In the Face of Painful Racial Injustice, How Should You Respond?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Even Jesus’ everyday movements carried a message. 

“Jesus withdrew from that place,” Matthew, one of Jesus’ biographers, tells us. 

Jesus had healed a man’s crippled hand. This deformity had thrust him into financial and relational poverty. He could not work but only beg. And others judged his human worth based on his dysfunctional hand.

“God is displeased with him,” people surely said. “Otherwise he would be whole like us!” 

The religious leaders had asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” To them blind obedience to the Law mattered more than human suffering.

Jesus disagreed! His response was to heal the man on the Sabbath and prove which mattered most to him and to the Father.

Crippled lives matter!

What did Jesus do then in the face of tremendous injustice and pressure? Withdrew and warned others not to tell people about him. 

What?

Today we too face tremendous need and pressure. The trauma and unrest over centuries of systemic and personal racial injustice is lava hot. Justifiably! Black lives matter!

In light of the real need for justice and change in our times, how should you and I respond to today’s painful racial injustice?

Withdraw

Jesus withdrew not to avoid the need and issue but Matthew writes, “This was to fulfill what was spoken [of him] through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. . . . A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.’”

Jesus did not shrink from his calling, even though it would lead to his death. He withdrew from the expectations and demands of both those for and against him. He plugged his ears to the shrieking noise.

In reality if he had not withdrawn, Jesus would have been killed too soon by those who opposed him or recruited by those with other agendas. Instead he remained true to what the Father sent him to complete.

We face this too. The shrieking of those for or against justice for our black sisters and brothers may be impeding our ability to hear what God would have us do. 

By the way, to do nothing is not an option.

Listen to the Spirit

Shortly after George Floyd was killed and protests erupted, my youngest daughter joined the peaceful protests in Denver. I’m proud of her for doing so. I hope her efforts produce justice and reform.

“I was going to invite you to go with me, Dad. But you are high risk for COVID, so I decided not to.”

Would I have gone? I don’t know. I’ve never joined any protest no matter how much I agreed with the cause. But she pricked my conscious. And while I was mowing the lawn, I asked God, “What should I do in response to this injustice so many blacks face?”

I heard in my spirit over the roar of the lawnmower, “Wait. Listen to and respond to my Spirit. Don’t react to the clamor of the news and social media.”

What Role Does God Have for You to Play?

During the rest of my mowing meditation, it occurred to me if I do anything it had to be congruent with who God made me. I needed to figure out whether I am a “small-change artist” or a “large-change artist.” Am I a Mother Teresa caring for and holding the hands of the dying one at a time? Or am I a Martin Luther King spearheading a movement?

I knew the answer. I’m a “small-change artist.” I’m a conversationalist, a shoulder-to-shoulder pastor, a writer—one word at a time. 

Shortly after that, a number of white friends shared with me their stories of sorrow over their sinful and racially tinged hearts. They did not want to virtue signal. They wanted real change. We confessed our sins one to another. 

Maybe one thing I can do is listen to the racially confusing and hurtful stories of my friends, similar to how a priest does?

“Let’s go and sin no more!”

Through withdrawing from the noise, I’ve begun to hear an answer to what I am called to do. 

 I don’t know what God would have you do. You tell me. God will speak if you withdraw and listen to the Spirit of God and not the spirit of the times. 

Repent

The most powerful word God can speak to us if we withdraw and listen is, “Repent.”

As I’ve listened to God, the plight of blacks, and my white friends, I realized I have much to repent of. “The Book of Common Prayer” gives voice to my sorrow for how by my silence and actions I’ve wronged others racially:

[box] “ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.”[/box]  

Isaiah can help here again. He is in the Temple and God confronts him. In that encounter Isaiah recognizes his sinfulness. 

“Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips.” 

God does not respond with, “It’s okay, Isaiah. You did the best you could.” 

Instead God agrees and sends an angel to pluck a burning coal from the altar fire and scorch his lips, purifying him. 

“Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Only after confessing and being cleansed and forgiven can Isaiah cry out, “Here I am. Send me.”

It seems to me that much of what us white folk have done is respond out of guilt and not to our guilt. Responding to guilt calls us to God. “God, forgive me/us. Send me/us.” 

Responding out of guilt drives us to cover our sin with words and actions (even good ones) that God has not ordained. 

If Jesus needed to withdraw and listen to the Father, we more so. That simple action of his had profound, eternal consequences. By God’s grace, you and I can withdraw, listen, repent, and declare, “God, here I am send me!” 

************

As you listen to God, let me know what you are hearing.

