I fear that many white Christians are hiding behind “the gospel” instead of figuring out how it actually applies to the racial conflicts all around us. Over and over I have heard or read that the racial tensions are a “gospel issue” or a “sin issue.” And that is true because, at one level, all sin and problems and pain are gospel issues because they all stem from the fall and it’s permeating, devastating effects on our world and our hearts. Thusly, all these issues need to be replaced, repaired, redeemed, or renewed by Jesus. And the gospel is the message of Jesus doing just that.
So yes, the gospel does solve the problems of racial conflict in America. But not like most of us want to think. It is not a sermonic salve. It is not a matter of “sharing the gospel” with those one both sides. (Neither is it less than that.) To talk about how “the gospel” is the solution to these issues is a nearly useless statement when left by itself.
The gospel is only a solution when it drives us to do, only when what we believe about the free grace of God in Jesus makes us move. Only when we can make the connection between the gospel and the centuries of racial inequality in the United States, the lasting impact on our government and social structures, and the insidious and subtle effects on our own minds and hearts is it a solution. (If you do not acknowledge racial inequality historically, societally, and governmentally please keep reading. The gospel applies to my view and yours; we both need it.)
I fear, though, that instead of the gospel, with all its deep grace for all mankind, being the spur in our mulish hearts it — that is the word “gospel” itself — is a veil we throw over the ugliness of racial conflicts and call it a solution. Or maybe it is a curtain we draw tight to cozy-up our prayer closets and insulate us from the roiling, swirling hurt of 44 million black images of God in the U.S. Either way we hide behind it. When we do, our own private prejudices go unconfronted and our fear and ignorance live on in comfortable ease.
Enough of that. If we believe the gospel, really believe it, we will be moved by it. We will be moved in all the ways the bible says we ought – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the fruit that the Holy Spirit brings about in the lives of those who believe, really believe, the gospel. And where are those in our cross-racial and cross-cultural interactions?
If we will call racial conflicts a “gospel issue” then truly let that gospel bear fruit, for “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it his not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” What is more, “perfect love casts out fear.”
Any gospel that we apply to the painful conflicts in our nation that does not drive us this way is not actually the gospel. It is merely a theological paper bag conveniently placed over our heads to block out what we choose not to see. It is a lie that co-opts the name “good news” and morphs into bad.
Can we rightly say we are patient and kind? Can we examine our lives and see where we have insisted on our own way or passively allowed the insistence of our ancestors to continue wreaking racial havoc? Can we recognize and loathe the wrongdoing in our own lives and in our collective response (or lack thereof) to the tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner as much as we point it out in the riots of Ferguson or the shoplifting of Brown? Can we search for truth to rejoice in with our black neighbors instead of facts we claim as truth to hold over their heads and win arguments? Are we bearing with our hurting brothers and sisters? To bear you must acknowledge that a burden exists to be borne. Will we hope and endure with them by sticking it out, to not letting this go, refusing to be swept away by the next phenomenon in our 24-hour news cycle?
What we cannot do is use the gospel as an excuse to be distant, a reason to dismiss minorities, a conceptual think piece to be discussed and pontificated upon, or a high-level idea that is so big as to be inapplicable. Rather we must break it down to its components, its implications, and its applications and begin taking steps. Begin doing. Like all our efforts to reflect Jesus and follow Jesus it will be slow going and here will be missteps. But godly progress with missteps is infinitely better than sitting tight and hiding behind “the gospel.”