There's hope for Freddie Gray's family and Baltimore

Race Issues
by Jarvis J. Williams

Posted on Tuesday, April 28, 2015, at 1:54 pm

The death of Freddie Gray, a black man, at the hands of Baltimore policemen is America’s latest episode in the narrative of white cops versus black men. We still don’t know all the details of the case, but we do know that six Baltimore cops arrested Gray on April 12 after he made eye contact with one of them and ran away. And we know that Gray suffered numerous injuries while in police custody, including a nearly severed spine, from which he later died.

Protesters have been marching for several days in downtown Baltimore, demanding justice for Gray, his family, and other black men, who—in their view—have fallen to police brutality. They protest with the hope that criminal charges will be filed against the officers involved and that those charges will result in convictions. As protests have turned violent, criminal activity has accompanied the demands for justice. Yet, the violent protestors seem to misunderstand an important obstacle to their demands of justice: the universal power of sin on all of creation (Genesis 3-4; Romans 5:12, 6:1-23).

Laws are necessary to curb evil, promote justice, and foster an orderly society. And peaceful protests can help promote justice by reminding lawmakers of their responsibility to enforce just laws upon all citizens. Nevertheless, laws and protests cannot change the hearts of humans. But violent protests by lawless African-Americans can create an atmosphere for more injustice against African-Americans.

Even when citizens obey necessary laws and protest peacefully, these things cannot liberate them from slavery to the power of sin. The New Testament says the gospel of Jesus Christ, when preached, believed, and obeyed, overcomes sin’s power. It also brings real hope (Romans 5:1-8:39) and genuine reconciliation to the division that exists among the powerful, the marginalized, and Baltimore’s violent protestors (John 4:1-45; Acts 2:1-47). The violence in Baltimore demonstrates that, because of the universal power of sin, just laws, as important as they are, and protests are not strong enough to transform the hearts of a city’s citizens from alienation to reconciliation and from violence to peace.

Ephesians 2:1-10 suggests that the people of Ephesus were spiritually dead in their transgressions and sin before their faith in Jesus. Their hearts were inclined to evil, and they had neither the desire nor the ability to pursue spiritual life in Christ without God’s help. As a result, Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles, two different groups of people formerly alienated from one another because of sin and the law of Moses (Ephesians 2:1-12) were now reconciled to each other in Christ through the gospel by faith (Ephesians 1:13, 2:11-3:8). In Christ, Jews and Gentiles become a new and reconciled race (1 Peter 2:9).

Laws and peaceful protests neither change human hearts nor are they capable of creating Spirit-empowered love for one another in society (Galatians 5:16-26; 6:2). And protests—neither peaceful nor violent—will ever lead to peace in a society affected by the universal power of Adam’s transgression. For Freddie Gray’s family and the citizens of Baltimore to experience eternal peace and divine reconciliation with the police, the gospel of Jesus Christ must reign supremely over them and all things today and forever. Lord Jesus, may it be so!

Jarvis J. Williams

Jarvis is associate professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and a former WORLD contributor.

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