   

31 thoughts on “In the Face of Painful Racial Injustice, How Should You Respond?”

  1. Rachel Ohnemus

    Travis and I really have a rough time understanding what is going on in the world. I knew there’s racism but I think it’s more individualized based on the person. I’m not even sure why we are talking about racism. It’s unfortunate that George Floyd died but unless I knew for sure that it was because of his race then I completely understand the conversations, protests. I have friends who husbands are police and there’s a story with each situation that has happened. I also feel like because I’m white i feel racism right now . People are either extremely left or extreme right on this situation. I would rather protest and have conversations about uniting and loving god and loving people instead of race. Is it wrong to not understand why racism has been brought up?

    1. I understand, Rachel. Thanks for being honest. It is confusing and hard. This is why I advocate taking time to listen to the Spirit and not the loudest voices. And I don’t know if wrong or right is the question. But rather can we hear how many blacks live in a harsher, more prejudiced world than most of us? Even after all the progress we have made?

      I have a pastor friend who is black. He grew up in a strong Christian family. He’s never done drugs or been arrested foWhen he was old enough to drive his dad gave him the talk. His dad told him, you are a boy, you are big, and you are black. You will get pulled over. Here’s how to act. He didn’t really believe it until it happened several times. And there were not infractions to warrant the stop. When Brendan was of driving age, I gave him a talk about speeding and being respectful to the police if he was pulled over. But I did not have to give him the same kind of talk my African American friends have to give their boys.

      I too have friends who are police officers. I admire them so much for who they are and what they do. I do not believe we should blame them all or defund the police! Yet, my friends admit there is systemic and personal racism still alive in our world. One recently told me that over the years he eventually stopped responding to calls in my neighborhood about “black men casing houses” because it was just a vendor or someone who looked different.

      This is real. I can’t presume what God would have you and Travis do about it. But listening first to God and then to those who are experiencing life in a different way than we do is a good start. Love ya, girl. Take care.

  2. Thank you, Eugene:
    Jesus disagreed! His response was to heal the man on the Sabbath and prove which mattered most to him and to the Father.
    Crippled lives matter!

    May we always know, believe and act in a way that proclaims that every life matters. Even if I don’t judge a person by the color of their skin, I know I have because of many other factors: thinking myself to somehow be superior or better.
    May the Lord remove all contempt from my heart. To really see others as better than myself.

  3. This is good food for thought, Eugene. I’m hooked on what I see as a consistent twisting of the concept of social justice. Social justice without Christ is at the core of what bumps up against my spirit with each cause where there is such emotional upheaval. The book False Justice by Stuart Greaves has really helped me. Stuart is a humble man of God who just happens to be a black man. He puts into words all of those conflicting feelings I’ve had on this topic. You might enjoy checking out his blog, too. He has some recent posts right on point. Thanks for this, Eugene!

    1. Thank you, Jill. You are right. We cannot do anything, much less social justice, without the grace of Christ first changing us and then empowering us to give his grace away. I will take a look at that book and his blog. Keep writing, Jill.

  4. I agree. Let the Holy Spirit guide you in your thoughts and speech and actions.

    The Holy Spirit also gives us discernment and reveals truth to us.

    There is evil afoot in all of this. I am a sinner, but not a racist. It is wrong for a whole country to bow down in guilt for something that is not real. America is not racist. It is perhaps the least racist country there is.

    There is more evil in the movement that wants us to think we are racist than there is real racism out there. It is shameful, and dangerous and I will not participate. I’m done with it.

    I will try and love on people as individuals and children of God, even those who don’t love me back. But I will resist the lies being told about me, just because I am white, or whatever, and the lies being told about America every night in the news.

    I will personally resist the BLM movement and Antifa, and all who join in with this dangerous nonsense. I have personally observed and faced off against evil in both of those groups. I feel sad for the hatred in some of these young peoples hearts. I will pray for them, but I will not kneel before them. Kneeling is reserved for God.

    Anyway, there is my little rant. God bless Eugene and everyone commenting here.

    1. Peter: First of all I love all of your Pete pseudonyms and personas! You have a sharp sense of humor.

      Yes, it’s hard to disagree with anyone saying listen to the Spirit. Did I choose too safe of ground? 😉 But for me, the question is will I? Sometimes. It has been hard to drown out my defensiveness and outside accusatory voices. But when I listened the Spirit told me much harder truth about my need to confess my many prejudices.

      And yes, there is evil afoot. In every camp. I find it discomforting and difficult that the Enemy always puts up his tent in the best campsite, or in an issue or idea that hold truth he can twist into hate and destruction. I hope, then, as Christians we can be prophets and not parrots.

