As you take in the scenes from our cities—the violence and the chaos and the anger and the destruction—you will certainly have opinions. The images, videos, articles, and social media posts will undoubtedly stir something up inside of you.
The most common reaction is anger. Some will focus on the videos and images of police brutality. You will see the horrific image of a handcuffed and helpless George Floyd crying out for his mother as an indifferent white police officer slowly and needlessly chokes his life out with his knee on Floyd’s neck while three other officers stand by and watch. You will be justly angry.
Others will focus on the videos and images of rioting and looting and violence. You will see the eerie images of giddy looters, both white and black, rushing out of Target with flat-screen TVs. You will wake up and read reports of innocent police officers—men and women with families—being fired upon and vilified by angry mobs of people. Such images will rightly stir up anger.
Everyone can find a reason to be angry, and the side you choose will have very little to do with logic and data-based research. That’s just not how these things work.
We are tribal people. We’ve likely already chosen which side we’re on before the video hits the platforms and the protests start. Most people respond in a way that justifies the beliefs and actions of their tribal affiliations. I can usually guess how many of my social media contacts are going to respond before they even start posting. It’s the most predictable game around.
Jonathan Haidt, in his book The Righteous Mind, argues that moral reasoning is rarely a tool we use to figure out the truth. Instead, it is a skill we develop in order to justify our own actions and defend the teams we belong to. In other words, most of our moral reasoning comes on the back end of the decision, after we’ve already chosen a side.
This phenomenon explains why you rarely see someone change his or her mind after an online argument. Don’t picture such exchanges as two friends dialoguing in an honest effort to arrive at the truth. It’s more akin to combatants trying to win a decisive battle in the war for their side. The arguments function as weaponized truth grenades of vindication. The tone rarely stays civil and often even devolves into personal slander.
One of the main tactics in such warfare is to caricature the other side by focusing on the most extreme representatives. In the minds of many, every police officer is now represented by Derek Chauvin, the officer being charged with the murder of George Floyd. For many others, every protestor is now a rioter and a looter. The battle lines have been drawn, and according to many, there are only two sides.
In such confusing times, I find it helpful to make a list of things I know to be true. It does my soul good to silence all the other voices for a time in order to pay attention to the one voice that matters most. When the battle lines are drawn and you begin the process of choosing a side, will you consider the side of Jesus? Here’s what I know to be true.
1. No amount of chaos and injustice can make the gospel untrue. The grave is still empty.
Here’s where I have to start. It’s tempting to despair. It’s tempting to grow pessimistic and to give up. There’s one reason why you can’t do that: Jesus is alive and reigning. He will consummate his kingdom and sin, injustice, death, and destruction will be defeated. The truth of the resurrection births hope even in the direst of circumstances. On history’s most tragic day—the day when the only sinless man was brutally murdered in cold blood for all to see—death was defeated. When it seemed humanity’s only hope was lost, God raised him from the dead. We must not lose that hope now.
2. The priorities of Christ must be the priorities of Christ’s people. That includes racial justice.
Jesus died to crush sin and death in all of its manifestations. Jesus calls his people to stand for truth, goodness, and beauty as well as to oppose falsehood, injustice, and violence. We preach the gospel because we want the world to find the freedom, forgiveness, and reconciliation that only Christ can give through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. But we also stand indiscriminately against injustice and on behalf of the oppressed.
Too many Christians have allowed tribal commitments outside of the church to draw their battle lines. If the perceived injustice matches the policy agenda of their political tribe, they lend their hearty support. But what do we do when the other side has prioritized a policy that happens to agree with Jesus and our side ignores it or even furthers the injustice? Unfortunately, we’ve seen what often happens. Jesus gets redefined and the tribe of our choosing replaces him as king and lord.
That the gospel opposes racism is simply not up for debate. That racism persists in our country is also not up for debate. Call me a liberal or a social justice warrior or a Marxist all you want, but a 400-year legacy of chattel slavery, Jim Crow lynching, segregation, and discrimination doesn’t just vanish overnight.
I’ve heard the racial slurs all of my life. I’ve seen a whole race of people discounted simply on the basis of the color of their skin. I’ve seen disgruntled white church members complain to the pastor because two black men—both new Christians that I witnessed to and invited to church—joined the choir. That happened in a Southern Baptist church in 2002. I’ve witnessed my two black children treated in ways that my three white children haven’t had to face. Many of our white ancestors made the wealth that’s been handed down through generations off the backs of black human beings that they owned as property.
As we celebrate the undeniable progress that we’ve made as a nation, let’s follow the compassion of our Lord toward loving our oppressed neighbors. As Americans, we all have a right to peaceful protest. We should not only fight for them to have that right, we should also join them. In the name of Jesus, we deplore the response of violence, rioting, and looting, but we must work hard in formulating a valid Christlike response that will lead to real and lasting change.
3. The gospel leads us to seek the welfare of our ideological enemies, not their destruction.
Sometimes I wonder who’s calling the shots in our public discourse. The tone of so many professing Christians seems to be one of shouting and inflammatory outbursts. Do we get our cues on how to respond to those with whom we disagree from President Trump’s Twitter account or the Sermon on the Mount? It has to be one or the other because it can’t be both.
There’s a time for direct and confrontational speech. Jesus modeled that when he stood up for the oppressed against the religious hypocrites of his day. But he also taught us something so countercultural that most of us conveniently forget it’s in the Bible: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:43-45).
In such contentious times, we are going to be tempted to draw quick conclusions and shout in defense of our side. We are going to want to hit send on that inflammatory Facebook post to stick it to all the ones who need to hear it. May I suggest a better way?
“Know this, my beloved brothers: 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. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:19).
It’s good to remember that the gospel has a tone that clearly communicates a desire to see our enemies flourish in Christ. Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow may shout angrily in their made-for-TV diatribes. We do not follow Hannity or Maddow. We follow a gentle Savior who gave himself in order to make his enemies his friends. May we do likewise.