Corrupted or Co-opted: 2 Non-Options as Christians Fight Racism
Bowling looks easier than it is. You have a fairly wide path for knocking down the pins. All you have to do is avoid the gutters, and you’ll accomplish something. Yet, even though the gutters are narrow and the lane is wide, somehow my bowling ball typically ends up in one gutter or the other.
The same can go for speaking out as a Christian on the issue of racism. It looks a lot easier than it is. It’s almost as if our voice is metallic and the gutters are magnetized.
One gutter corrupts us. The other gutter co-opts us. Although there is an entire lane of amazing progress that Christians can get accomplished, we tend to glide to the gutters.
First, let’s look at the lane.
The good news is that Jesus has given the church the tools we need for this national moment of grief and anger.
For one thing, Jesus gave us the tool of open, honest conversation with people who are different from us. Jesus models in-depth conversations—first with a Jewish Sanhedrin member, then with a Samaritan outcast. He’s eating at the home of hated tax collectors, and then at the home of professional holy men, the Pharisees.
I don’t have all the answers. I’m always learning. But I do ask you to think about all the tools Jesus has given us for this moment.
- He teaches us how to have compassion for those who are hurting: “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where [the hurt man] was, and when he saw him, he had compassion” (Luke 10:33).
- He teaches us how to lament: “When he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41).
- He teaches us how to repent: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
- He teaches us how to reconcile with people whom we might have hurt: “First be reconciled to your brother” (Matthew 5:24).
- He teaches us to seek justice for the oppressed: “He has sent me. . . to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18).
- He teaches us how to bring people together who would naturally hate each other: for example, Jesus brought into His band of twelve both Simon the Zealot (who hated Roman oppression) and Matthew the tax collector (who benefited from Roman oppression).
- He teaches us how to view each other this side of the cross: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).
The church has been given the tools that are needed for this cultural moment. The church can lead the way in compassionate reconciliation. We can model humble conversation from the posture of a learner. We can intentionally seek to build the kind of church that looks like Revelation 7:9:
“A great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne.”
We have so much to offer a hurting world, yet the lane seems to be greased in favor of the gutters.
The first gutter corrupts me with the wrong kind of comfort.
This is a comfort that says, “Racism can’t still be a problem. After all, we had the Civil Rights Movement. And even if it still is a problem, it can’t be that big of a problem. It’s not affecting me, after all.”
This is the kind of comfort borne out of ignorance or apathy when it comes to the concerns of people different from us. Depending on which category you belong to, it can be easy to put the interests of urban, suburban, or rural people completely out of mind.
Unbothered by the interests of others, we become consumed with the concerns of our own. We fixate on the politicians who make our particular demographic feel more important than others.
The other gutter co-opts me with the wrong kind of conflict.
There are voices and organizations in these racial debates which will try to enlist us in a vicious battle between the oppressors and the oppressed, as if we could cleanly separate humans into one category or the other.
The method is to divide humans into subgroups according to factors like race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, and economic status.
Accordingly, you could be perceived either as an oppressed person whose voice matters or as an oppressive person who should feel perpetually sheepish and stay quiet. (This worldview is sometimes called “intersectional feminism,” often considered an offshoot of Critical Theory.)
If you are someone who truly wants to cultivate racial reconciliation, then you will not want to allow yourself to be enlisted in the battle the way the lines are being drawn.
If, as you commit to fighting oppression for racial minorities, you take your cues from these voices and organizations, you will eventually be shamed, discredited, and canceled until you go all the way.
Here are a few examples of action steps which a well-meaning Christian will be forced to take in the name of fighting oppression:
- If you want to fight oppression, you must see capitalism as inherently racist.
- If you want to fight oppression, you must oppose the gender binary as inherently oppressive.
- If you want to fight oppression, you must denounce America as rampantly white supremacist.
- If you want to fight oppression, you must fully support LGBTQIA ethics as an ally.
- If you want to fight oppression, you must support access to abortion as reproductive justice.
- If you want to fight oppression, you must resist the cultural influence of Christian beliefs.
If you are not careful, your compassion for racial minorities will be co-opted by a worldview that claims to help the oppressed, but which doesn’t acknowledge the God who created all of humanity in His image. This worldview is more about a reversal of power than about reconciling humans with God and with each other. As Christians, we want to pursue reconciliation, not revolution.
As a Christian in volatile times, you will be pressured to be corrupted by comfort. In such times, remember that we will be judged by Jesus as to how well we treated our brothers and sisters who were considered “the least of these” (Matthew 25:31-46).
You will also be pressured to be co-opted by conflict. In such times, remember that the church has been given tools far more transformational than any arsenal a secular culture can offer.
Either gutter tries to gut the gospel of its power.
What if we use the lane, avoid the gutters, and get things accomplished in the name of Jesus?