      On racism, I was careful not to use the word. The Enemy is twisting its meaning and turning it into a weapon so that many of us can then just dodge rather than give any consideration. I am not accusing you of dodging.

      But I wonder if this metaphor works? I am not an arsonist. But I still must listen to Smokey the Bear and be careful with matches and fire. I am not a racist but I must still listen and understand and be careful with my prejudices.

      Thanks again, Pete. I hope you and Caryn are getting into the mountains a lot. Eugene

      1. Peter Boddie

        Good response. Some of the humor I post is precisely to spark conversation. Unfortunately, sometimes people either take it literally, or they start (and end) a conversation using words not in the civil lexicon.

        That said, what I posted was more of rant, and not humorous at all. It’s getting harder and harder to see humor in the national conversation….but I’ll keep trying.

        As for the mountains, we just spent a very relaxing two nights in a cabin at Devil’s Thumb Ranch. And last week we were up in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I had a water consulting job there so Caryn and I made a little vacation out of it. And we went camping near Colorado National Monument last month. So, yes we are getting out as much as possible, while fitting in work from home. I am easing into half time retirement.

        I would ask you to pray for our family. Our kids have mostly cut us off because of our politics, or our faith, or our age, or whatever. It has been pretty tough, especially on Caryn, and our grandkid is growing up without us. But, things may be slowly thawing.

        Great to here from you. Let’s keep in touch. God bless.

  5. Georgie Ann KETTIG

    very good analysis and comments here,… thank you, everybody!,… I am a 74 year old female person who is a Catholic Christian convert, and who was raised by very dedicated “social justice warriors/civil rights advocate” parents “back in the day”, so virtually “from birth”,… my heart and mind have been well-trained to be aware of the situation, and to wish to do and be “the right thing”,… … … but “what is that?”,…

    being honest, as a young person in school, I wasn’t exposed to much direct interaction, but when I was, there was kind of a noticeable “culture clash”, where much “rougher manners and actions” more or less prevented the formation of a harmonious bridge between us,… however, I was just a young “innocent” girl, and I don’t really know what else I could have done at that point,…

    fast-forwarding to the present, with lots of “water over the dam”, and many things “observed”, I think we are dealing with various levels of engagement, various “ideas”, and that this certainly is not a “one size (or answer) fits all” situation,…

    (my computer wire seems to have a short, so I will do this comment in sections),… tbc,…

    1. Thanks for sharing your story and movement in your faith. And thank you for the compliment. Yes, accountability to God is primary here. Somehow we think it is optional simply because God does not immediately demand it. We have choice but those choices have a cost. keep up your social warrior work. I love that you are leading a choir. And thanks for the conversation on the phone.

      1. Georgie KETTIG

        more time has gone by, and I’m “not surprised” (because I’m “old”) that the “negative” has overplayed (and is overplaying) its hand,… Collosians 3 seems to address some aspects of this situation to me, particularly linking the nature of the “old man” and its passions and evil desires to “idolatry”,… it is ironic that the violent destruction of external things wants to wear a mask of “self-righteous judgement”, when the destroyer is actually idolizing its own self in that very process,… very sad,… unbridled “anger” often works like that,… Collosians 3 goes on to point out that God’s Way is very different,…

  6. Georgie Ann KETTIG

    as a committed Christian, I am very well convinced of the need of each and every person to become “accountable to God” in a personal way, for God to be best able to preserve and “lift up the life”,… also to simply enjoy the direct and personal spiritual blessings and benefits of a relationship with God, this is ~ of course ~ necessary also,…

    how God chooses to interact with people as “groups” and en masse, is something I don’t particularly know about (except for the Jews in the Old Testament),… but to me, this is a different level of “theory” that might “postulate” quite a number of differing (and possibly conflicting) scenarios, involving finger-pointing concepts like “guilt” and “responsibility”, “selfishness”, “anger”, “pride”, “ego”, “self-discipline and lack of it”, “prejudice”, “hatred and vengeance”, “reparations”, “lies and self-deception”, “greed”, “violence”, and even “love” and “generosity”,… … … but how do we “see and apply” these things?,…

    too often, it is an accusative, demanding, and demonizing finger-pointing process, aimed at the “perceived enemy”, but not holding ourselves (on either side) accountable,… but it does look to me like there are plenty of instances of fault to be found in many of these places and situations,… however, as a collective bargaining process, this pretty much leaves us in the (“hit or miss”) political realm,… which leaves me feeling vulnerable and unsatisfied, because how “trustworthy” have the “doing it by their own devices” types of human beings ever proved themselves to be?,…

    the basic God-centering concept of personal “humility” is left almost completely out of the equation,… surrendering so many of these issues and “attitudes” to a “higher power”, etc, isn’t part of the process either,… too many are looking for “man-made solutions”, derived from man-made theories, overlaid on a very uneasy bedrock of explosive “negativity”,… tbc,…

      1. I’ll take a look. Sometimes getting what is in your heads onto the page–and worse–into another person’s understanding is so difficult.

