Why the Church Is the Most Significant Player In the Fight Against Racism


Last week, just a few days after two black men were killed by white police and a day after five white officers were killed by a black man who admittedly targeted white police, President Obama stood in front of the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland, and said, “America is not as divided as some have suggested.”

I understand why he said this. He said it for the same reason that you convince your friend who just stopped by for a surprise visit that your house is not always dirty. It’s the kind of thing you say when you are in a room filled with leaders from other countries. Yet, although it sounds like the right thing to say, it might actually have been the wrong thing to say. What if our greatest hope is not in trying to convince ourselves (and others) that we are better than we really are, but in seeing ourselves as bad as we really are?

Good laws don’t change bad hearts

There is no possible way that we can overstate the significance of the Civil Rights movement. Our nation has made incredible strides over the past 70 years. We often forget that there are still black people alive who grew up in an America where they could not use the same restroom or drink from the same water fountain as whites. This is almost hard to believe. We have come a long way as a nation. We have made some good laws that have led to great progress. But the reality is: Good laws don’t change bad hearts. Just because the law allows a black woman to sit in the front of the bus does not mean there will not be a white man on the bus who thinks she should be in the back. The law is powerful and absolutely necessary, but it is limited. The law might change the fruit of the problem, but it cannot change the root of the problem.

What has been exposed over the last year, and has been highlighted over the last few weeks, is that no matter what the law says, there is plenty of hatred and racism in the hearts of the American people. And given the right set of circumstances, this hatred and racism will rear its disgusting head. It’s not everywhere, but it’s still there. And the only hope of ending it is identifying it for what it is; namely, evil attitudes that flow from depraved hearts. This is not a hopeless sentiment. On the contrary, seeing ourselves as bad as we really are is the only pathway to hope.

There are few things more distasteful—and frankly unhelpful—than when critics and pundits immediately try to politicize a tragedy. It’s actually remarkable how quickly it happens. Before the bullet casings are picked up off the ground, people are talking about new laws that need to be made. But no matter how many laws we make, the hearts of people will remain the same unless they are changed by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is not a political problem; it’s a spiritual problem. And that is precisely why the church is the primary player in the fight against the heinous sin of racism.

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J. Josh Smith

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