, and was built upon the foundations of biblical teaching—the recognition of the Image of God in all people and the importance of loving our neighbors as ourselves.

          Unfortunately, you didn’t want to address any of that, but instead focused on the 17 words about President Trump, and your responses were all about partisan politics (I think you mentioned Democrats six times?!) and not about the gospel at all. Here is the plea for self-reflection: I do not believe it is me who is too focused on politics and not focused enough on the gospel.

          Blessings to you, Robert. I am praying for our country, and for our President. I am also praying for you, and me, that God will help us to grow as disciples of Jesus who love our neighbors, and will convict us of whatever repentance needs to take place in our lives.

  2. Leta Caplinger

    Luke this is an excellant and well thought out article. I have one disagreement which actually ties in to the forgiveness issue. Racism was not ” legal” until the Jim Crow laws came into effect. It was practiced vigorously in an effort to keep African Americans from practicing their new freedoms. What makes this wicked in my opinion, was choices were made then to create and maintain racism as a societal goal and even ” good” for many people. Then the United States Supreme Court made a horrendous decision that actually followed the letter of the law that all Americans are equal and ruined the spirit of the law by creating the farce of “seperate but equal”. This gave white Americans the ability then to assume that everything was fine and to deny the humanity and citizenship of their fellow black Americans.

    • Luke

      Leta,

      Thanks for your reading and for your comment!

      I am not sure what part of the article you are responding to, so I am not sure if we are disagreeing or not. I would certainly affirm the wickedness of government-sanctioned racism through the practice of segregation and other related issues.

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