Recently, I witnessed incredible highs and incredible lows. On the high side, I witnessed the wildly successful launch of the Dragon capsule on top of the Space X Falcon 9 rocket. For the first time since 2011 and the end of the Shuttle program, American astronauts have been launched in an American rocket off of American soil, showing us just exactly what Americans can do when they choose to work together. Having a child who wishes to grow up and be a part of the space program, it was truly mesmerizing to watch the launch through her eyes. It made me proud to be an American!
We have all, however, also witnessed the lowest dregs of American society over the last week. The brutal and heinous cold-blooded murder of George Floyd by a uniformed police officer, Derek Chauvin, ignited a literal firestorm of response nationwide. The events in Minneapolis brought us to a national level of incivility unseen since the LA riots in 1992. I currently work in the field of Corrections as a Counselor, with previous training as a Corrections Officer, in addition to my pastoral duties. I have a moderate amount of law enforcement training. On an annual basis part of my training includes instruction on the appropriate and legally justifiable use of force.
Ever since the Eric Garner case in New York back in 2014, positional asphyxia has been a highlight of law enforcement training on use of force scenarios. As corrections officers, we are expressly, explicitly, and repeatedly instructed that under no circumstances are we ever to place our weight on the back or neck of an inmate. We often have the responsibility of subduing violent offenders and cuffing them up for various reasons. It’s not always an easy task. Police and other law enforcement professionals are sometimes permitted to place their weight on a suspect’s back, while actively subduing the suspect, but are expected to immediately sit a subject upright once they have been subdued.
This week, we watched in ever deepening horror as officer Derek Chauvin flattened George Floyd, who neither appears to have put up any resistance or been suspected of any violent act, and proceeded to kneel on Floyd’s neck for an eight-minute eternity with his hand nonchalantly in his pocket. All the while, Floyd begged for his life, clearly communicating his inability to breathe. Bystanders pleaded with Chauvin and other officers to do something. The only thing other officers appeared to do was actively prevent the bystanders from physically intervening. As we know, the ensuing result was Floyd’s tragic and most untimely death in police custody.
Let me say this as plainly as I know how. Speaking from the perspective of a member of law enforcement (but definitively not speaking on behalf of either Hutchinson Correctional Facility or the Kansas Department of Corrections, as I am not authorized to do so,) and having viewed the video, officer Chauvin is guilty of callous and pre-meditated murder. At the very least, the other three officers involved are guilty of depraved indifference; at most they are accomplices to murder. All four should be investigated at the federal level to determine whether there is substantial evidence to charge them with civil rights’ violations. I condemn, in the strongest language possible, the actions of now former officer Chauvin and his complicit compatriots. There appears to be ample evidence available that Chauvin has faced a number of use-of-force complaints in the past.
As a member of law enforcement, I am encouraged by the number of jurisdictions I have seen posting statements soundly repudiating the events in the video. It is no secret that in the past, the thin blue wall has been responsible for shielding a number of bad officers from appropriate prosecution. If good officers fail to speak up, they are, in my mind, just as guilty as those who commit evil acts under the color of law. As a Christian, I have an equal obligation before my God to shun evil and expose injustice. This may be the single most unjust act I’ve ever witnessed.
How are God’s people to respond to this situation? What is necessary for us to work together to establish any semblance of racial harmony? We should consider two primary Biblical principles which form a foundation for the answers to these questions, found in Ephesians 2:13-18. I want to outline four points from that text which express God’s plan for racial harmony.
I. Race is an evolutionary construct, not a Biblical one.
The various theories of evolution posit that mankind is slowly evolving into differing subspecies, on its way to becoming something different altogether. Such thinking is decidedly nonbiblical. Such thinking was the germ which enabled white theologians of the nineteenth century to despicably declare that black persons had no soul as an attempted justification of the practice of slavery. I was blessed to grow up in a home where I was taught to examine a man on the basis of the content of his character, not the color of his skin. For 35 years now, a black man has been the best and most loyal friend I have ever had. I am eternally grateful that I never learned to consider our differing skin tones as making us fundamentally different creatures. I am so thankful for a God who chose out of His own great grace and mercy to save me in the same manner He saved my friend; by grace and through faith! Our God loved both of us enough that Jesus’ blood paid the price for our sins!
The Scripture never views men as being separated by race (Acts 17:26). The Old Testament views only two groups of people. First there were the Jews, the people of God. Then there were the Gentiles; who were not the people of God. Those are the only two types to be found in the Old Testament. The New Testament describes a similar dichotomy in that the only two groups mentioned are Christians, or the people of God, and non-Christians, or, those who are not the people of God. There are no other alternatives from a biblical perspective. God has not changed the way He views people groups. Either you are a part of the people of God, or you are not. There is no middle way.
Biblically speaking, all men living today are descended from Noah, and before him, from Adam. As such, we share a common humanity, no matter our skin tone. As has been proven by medical science, any grouping of two parents, male and female, has the capacity to produce children of any given skin tone. While it is rare to produce children of a radically different skin tone than the two parents involved, it is nonetheless well documented. The favor of God is not bestowed by skin color any more than it is by height, weight, athletic ability, intellect, or the ability to wiggle one’s ears. We are all brothers and sisters in one big human family, like it, or not.