  7. Georgie Ann KETTIG

    because of all the different “levels of engagement”, and the varying “frames of reference”, my preference is for God to be an integrative “force” for helping us with this situation,… when this appears to be “blocked” by all the “noise and hysteria” of the outward circumstances, we still have our prayerful relationship with God to turn to, and to trust in,… I think this is also what Eugene pointing to,… thanks very much,… amen,… & the end (for now),… (-:

  8. Georgie Ann KETTIG

    p.s.: I left out the whole “superiority/inferiority” debacle,… God is the Creator, so I don’t argue with Him about such things,… but I’ll acknowledge that there is a lot of variety in His Creation,… actually the “issue(s)” there are “sinful” vs “repetent and reconciled with God”,… these are individual questions,… not really whole “group” issues,…

    “Who do you serve?” ~ God or the devil?,… Truth vs lies?,… only the “Truth will set us free”, as we are surrendered to the Mercy of God,…

    1. Georgie Ann KETTIG

      being “older and vulnerable”, I am usually inclined to choose and follow something I would call “a path with dignity”, a path that honors both God and myself, and in which “respect” is at least a minimum ingredient in any interaction,… one can postulate de rigueur “love concepts”, with or without Christianity as the basis, but then the emotionally propelled “ought and should” motives very often become “whatever opinion” the agitated would put forth to compel others to do (and conform to) their bidding,… which often misses the mark of “love”, anyway,…

      I can understand that people are upset, of course, but emotional force that leads to violence and dominance, and comes from self-willed anger, creates a one-sided “bullying” situation,… and I have lived long enough, and through enough inconsiderate “opposition”, that it would be anathema to me to surrender my own integrity and self-respect, to support such types of violence-filled rebellion,… and I cannot “see” any real positive benefits coming from them, either,…

      as others have described, doing my best to be available and friendly and concerned to people from all walks of life that I meet daily, is really the best and most charitable effort that I can make,… so, many of the “woes of this life” must be “left in God’s hands”, and living in “hope and prayer, one day at a time”, will have to be the path that I follow,…

      perhaps an interesting p.s.: I really did see the efforts and sincerity of my parents (white) to try to be involved helpers in bringing about social improvements in this regard,… I think their “idealism” was very focused on the hope that better educational opportunities would bring about many desired improvements,… my (somewhat activist) stepfather was fired from several universities (he was a teacher) for having started an NAACP chapter wherever he went,… finally, we stopped moving around every two years, when he started one here, in the town where I am still living more than 60 years later, because they didn’t fire him!,… until recently, I would still run into some of the early (and appreciative) members when shopping around town, etc,… many of them were Christians,… these people were sincere, and I was “a friend”,… I could see that their “progress” wasn’t easy, and that it was slow,… but I could also see that they represented a small part of all the needs that were becoming socially pretty obvious,… it is somewhat poignant for me to compare the current levels of demand and dissatisfaction being put forth by those complaining, while also realizing that my very own stepfather, Dr. Thomas H. Kettig, pretty much devoted his whole life to trying to “do what he could” to contribute to the betterment of this situation, and even so, it can just feel like “a drop in the bucket”,… “Thanks, Dad”,…

    2. Georgie Ann KETTIG

      because the link I posted above didn’t seem to work for me just now, I’m going to copy and paste the text, just because I do think it’s so true,…

      Love Is the Highest Value
      Minute Meditations

      For us as Christians, the highest value should always be love. If we’re going to accept the Judeo-Christian heritage as meaningful and authoritative in any way, we have to admit that love comes first and last. That puts us on a different track and forces a different set of questions. The deepest questions are not those of rights and power, or whether or not we’re getting everything that society owes us. The deepest questions are those of how love can be expanded and increased. How can we “defer to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21)? This is a third way, a new something wonderful. The dualistic and merely political mind will never understand it. It reads everything in terms of win/lose, right/wrong, good/bad, either/or, top/bottom. Only the contemplative mind, the new consciousness made possible by God-experience and prayer, can read reality in a panoramic and truly wisdom fashion (see 1 Corinthians 2:12–16 in this regard). The calculating mind, the egocentric vision, is all that the system has. We have a new mind, made possible by God.

