December 18, 2020
Dear Riverside Church Family,
We live at an interesting and challenging time. Our nation is facing three major issues all at the same time: a pandemic, a contentious election, and racial tensions. In the past, we’ve seen our nation join together to tackle such challenges, but now we see these issues creating greater and greater division in our country and even in our churches.
As elders, we want to take a minute to address the issue of racism and justice. It’s been in the headlines and on the minds of many people. Recent events have reopened old wounds in our country; wounds that had never really healed. Our society is deeply divided on many aspects of this issue, including the source of the problem, the extent, and the solution. Many people have asked where we stand on this issue as leaders and as a church.
We believe that racism, like many other sin issues facing our society, should be addressed by the church. It’s not the only issue, but it’s an important one, and it’s one that has been moved to the forefront by recent events. We don’t want to sweep it aside. We believe that Christians have a unique opportunity to lead in this area by showing the love, forgiveness, healing and unity that is only possible through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As we approach this issue as a church, there’s another challenge that makes progress and unity more difficult. We know that the western church has been steadily moving toward compromise in many areas of doctrine, especially those involving social issues such as marriage and sexuality. Scripture warns us that this will happen, and exhorts elders to be on guard against it (2 Timothy 4:3, Titus 1:9). We’ve seen this trend toward compromise in some areas related to racism and social justice as well. One of the dangers in this climate is that even good, God-honoring efforts toward racial reconciliation can be misunderstood and called into question. We’ve felt this as elders. It’s one of the reasons for writing this communication.
We think it’s important for you to know that in addressing the issue of racism and justice we are not changing any doctrinal position of the church, and we’re not moving toward theological liberalism or doctrinal compromise. We are simply working to apply these doctrines rightly to the situations we face as a country and a church, and to live them out to the glory of God.
To help you understand our position and our approach, we’ve attached a new document to this email. It’s our RCC Statement on Racism and Social Justice. It lays out our biblical understanding of this issue, and attempts to answer some common questions people may have. It’s not possible for us to cover every question in this brief document, but it is a starting point. We would welcome any further questions you may have and would be happy to dialog with you either in person or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While these are challenging times, we have a great opportunity to show the world what it looks like to have both diversity and unity. We can have differing ethnicities, backgrounds, opinions, and perspectives, yet still maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bonds of peace. This is what is possible when we truly love God and one another.
With love for you in Christ,
The elders of Riverside Community Church -
RCC Statement on Racism and Social Justice
We believe that all human beings are created equally in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). The ethnic diversity we see in the human race is by God’s design and for God’s good purpose (Acts 17:26, Colossians 1:16). As divine image-bearers, all people are of immeasurable value to God, who gave His one and only Son so that all might be saved (John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4.)
Racism occurs in attitudes or behaviors that elevate the inherent value of people of one ethnicity over another. The Bible is clear that God does not show partiality or favoritism (Deuteronomy 10:17, Acts 10:34-35, Romans 2:11), and we should not either. We are called to honor and respect all people, and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Romans 12:10, Philippians 2:3, Job 31:13-15). All forms of racism, prejudice, and discrimination stem from sinfulness in the human heart, and are affronts to the character of God and the work of Christ on the cross.
Racism, in its various forms and to various degrees, has been a plague on humanity for thousands of years. The United States has been a world leader in many areas of freedom and human rights, but still has its own tragic history of hostility toward Native Americans, slavery, unjust segregation, and the exploitation of immigrants and minorities. While the United States has made significant progress toward legal and social equality in principle, the legacy of racism and embedded racial bias still creates division among people and leaves many ethnic minorities vulnerable to various social ills.
In light of God’s character and His command that we love others as ourselves, we believe the Church has a special responsibility to model good race relations. We believe Christians should strive to listen, learn, and understand those who are unlike ourselves, and support well-conceived efforts to combat racism and promote the dignity and equal treatment of all people (Matthew 22:39, Romans 10:12). While this is our Christian duty, we accept that good, godly people may have differing views on the specific role of government and its related policies. We encourage respect and tolerance for differing political convictions when biblical principles are not being violated.
Because racism is the result of sin, the true solution lies in the transformation of hearts through the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 3:28). The gospel brings reconciliation vertically between God and man and horizontally between fellow men (Ephesians 2:14, Galatians 3:28). Yet even for believers, sins such as racism can persist after salvation and must be overcome through progressive sanctification. This occurs as a believer submits to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit through the disciplines of worship, Bible study, fellowship and prayer (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:22-24, Acts 2:42).
If the Holy Spirit brings awareness of one’s own attitude or actions of racism, we urge confession of that sin to the Lord and to those impacted, seeking forgiveness, and moving forward in a manner that is consistent with repentance (Matthew 5:23-34, James 5:16). For any who have been a victim of racism, we urge forgiveness and the pursuit of reconciliation (Ephesians 4:32, Matthew 6:14-15). We recognize that some people may feel a special calling to voluntarily identify with the sins of others for the purpose of compassionate, intercessory prayer, and we support such efforts (Genesis 18:22-24, Nehemiah 9:16-38). We encourage all believers to pray for, and pursue, racial reconciliation and unity (1 Corinthians 1:10, Ephesians 4:3-5).
We look forward to the day when the scourge of racism will be fully eradicated in the kingdom of heaven. At that time, God will be worshiped in unity by a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language (Revelation 7:9).
