The Root of Racism and the Steward’s Journey to Freedom
Three actions we must take
My heart is deeply distressed this morning as I prepare to share my thoughts through this blog post. Our nation is being torn apart by a number of recent events that have exposed the depth and veracity of the racism in our country. As I have considered this moment, prayed over this issue, and considered it through the lens of our steward theology, I have felt led to share these few thoughts with you.
As most of you know, Biblical steward theology challenges us to be stewards and not owners in the four areas of our created reality; our relationship with God, with our self, our neighbor and with creation. When we use the word ‘owner’ we mean that desire to control the things in our life as if they were ours, rather than to surrender our life back to God.
In the second of these four areas, we teach that our primary identity is found in our relationship to God through Jesus Christ. We are first and foremost redeemed children of God. This identity is the source of our self-image and it provides us with the confidence and affirmation we need to live a life of faithful service to the loving God whose image we bear.
This identity is a gift from God. We lost it in our sinfulness and it was redeemed and given back to us through the blood of Christ. Therefore, we can never treat it as though it was ours. We can only steward it according to the wishes of the true owner. When we are stewards of this identity we are set free to see everyone around us as brothers and sisters in Christ. This core identity stands above but does not obliterate all the uniqueness in the way God created each of us. This is the joy and freedom of the steward. When our identity is secure in Christ we can simultaneously walk with our brothers and sisters in unity and celebrate our differences. Let me illustrate.
Last week I had the unique opportunity and privilege to spend time in a small coastal Alaskan village with Yupik Eskimos. Through our fellowship and dialogue we were able to affirm our oneness in Christ while also celebrating the uniqueness of our cultures. We were first and foremost brothers and sisters in Christ. That truth gave us the freedom to enjoy the diversity of our cultures. Our oneness in Christ did not force us to abandon our cultural differences, but quite the opposite. And our cultural differences did not threaten our oneness. I believe this was a little glimpse of the kingdom of God.
Of course, the enemy hates this Christ-focused identity. Being the author of confusion, lies and deception, he will work in us every possible attitude and angle to encourage us to abandon this steward’s role and assume the position of the owner. When we shift from steward to owner of our identity, we lose the perspective of our oneness in Christ and focus instead on all that divides us. Our differences become threats, the uniqueness of our neighbor becomes a source of derision, and our identities shift from being gifts from God to being owned and controlled by us; which means we must protect and defend them.
I believe this ownership mindset is the root of racism. We have bought the lie of the enemy regarding our identity and everything else unravels from there. If I thirst for absolute control as an owner, my identity can only be seen over and against yours. In my pride, I consider my cultural distinctives superior to yours. Taken to its extreme, my identity and those like me hold a privileged position in God’s eyes. When we have taken this step, and view our neighbor through the lens of a superior identity, we will turn a blind eye toward systemic injustice and refuse to acknowledge the effects of racism in our culture. Follow this path far enough and we can so devalue others that our penchant for ownership can justify everything from slavery to sex trafficking to genocide. Such is the danger of the lies of the enemy when they are given a place in our spirit.
When we are stewards of our identity in Christ we are set free to love our neighbor just as God created them. Our differences in race and culture become sources of celebration and praise to the wondrous creativity of our God. When we own our identity, we are put in bondage toward our neighbor. I believe what we are seeing today is the fruit of that bondage, and it is ripping our country apart.
So, what is the way out?
As God’s people, we are called to be the salt and light in this dark age. To me this means we need to start by asking the Holy Spirit to help us examine our attitudes toward our identity. Rooting out racism begins with me, today. It begins with you, today. And I believe it begins with asking God to forgive us of our ownership ways and give us the courage and conviction to be true stewards of our identity in Christ. When God’s people are set free to see everyone around them as brothers and sisters, fellow travelers on the steward’s journey, we can, indeed, be salt and light.
What does salt and light look like? I believe there are three actions we must take that bear witness to the fruit of the life of a faithful steward with regard to our identity; namely, dialogue, repentance, and reconciliation.
When God sets us free to be stewards of our identity in him, it must result in our willingness and initiative to engage our neighbor. If we are all on this journey together, then we should be sharing with each other what God is doing in our hearts on this journey, that we might encourage and pray, challenge and hold each another accountable. How can we, as the body of Christ set free, be proactive in initiating and engaging in this type of redemptive dialogue?
Second, when God sets us free to be stewards of our identity in him, our own sinful, ownership attitudes will be laid bare. The only possible result of this is repentance, which means a desire to turn and go a new direction. We hear this in God’s words spoken to Solomon, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) It is not enough for us to humble ourselves through meaningful dialogue and to pray for racism to be overcome. We must all acknowledge the racism born of ownership in our own spirit, repent of it, seek God’s face and trust Him through the power of the Holy Spirit to help us turn from our wicked ways. This is the fruit of the steward’s heart set free. How can we, as the body of Christ, bear witness to our freedom by engaging in communal repentance and public display of turning from our wicked ways?
Finally, when God sets us free to be stewards of our identity in him, we will be driven to our neighbor’s door in a passionate desire to be set right with him. Through dialogue and repentance our hearts will be prepared for that type of reconciliation that leads to restored relationships. If we truly believe we belong to God, then there is no fear in vulnerability, no need for self-protection, no justification of isolation. How can we, as the body of Christ set free, be agents of such self-less reconciliation?
These are a few thoughts that I pray will challenge and encourage you to live the life of the faithful steward set free, finding your core identity in Christ, and empowered to be salt and light; agents of reconciliation in these troubled times.