My father is black and my mother is white. I feel the tensions. I always have, and probably always will. Belonging to both communities gives you a complex set of feelings, especially when there are problems. It is like seeing your mom and dad having difficulty loving each other. You belong to both, so it seems they should belong to each other. But when they fail to see it that way, it hurts.
Police brutality perpetrated against African Americans has been the recent point of contention. This whole thing has been mounting, at least getting a lot of airtime, since 2012 with the advent of #BlackLivesMatter. After Trayvon Martin was shot and Michael Brown killed in Ferguson, we have seen a long list of black lives taken unnecessarily.
These losses, understandably, conjure up hundreds of years of trauma and pain. And there is national outrage going up against racially motivated unjust law enforcement. Yet regardless of the white supremacy still active today, there is much more interracial solidarity evidenced by much of the outcry coming from white communities across the nation. However, tensions are at a boiling point. Good people on both sides of the racial divide (and even the same) are at each other’s throats. How are we supposed to handle this?
That’s the question I’ve been grappling with over this last year. And as a Christian, I have found some answers in Paul’s epistle to the Romans. And let me preface my remarks by stating the obvious—racial injustice is evil.
So, what do we do when we’re confronted with evil?
What do we do when it rears its ugly head?
What do you when you see a smirk stretch across a man’s face as he presses his knee to the back of another man’s neck, watching his life slowly ebb away?
What do you do with that?
Well, Romans 12 teaches us to do three things with evil—
HATE IT, RESIST IT, and OVERCOME IT.
Let’s look at them one at a time.
Verse 9 tells us to HATE EVIL.
“Abhor what is evil.”
Is hatred a good thing? Yes, when it is evil that you’re hating. Psalm 97:10 echoes this sentiment, “You who love the Lord, hate evil.” Hating racial injustice is a good and godly response. And this should be our duty as Christians. We should be saddened by racism – angered, disgusted, and horrified. We are all created in God’s image. And when any man or woman is dehumanized, criminal or otherwise, we should be deeply grieved. That’s number one.
Then verse 17 tells us to RESIST EVIL.
“Repay no one evil for evil.”
Payback is not in the play book! Racial injustice is evil. But so is revenge and retaliation. Acting out of anger is not productive. Remember what God asked Cain in Genesis 4? “Why are you angry Cain? Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” There’s nothing more that the forces of evil would love than for you to play by its rules. We can be outraged, and we should be, but that does not give us permission to act out in that rage. Often the evil that evil generates is worse than the first. Look at Napoleon. Look at Hitler. They were angered by evil, and they acted out on that anger, and it opened the floodgates to a darker and more insidious evil. So, yes, hate evil, but don’t play by its rules. Resist it.
And what’s the third thing Romans 12 instructs to do in regard to evil?
Verse 21 tells us to OVERCOME EVIL.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Don’t just hate it. Don’t just resist it. That’s too passive. The church is called to do more than just lie down. As Christians, we are given the job to overcome evil. And how do we do that? We overcome evil with good! Think long and hard about that. GOOD.
What does that look like? Well, that is the optimal question. To repay evil with good is a radically counterintuitive move and requires creativity. The following are some of my humble proposals.
Read Scripture. Getting the mind of Christ often starts from sitting with passages like Romans 12:9-21. Also, Matthew 5 deserves a good hearing.
Pray and Love. I think prayer is obviously a good and first response. Pray for Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and the likes of those who perpetrate (actively or passively) crimes against humanity. Sounds crazy, but this is what we’re asked to do.
I love what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in an article when he was outlining his philosophy for nonviolent direct action more than 60 years ago. He wrote, “Nonviolent resistance does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding.” This, I believe, should provide us pause before taking a stand against social injustice. In our quest to oppose dehumanization, do we dehumanize? I think this is something we inadvertently perpetuate in our unchecked moments of zeal. Dr. King reminds us, “It is evil we are seeking to defeat, not the persons” controlled by it. King asserts “the basic tension is not between the races.” Rather the basic tension is the evil. And that is why he says, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” Therefore, can we love our oppressors? That certainly would be a powerful way (and maybe the only way) to overcome evil.
Show Gratitude. I believe law enforcement deserves our support and appreciation. Don’t allow the poor example of a few to taint your view of the whole. Maybe doing good means writing a letter to your local police department, thanking them for keeping our communities safe. There are many great men and women who nobly serve this call each day.
Education. I think one of the best ways of overcoming evil is overcoming ignorance. There have been a slew of recommended reading lists circulating social media for those who want to increase awareness regarding the historic tension and pain of racial injustice. Currently, I’m reading through The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby. And I have several more books cued up on my list. Also, I would consider reading authors of color, conservative and progressive alike. (Shelby Steele and Ibram X. Kendi are a couple of authors on my list who write on matters of race and represent the spectrum well.)
Listening. Sit down and listen to the minority perspective. It might make you feel uncomfortable. But just listen, allowing Scripture to frame the way you process the feedback you receive. And remember, most people just want to be heard, so save your critique until they know you understand. No matter if you end up agreeing with them or not, you will have gained a valuable perspective and friend.
Create Art. I think a great way of overcoming evil with good is by creating works of art. We must find a way of converting dirty energy into something beautiful. C.S. Lewis wrote a stunning little book called A Grief Observed, and it came out of one of the darkest periods of his life. Art can lead us out of darkness and provide light to the entire world. Diamonds are produced by pressure, gold by fire, and art by pain.
Peaceful Protest. Nonviolent resistance is the practice of achieving goals through symbolic protest, civil disobedience, and political noncooperation, while being nonviolent. Peaceful methods are a legitimate way of saying ‘no.’ And sometimes saying ‘no’ is the most loving thing you can do on behalf of the oppressed and for the oppressor.
If you have other ways of overcoming evil with good, I would love to learn from you.
And some last admonitions, as Christians, I think we should resist being news junkies. Stay informed, but do not be inundated. Jesus is the vine we are the branches. Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Know how to unplug. We are not the Messiah. Salvation is of the Lord. Remember the words of Romans 12:9-21. And let me close with James 1:19-20, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
Faith, Hope, and Love. And the greatest of these is Love.
Demetrius Rogers is Pastor of Generations Church in Gresham
|Paul Martin 09/20/2021 03:49 PM
Thanks much for this historical and thoroughly biblical perspective, which will always be counterintuitive until we trust God enough to put it into practice. I have much to learn, but am thankful that I won't have to wait for every blind spot to be corrected and every prejudice confronted and confessed until the day when our King makes all things new.
|Stephen L. Blikstad 09/20/2021 09:39 PM
Pastor Rogers thanks for thoughtful, thorough and helpful article. I enjoyed it, learned from it and am reminded again to persevere. That passage you reference (Romans 12) has so much application to the good we can do practically to overcome the evil of racial injustice. May God bless us as we truly act on becoming "devoted to one another in love."