Championing God’s transforming truths in a divided world
Race Issues | Christians are called to counter the toxic ideologies found within American culture
by Scott Allen
Posted 8/19/17, 02:03 pm
One week ago, a death in Charlottesville, Va., showed us the danger embedded in our current national divisiveness. We have great need for the transforming truth that the Bible brings to bear not just on personal questions but on how to live together in a providentially pluralistic country.
Scott Allen, president of the Disciple Nations Alliance, has seen societies abroad wrecked when one group of humans considers itself superior, or more highly evolved, than another.
Allen served with Food for the Hungry for 19 years and now lives in Phoenix with his wife Kim and their five children. He is the author or co-author of several books, including Beyond the Sacred-Secular Divide and As the Family Goes, So Goes the Nation. —Marvin Olasky
There is a reason for the increasing division, hostility, and violence we are seeing in America. As a nation, we are abandoning Biblical truth in favor of toxic ideologies that, if left unchecked, will destroy us from the inside.
Now, more than ever, the church must embody and champion those profound, transforming truths that have shaped our common life in America from our earliest days, enabling an amazingly diverse and pluralistic society to coexist in relative peace and unity. These truths are all under sustained attack today. A movement is afoot to discredit and replace them with dark and dangerous doctrines. If the church merely stands by quietly while these truths are uprooted from our cultural soil, this nation will inevitably fragment into warring factions marked by bitterness, distrust, hatred, self-righteousness, and vengefulness.
As the church, we are here to be salt and light. We do that by living out and creatively championing powerful truths of God’s Kingdom that confront the lies shaping our culture today—truths that lead to human flourishing and social peace. If we fail to do this, we lose our saltiness, the light diminishes, and we are no longer true to our calling to love our neighbors.
There are three transforming truths that desperately need champions right now.
Transforming truth No. 1: All lives matter
The Bible places far more emphasis on what unites us as human beings than what divides us. It focuses on what all people have in common, regardless of their race, sex, skin-color, stage of development, or relative wealth or poverty. Consider:
- God creates all people in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:27-28). Therefore, all people have inalienable dignity and incalculable worth. Everyone has God-given rights to life and liberty.
- All people have unique personalities, gifts, talents, and skills given by God to enable them to fulfill their God-given purpose of stewarding creation, causing it to flourish (Genesis 2:15).
- All people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), yet God desires all people to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).
- Jesus shed His precious blood for the redemption of all people. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).
- As followers of Jesus Christ, the dividing wall of hostility is torn down (Ephesians 2:14). There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
- As followers of Jesus Christ, our commission is to make disciples of all peoples, all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).
- In the new heavens and new earth, people from every nation, tribe, and language will gather in jubilant adoration before the throne of Jesus (Revelation 7:9).
Yes, we have differences. Race, gender, age, and physical attributes are important parts of our human identity. God delights in diversity. He didn’t just create one kind of flower, or tree, or dog. He didn’t merely create male—but male and female. He rejoices in the vast diversity of His creation, including human diversity. So should we. We should celebrate it, but we should always, always, remember first what we have in common—what unifies us. All of us are of God’s workmanship and bearers of His image. All of us are precious in God’s sight. He gave His one and only Son so that whosoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). This knowledge must shape our attitude toward every single person. It is powerful, beautiful, and life-affirming. It fosters peace, harmony, and social flourishing.
Here’s the powerful thing: The Biblical worldview affirms both unity and diversity. Today, our postmodern culture values diversity, but not unity. An idolatrous form of racialism or tribalism is on the rise. Human identity is increasingly viewed through the lens of what are now called “identity groups” of race, gender, or sexual orientation. It is increasingly common for people to preface comments by saying, “As a white, cisgender male,” or, “As a black lesbian female,” as if that somehow defines them. “Diversity” has taken on an almost totemic significance, yet we are rapidly losing the ability to affirm what unites us. That is what we desperately need today—a passionate assertion of what unites us as human beings.
Only the Biblical worldview allows for this. God created us all, and, therefore, all lives matter. Don’t let yourself be shamed into thinking that asserting this is somehow insensitive or racist. It is not. It is a truthful, beautiful thing to say, and we need to keep saying it, and demonstrating it, boldly, creatively, and courageously each day, now more than ever.
Transforming truth No. 2: God cares for us (and judges us) as individuals
God created us as unique individuals, and He cares about each person individually. He counts our tears and numbers our hairs. He also holds us accountable as individuals for the decisions we make and the actions we take. When we face the final judgment, the book opened will be the book of our lives. There will be no excusing our sinful behavior because we were a part of an oppressed group, nor will we be judged for the sins of our fathers or grandfathers. No, we will stand alone before that judgment throne, and all that will matter is what we did, or didn’t do.
Here’s the bad news: God will declare each one of us guilty. Our own words and actions will be revealed and show us to be unrighteous sinners before the glorious brilliance of an altogether holy, just, and righteous God. We cannot stand in His presence unless our sins are wiped away, and that would require someone to take the punishment we deserve. Someone would have to pay our debt, exchanging his righteousness for our unrighteousness. Only God could do such a thing, and staggeringly that is exactly what He has done in Jesus Christ. All that remains for us is to open our hearts and our hands and humbly accept this priceless gift, but we must do this individually. Nobody can do it on our behalf.
