Rejecting False Agendas, Christian Leaders Urge Pressing On for Justice
In recent weeks, Christian books on race issues have become best-sellers. Leaders of faith-based groups devoted to justice and reconciliation believe current tensions could bring lasting change.
“It’s easy to walk out right in the middle of what God is doing,” said Carter, a 60-something grandfather. “If you’re not careful [and] you don’t humble yourself, you will.”
The elder statesman, a white man, spoke in his wood-paneled living room to his son-in-law — black minister Jonathan Tremaine (J.T.) Thomas, founder of Civil Righteousness.
They recounted when, 18 years ago, Thomas had first joined a family beach trip when dating Carter’s daughter Mollie. Carter pulled J.T. aside at one point. “I’m dealing with prejudice, and it’s really hard,” the father said. “I need you to pray for me.”
Thomas was stunned. “The amount of humility that takes!” he recounted in a recent video. “It did so much healing in my heart.” J.T. and Mollie, who are now parents of their own little girl, recently celebrated their 15-year anniversary.
The grandfather almost walked out of a situation that made him uncomfortable and “missed a blessing,” he said. In the context of biblical justice and racial discrimination, such points of decision are playing out today across the U.S. and on social media.
Seeing God’s Hand Amidst Unrest
In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of Americans have taken to the streets in protests for racial justice. Some have turned violent, resulting in property damage, lives lost, and fears rising in many communities.
Christian leaders committed for decades to nonviolent justice activism believe people of faith must press through fears and discomfort to help create lasting change.
“It’s really difficult to recognize the hand of God when it doesn’t feel good or doesn’t look good,” said Thomas in a phone interview.
“We have to be able to look and see and declare what God is doing beyond what the enemy may be doing.”
Since May 25 when George Floyd was killed in a policing incident, communities of color have especially mourned the latest loss in a tragic trend.
Yet, this time, the response has somehow not died down.
“This really has become an inflection point,” said Josh Clemons, an adjunct professor and co-director of reconciliation ministry OneRace based in Atlanta. “We all had stay-at-home orders, then these shocking cell phone videos fueled awareness of these injustices.
“Everyone has been able to witness these evils that are happening.”
Something Is Different This Time
Now believers have sought to bridge their knowledge gap on race issues. This week, VeggieTales co-creator Phil Vischer released a video on “Race in America” that attained over one million views within two days.
Meanwhile, dozens of Christian books on race relations have sold out. Titles include Oneness Embraced by Pastor Tony Evans, White Awake, I’m Still Here, and The Dream King.
On June 7, The Color of Compromise by historian Jemar Tisby hit #52 among all books sold by Amazon. This week, Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison appears on the New York Times Best-Seller list at #9 as well as on USA Today’s Best-Sellers list.
“I was shocked,” Morrison told The Stream. “I was speechless. I couldn’t believe it. But it’s bittersweet. Knowing that my book gained popularity because of increased awareness of Black pain — that hurts.”
She sees reflections of history in these conflicting emotions. “I come from a people who, in the midst of our pain and anger and sadness, have had the capacity to exude joy. That’s what I’m experiencing now,” she said.
Many Christian leaders have compared the COVID-19 pandemic to often-ignored issues of race that have lately been elevated.
“God wants us to deal with the disease that has never been healed in American history,” said Thomas. “That is our broken, sinful condition that causes racism. Not only have we perpetuated it generationally. But it has been built institutionally and structurally into our nation.”
Several ministries including Civil Righteousness have grown exponentially in recent weeks.
Gospel Truth Silences ‘Nefarious Agendas’
Thomas noted he has led justice trainings in 18 cities over the past two years, with three cities particularly active in their faith-based advocacy.
“Within the past two weeks or so, we’ve gone from three cities to 110 cities and growing by the day,” said Thomas. “Last week alone, we had over 600,000 unique engagements on social media. God has been preparing us to carry this message. It feels like we’ve stepped into a moment that we’ve been created for.”
The Bible teacher, who has confronted looters on the streets of Ferguson, is well aware of malign forces present at rallies. “During any time of grief or mourning, there’s a certain vulnerability that takes place,” said Thomas. “It can be an opening for the advancing of agendas that are antithetical to Christ’s agenda.”
His friend Clemons co-leads the OneRace coalition of over 200 churches in Atlanta. Their event on June 2 featured rap artist Lecrae.
This Friday, thousands with OneRace will March On Atlanta.
“We gather in the spirit of the gospel,” said Clemons. “This is the very same spirit that Dr. King led so many nonviolent marches in during the civil rights movement.”
Yet various outside factions have shown up at some protests.
In Nevada, two men affiliated with the white supremacist “Boogaloo” movement faced criminal charges for conspiring to incite violence. The Justice Dept. has brought charges against more than 50 other suspects.
Thomas notes this is nothing new. “Nefarious agendas often seek to radicalize and capitalize on the legitimate pain of the African American community,” he said.
“But people of good faith and discernment cannot discount the reality of generational wounding and the lament that we see.”
Action Steps: Learn, Lament, Love
Christians leaders long invested in racial justice contrast with those few protestors marching under the banner of “defund the police,” as in Seattle.
Justin Giboney serves as president of The And Campaign, deriving its name from a stand for pro-life and justice principles. He urges leaders to speak out with compassion, expending political and social capital.
“Look at First John 3,” said Giboney. “If you’re not willing to lend a helping hand when you have something your brother doesn’t, the Bible says that you don’t love that person sincerely.”
Civil Righteousness, OneRace, and The And Campaign collaborated on a newly released Statement on Righteousness and Justice. They urge believers to sign it, then dive deeper into study of biblical justice and its application today.
“The church often wants to move out into action without fully understanding the problem,” said Clemons. “You have to be equipped on these topics. There are firmly gospel-based books about the racial divide present in our country and culture.” He recommended aforementioned titles by Tisby and Morrison.
Thomas urges a spiritual approach. “Engaging in justice looks different in every city,” he said. “Pastors and churches should ask God for tears, according to the biblical pattern. Create safe spaces to listen and learn from others, then enter into their lament, trauma, and questions.”
With its public policy focus, The And Campaign has highlighted the recently introduced JUSTICE Act as one key legislative step. “Through the Holy Spirit, we have the power to make things much better than they are right now,” said Giboney.
“This country has Christians on both sides of the political aisle. If we were to come together and say, ‘We are not going to stand for systemic racism and racialized violence,’ then things will change.”
Watch Phil Vischer, co-creator of VeggieTales, discuss “Race in America” in video below.
A graduate of the University of Colorado, Josh M. Shepherd covers culture, faith, and public policy issues for media outlets including The Stream and The Federalist. Find him on Twitter and follow The Stream @Streamdotorg.