Answers to Some Common Questions:
What is the difference between biblical justice and social justice?
There are both similarities and differences in the definition and scope of biblical justice and social justice. In general, biblical justice recognizes the equal value of all people, and calls for fair and just treatment. Biblical justice also recognizes the plight of the poor and disadvantaged, and calls for compassion and special care (Isaiah 1:17, Matthew 25:40, James 1:27). The Bible gives examples of this type of care being given individually and collectively, and always voluntarily (Luke 10:30-37, 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, 2 Corinthians 8:12, 9:12). Care is to be given foremost, but not exclusively, to those who belong to one’s own family and to the family of believers (1 Timothy 5:8, Romans 15:25-26, Galatians 6:10, Hebrews 6:10). The motivation for caring and giving is a recognition of God’s love and generosity toward us (John 3:16, 2 Corinthians 8:9).
The contemporary notion of social justice is also based on the concepts of human rights and equality. By dictionary definition, it is justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society. The goal is to achieve a greater degree of economic equality through taxation and the redistribution of resources. In the United States, policies are established and administered through a representative government, but once enacted, they are not voluntary. In some countries, extreme examples of this ideology are seen in government structures such as socialism and communism.
Both biblical and social justice can play a role in meeting the needs of people, however the motivation and means are different.
Should a Christian support the Black Lives Matter Movement?
Black Lives Matter began in 2013 as a protest against separate police shootings of two young, Black men. The phrase “Black lives matter” has many facets. It represents a slogan, an organization, and a social and political movement. The organization and movement advocate for non-violent civil disobedience in protest against incidents of police brutality and racially motivated violence against Black people.
We agree with the statement that “Black lives matter.” In fact, all human lives matter to God, who created all mankind in His image and gave His only Son that all might have eternal life (John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9). While this is true, merely countering with the truth that “all lives matter” can seem insensitive to those who are feeling the sting of racial injustice. When used properly, the statement that Black lives matter can convey a compassionate concern for people who are hurting without diminishing the value of other people. It would be similar to saying to a friend, “you matter to me.”
Beyond a slogan or statement, the words “Black lives matter” also represent an organization (the Black Lives Matter Global Network) and a more general political and social movement. Some aspects of these are problematic. Back in the 60’s, the civil rights movement was more centralized and mostly headed by Christian leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and was closely connected to Christian values. Today, the leaders of such movements, along with their values and philosophies, are much more diverse and often secular. They include a mixture of biblical, non-biblical, and unbiblical philosophies and beliefs. As such, we encourage Christians to use careful discernment in the endorsement and support of such organizations.
As elders, we affirm the value of Black lives and the pursuit of equal treatment for all people, but oppose other unbiblical principles or practices that some movements may promote, such as Marxism, homosexuality, and the disruption of the nuclear family. We believe that a lack of leadership and progress by the church contributes to the void being filled by the secular movements of today.
Why should racial reconciliation be important to the church?
We’ve laid out some biblical principles for why racism is wrong, and we believe a Christian’s responsibility in regard to racism includes the pursuit of racial reconciliation. Reconciliation is important to God because people are important to God. As we have listened and talked to many Christian leaders in the Black community, it’s clear that a significant number of Black Americans feel hurt, grief, trauma and anger. They feel that what happens to them and to their communities doesn’t matter to most people. They feel that, even though they are governed by the same laws, they are not all treated equally. It might be hard for us to relate to some of these things because we haven’t had the same life experiences. Even after listening, we might not agree with all of the perspectives, and that’s ok. But God has compassion on those who are hurting, and we believe the love of Christ compels us to listen, to learn, to love, and to pursue reconciliation.
Pursuing reconciliation won’t look the same for every person, but we encourage each person to seek the Lord’s direction. On an individual level, it should start by considering people God has already placed in our lives, including friends, classmates, neighbors, business associates, church family members, and others already in our social sphere. Before offering answers, we should strive to listen to those who may feel unsafe, unheard, or unwanted (Proverbs 18:13, James 1:19). We should seek to understand their perspective and concerns, and then build godly relationships that demonstrate the love, care, and unity of Christ.
As the Lord leads, pursuing reconciliation might include intentionally building new relationships with others outside our current social sphere. At a church level, it might include elements of outreach and service, or the building of relationships with other churches. On a civic level, it should mean being aware of issues that might impact people unequally, and seeking a just outcome.
What are some obstacles to pursuing racial reconciliation?
There are a number of things that might keep a Christian from wanting to pursue racial reconciliation. One might be the belief that if we’re not personally engaging in the sins of racism, then we don’t have a role to play in racial reconciliation. But God calls us to go beyond avoiding evil and to pursue peace (Psalm 34:14). He calls us, as His ambassadors, to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9, Romans 12:18).
Another obstacle might be some of the unfavorable actions we see in other people. For instance, as racial tensions have escalated in our country, some have responded in sinful ways such as rioting, looting and violence. Others have called for political remedies that we might not agree with. These and other things can create an aversion to the issue, causing us to want to distance ourselves from it. Pursuing reconciliation should never mean endorsing that which is sinful, and it doesn’t have to mean compromising our political convictions. But God calls us to pursue peace, and this does require intentional effort (Matthew 5:23-24). It’s hard work, but if we allow Him to, God will do this hard work in and through us.