Yes, our families, churches, and ethnic groups are important. They are God-given and valuable. These communities shape us in profound ways. But here’s the powerful thing: Just as the Bible affirms unity and diversity, it also affirms individuality and community.
Today, the emphasis in the culture is on community, but in the form of tribes or identity groups. Our culture increasingly defines us by skin color or gender—not only that, it draws the line between good and evil among identity groups, rather than through every human heart (as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously put it). Increasingly, sinfulness and righteousness are functions of group identity, not personal behavior. For example, it is increasingly common to hear the assertion that only white people can be racists (that is to say, evil). Therefore, if you are not white, you are good, or at least not evil. This is a false and dangerous belief. All of us are more than capable of evil thoughts and evil actions, regardless of our skin color, or our relative power in society. Evil, including racism, isn’t merely a white problem, it is a human problem.
We must reject this tribal idolatry. We must not treat people merely as members of a group, but as unique individuals. We must never judge others by their skin color or gender, but instead by the totality of their character and behavior. True justice must always be colorblind. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a world where his children would be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin is a profoundly Biblical dream—and a profoundly American dream as well. After all, our founding creed declares that all men—black, brown, red, yellow, and white—are all created equal, and are all “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” That is why we fought a civil war. That is what the civil rights movement was ultimately about: being true to our Declaration of Independence. Tragically, King’s dream is waning and we are casting aside our founding creed. If we continue down this road, we will end up in a very dark place indeed.
Transforming truth No. 3: Gratitude, not resentfulness, leads to life and flourishing
Gratitude—thankfulness—is a bedrock virtue for a good reason. It reminds us that we are contingent, dependent creatures. It diminishes pride, the most deadly of sins. We are all dependent on God for our very lives, for every breath we take. We are dependent on one another—on our families, nations, and forebears. We rightly acknowledge this dependence and express gratitude for all we’ve been given.
Today, there is a great deal of effort, money, and organization going into activities aimed at stirring up resentment, bitterness, and a sense of victimization among different groups. Sensitivity to even small slights or “microaggressions” is not only accepted but also encouraged.
The focus here is never internal—on my own vices and shortcomings, on getting the log out of my own eye. Rather, the focus is entirely external—on the thoughts, beliefs, and actions of others. We are increasingly quick to disparage people based on their group identity. We cast derisive labels their way: bigot, hater, racist, sexist. Evil is always over there, not in here. I’m the victim. I’m offended. My feelings are hurt. I’m mistreated. It’s all about me.
In a fallen world, there is no shortage of injustice and oppression. It is real, and it must be carefully identified and fought against. However, to focus only on the bad things, real or perceived, that others do to us—to elevate our sense of victimhood into a kind of perverse virtue—is a move in a very dangerous direction, one that will tear our country apart.
How ironic that the Ku Klux Klan and Black Lives Matter have many of these things in common. They both traffic in a racialized ideology. They both fixate on their status as victims, convinced they are being “targeted for genocide.” They both foster resentment, bitterness, and hatred toward the other. They both tacitly endorse violence. They both see themselves as a vanguard and invite us to follow their lead, but where will they take us? To a very, very dark place. Consider South Sudan, the Rwandan genocide, or the Balkans. That is where this road of bitterness, resentfulness, victimization, and scapegoating leads. It is a mindset straight from the pit, and those who foster it, intentionally or otherwise, are enemies of all that is good, true, and beautiful.
No, we must never succumb to such thinking. We must choose the more excellent way by nurturing hearts of gratitude rooted in humility and awareness of our own sinfulness and dependence on others. We must first get the log out of our own eye before we attempt to help others deal with their shortcomings.
These are all transforming truths of the Biblical worldview. When applied in families, churches, communities, and nations, they lead to joy, freedom, and flourishing. When we move away from them in any direction, as we are today, we choose division, hatred, and violence.
We, as followers of Jesus Christ, are ambassadors of His Kingdom. We are to be salt and light. We must have the courage to champion these truths now more than ever. It won’t be easy. These are increasingly unpopular ideas. We must be prepared to be misunderstood, mischaracterized, or worse.
Some will be tempted to filter Scripture, whether knowingly or not, to conform to the toxic, non-Biblical ideologies that are growing stronger in our culture each day. Perhaps motivated by a desire for cultural relevance, or a need for acceptance by the right people, they fall into the trap of accommodating Christianity to popular cultural trends. We must never allow the culture to determine what Scripture says, but rather we must allow Scripture to prophetically critique the culture.
Some will be tempted to keep their heads down, lie low, ignore the problem, or even retreat, but if we want to be obedient to our mandate to love our neighbor and work for the common good, apathy, silence, and retreat aren’t options.
We are stewards of God’s powerful transforming truths. God has entrusted us with these truths not for our own benefit, but for the good of our communities and our nation. If we fail to cherish, embody, and champion these truths, who else will? This is our time. Let us not shrink from it.