Naming the Source of our Racism and Finding the Freedom to Overcome It
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 the tragic death of George Floyd and a host of related events that have re-exposed the evil of the racism in our country. Our national conscience finally seems to be recognizing the depth and veracity of the problem, which makes backing away from pursuing a solution both disgraceful and intolerable.
But what solution? I wrote a very similar blog because of racial tension in our country almost exactly one year ago today, and here we are again. Why can’t we overcome this cancer in our culture? Why can’t we unite around a cure for this sickness? Why can’t we heal and move ahead as one people?
Here’s one answer: we don’t heal because we continually misdiagnose the source of the problem. If we get the source wrong, every prescribed remedy will fail us, and has. Racism is, in the first instance, a spiritual problem that requires a Holy Spirit-inspired solution. All non-spiritual solutions are destined to disappoint as they have throughout our nation’s history. That’s why we’re still here.
At the core of the spiritual problem of racism is our misplaced identity and our desire to be the lord of our Self. Here’s what I mean.
As most of you know, 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.
As followers of Jesus, our 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, selfless service to the loving God whose image we bear, and to our neighbor.
This identity is a gift from God, and we are called to steward it, care for it and rely on the Holy Spirit to help us keep it focused on Christ. 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 control as an owner, my identity can only be seen over and against yours.
- In my pride, I consider my race, my ethnicity and 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. 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’s ripping our country apart.
On the other hand, 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. That place of victory is unattainable through secular, non-spiritual solutions. No amount of social programming will bring about a transformed spirit and throwing money and bureaucracy at the problem will not result in the defeat of sin within us or the restoration of relationships around us.
So, what is the way out?
As God’s people, we are called to be the salt and light in this dark age. This means we 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? Let me suggest 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 results 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 other 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 and her. 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?
I pray you will be challenged and encouraged 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.