II. Racial reconciliation is secondary to Gospel reconciliation
I cannot under any circumstances more highly emphasize this point! Much has been said in our denomination (the Southern Baptist Convention) during the past several decades speaking to racial reconciliation. But there can be no racial reconciliation until there is first Gospel reconciliation. I wish I could take credit for that statement, but I read it from someone else on Facebook, and it has stuck with me. No amount of inane social justice warrior jockeying or backdoor self-aggrandizing through socially “woke” behavior (such as bemoaning the fact that God made you white) will accomplish racial reconciliation. It is the Gospel and the Gospel alone that has the power to bring men together. If our unity is to be based on anything, it must be based on our identity in Christ. This, in fact, is much of what the Apostle Paul speaks of in the book of Ephesians.
Very sadly, evangelical elites with their social justice agenda have not provided any meaningful assistance at bringing reconciliation between different ethnicities. In fact, much of what they do falls under the category of race baiting. It does nothing to enhance the cause of Christ, in fact, I think it can be argued that it causes positive harm to kingdom work. One such person recently said on Twitter, using a quote from no one in particular:
“Its a good thing these riots are starting so I can again blame black people for the mistreatment they receive.” –lots of folks on Twitter who were really uncomfortable having to acknowledge the police brutality that killed George Floyd. But now, their narrative is safe again (from @edstetzer)
The truth is, there are no such “folks” on Twitter. We can conclude that this is nothing other than virtue signaling. No true Christian is uncomfortable at noting the horrific brutality of Mr. Floyd’s death. The riots are wrong, but that is a separate consideration.
Our identity is bound up in Christ, because it is precisely Christ who has purchased each of us out of the slave market of sin! Apart from His substitutionary atonement, we have no hope. That is exactly where Paul begins the argument we’re going to examine in greater detail by describing where we were before the unifying experience of knowing Christ Jesus. He lists five distinct realities missing from our lives prior, 1) without Christ, 2) alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, 3) strangers from the covenants of promise, 4) having no hope, and 5) without God (literally a + theos or atheist). Each of us, no matter what our physical realities might have been, suffered from all five of these realities. In John 17:11, Jesus prayed that the Disciples and those who followed them would be one, just as He Himself and the Father are one. We begin to understand the magnitude of that prayer when we consider that Jesus’ Disciples included Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector (groups that deeply hated one another in that society).
Friend, if Jesus can accomplish bringing together a Zealot and a tax collector in unity with a harmony of purpose in ancient Israel, He can bring together any disparate group today! This is the tenor of our study to come! Let’s examine the text.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” Ephesians 2:13-18
- Brought near by His blood
It is the blood of Jesus which took those who were separated, alienated, hopeless, Godless, strangers and made them to be what they were not before—children of God! It is the God who loved us and sent His only begotten Son to be the propitiation of our sins who has purchased us not with corruptible material substances like silver or gold, but with the Blood! It is the Blood of Jesus that covers our sins so miraculously. It is the Blood which binds us to the Father. It is the Blood that paid our ransom price. And it is the Blood representing the perfect righteousness of Christ that enables us to come near the Father! It is the only way we could come into the presence of the Father.
- Broken wall of separation
People are very good at dividing themselves up into different groups. We have a fine time putting labels on each other and on ourselves. We excel at building up barriers between people. We have barriers between men and women, between different colors, between levels of socio-economic status. Of course, there are national and international borders, but these have clear sanctions from God. Nonetheless, we are not to act with partiality toward anyone of a different ethnic or people group.
There’s almost nothing that we as people are as good at as we are in dividing each other up. This week has put that particular talent on display. But what, my friend, does Jesus do to all of that? He breaks down the middle wall of separation! There are no people groups any more abhorrent to God than others. No grouping of people has developed a monopoly on sin! Whatever “other” group you can think of, God can put you together with that group.
We all have groups we feel alienated and separated from. But God can put us together because He eliminates that which separates us! He enables us to forgive one another. That’s usually where our problems are found. We feel that some group has wronged us in some way, and we refuse to forgive. Forgiveness is not optional for the child of God. You owed God a debt which could never be paid, as the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18. What any other people group owes you, pales in comparison to what you owed Him! And if He so forgave you, you ought to forgive others!
In case there was any other reason to continue in unforgiveness, the Apostle John declared what he saw before the throne of Holy God in the future. And what he saw were people from every tribe, every tongue, and every nation. Whatever you might think of your “other” group here on Earth, there will be some of those other people you’ll be standing shoulder to shoulder with in Heaven! It’s the ultimate in diversity. When we put up more walls inside the church, or around our local expression of the church, we have violated the will of God. What’s worse, that leaves us with no hope of ever being effective for the kingdom of God! What a terrible testimony the church at large has developed in this area. Beloved, if God has broken down the middle wall of separation, what right do we have to build it back up?
- Brokered peace for every grouping
It is Jesus who has brokered peace for every grouping of people! Look at the language of the text in Ephesians 2:15-16. The fighting between groups has been done away with by Jesus, in His flesh! And why has He done that? So as to create, in Himself, one new man from the two, thus making peace. Our peace with other groups, whether they be other groups of skin tone, ethnicity, or socio-economic prowess, whatever the differences among us might be, it is Jesus who has made peace between us and taken us and made us into one new man. There is other language the Scripture uses to describe God bringing people together—in marriage relationships. And what did Jesus say about that joining together? What God has brought together, let not man separate! If then God has put us together with others, we do not have the right to separate ourselves!
- Bygone enmity for eternity
I don’t know but that you might have some lingering feeling of discontent or dislike for any particular group. Honestly, this will apply to individuals, too. But whatever your thought or feeling toward that group or person is now, one day, you’re going to be in Glory with someone just like them, if not them! We’d best get used to each other now!