      —from The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder by Richard Rohr, OFM

  9. Thank you Eugene this was very helpful. Sandy and I have wanted to practice the same listening to the Holy Spirit. God , through a variety of ways has encouraged us to reach out to our black friends. We have two couple friends who are both mixed black and white couples with children. We invited them each to dinner separately and agreed with them that we would refuse to be offended no matter what the question is and no matter what the answer is because we love each other, are for each other and we want to move forward in the love of Christ to a better way. These conversations have been incredibly stretching and good. We definitely look at our cultural perspective and our Christian cultural perspective very differently now because of these opportunities. The agreement to let our conversations be in love and to refuse to be offended have paved the way to a lot of new ways of relating with each other and others. I know that they, and their children can reach out to me anytime and receive a loving and listening ear and they do the same for us. Knowing I won’t offend these guys and knowing they love me has allowed me to explore much deeper and subtler issues I bring to the table and some of which I needed to repent.

    1. You’re welcome, Mitch. I’m glad it’s helpful. I would love to hear more about your new depth for your friendships and how that goes. I know I need to go that direction too. Listening is such a powerful way to overcome differences and understand others. Why do we so often disparage it or resist it? Take care.

  10. Eugene, I appreciate your post and your approach. Only the Holy Ghost can guide us in these times. I wanted to respond to your post as soon as I read it soon after you posted it on the 24th. But I am so silenced by current events that it has taken me until now to respond. I am very aware that currently there is a label being cast on those who are silent. But the same label is cast on those who speak without full support of the parlance of the loudest voices. So, I stay silent. My search of scriptures has lead me to avoiding contentions and strife. I raise my voice in prayer as David did in Psalm 139: 23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

    1. Thanks, Julie. I hope your silence has been a positive time of listening to the Spirit. Yes, part of the reason I wrote the blog was to give us permission to listen but not permission to hide or avoid what the Spirit is telling us. There is so much shaming on social media. Not only is it uncomely but it is unproductive. Shame and coercion, when they produce action at all, produce shallow, short-lived action. The Spirit speaks and empowers us for the long-term journey of transformation.

  11. Valerie

    I appreciate you sharing this and for being fully engaged in this comments section. A great example of your “small-change artist” heart.

    1. Thanks, Valerie. You are an encouragement. Eugene Peterson called most of his writing a preaching a conversation. That is one of my values also.

  12. Eugene,
    Can you provide a few more examples of responding to guilt instead of responding out of guilt?

    1. Great question, Sean. Sorry for the delayed response.

      I also had to go back and reread and rethink the idea in order to respond.

      I wrote, “It seems to me that much of what us white folk have done is respond out of guilt and not to our guilt. Responding to guilt calls us to God. ‘God, forgive me/us. Send me/us.’ Responding out of guilt drives us to cover our sin with words and actions (even good ones) that God has not ordained.”

      My premise is that guilt is useful. But only when it is real. When I lead a Prayer of Confession in church, I conclude with an Assurance of Pardon from 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Then I always say, “If you are still feeling guilt for what you confessed, that is false guilt. Because you are forgiven.”

      The idea is that you have listened to God and responded to what you have heard.

      So, one answer to your question is what is your response to God about the issue after you have confessed? Also James tells us to confess our sins to one another. In a trusted relationship this practice can help validate whether it is real guilt or not.

      An example of responded out of guilt is the old, “Eat your beans the kids in Africa are starving.” In this case the guilt producer is not really actively caring for hungry kids in Africa but is trying to manipulate you to eat. Also, the guilt offers no real remedy. I find this in much of what is being said about white guilt. It really amounts to condemnation with no way to confess and move forward.

      But responding to guilt is hearing God speak through scripture or some source–maybe the Spirit–about an issue. I am guilty of not giving to relief efforts for hunger. I can confess that and move toward a remedy.

      But in the end, I think it amounts to discerning the Spirit’s voice. This is not something we can put in a box. Finally, I believe this is why discussion of sin and guilt and confession and forgiveness in a corporate setting (like church but not only church) is valuable. Together we can test what we hear and get closer to knowing true guilt from false.  

      1. Georgie Ann KETTIG

        Eugene,… as this “drama” has been ongoing and escalating, one characteristic and prevalent factor has become very obvious to me,… and it is “attitude”,… many of these “attitudes” have become forceful excuses for “bullying”,… based not on “truth”, but on subjective projections of “guilt” and “responsibility”,… there needs to be much better “accountability” in these types of communication,… there is no point in being “conned by lies”,…

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