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Reflections on Racial Injustice from Western’s President

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Western Seminary as a community is united by our opposition to all forms of racism and excessive force used by any law enforcement officer (and any other similar abuse of authority). We are also sympathetic to, and supportive of, those who have been harmed by racist attitudes and actions. These convictions flow from our understanding of biblical teaching about the fundamental unity of humanity being created in God’s image, the Lord’s concern for justice as an expression of love for Him and neighbor, the kind of virtues needed for humans to flourish both individually and corporately, etc.

I do fear, however, that many times we are content merely to write (or hear/read) such affirmations, thinking that by having “ticked that box” we have somehow sufficiently addressed wrongdoing. But if we are actually going to make things better (rather than just making ourselves feel better), it will take more than just words. For attitudes and actions must also change to effect the changes needed at both the micro (individual) and macro (systems) level; and Christians know better than most that our walk doesn’t always match our talk.

So, to that end, it might be helpful to share with you some questions that I have been asking myself as a spiritual discipline designed to nurture my own ongoing growth in this area of racial injustice, bigotry and discrimination.

First, am I too selective in my concerns about injustice? Typically, we are most concerned about something when its adverse effects come closest to home. That’s understandable, and not necessarily wrong – but doesn’t a truly biblical concern need to extend as well to others unlike me who are being harmed by injustice? Thankfully, we see some commendable examples of this happening; but I fear I also see myopic selectivity in places as well, and I don’t want one of those places to be my own heart. For as I have spoken with others, I have been struck by how much racial prejudice and discrimination permeates our society and affects many more types of people that one might otherwise think. Is that on my radar?

Second, is my actual practice consistent with my protests? It is a well-known axiom among ethicists that it is much easier to profess love for people in general than it is to practice sacrificial love for individuals in particular. Am I therefore treating people with respect in my daily interactions with them? Is that respect reflected in my thoughts about them and in how I talk about them (including the kind of jokes I tell)? Generational sins typically get perpetuated when fallen natures and poor modeling meet in the home – are children developing problematic attitudes towards certain others because of parental influence?

Third, do I really “get it?” It isn’t easy to understand what it’s like to be viewed by some with extra suspicion merely because of the color of my skin. Nor is it easy to appreciate fully the difference skin color alone can make in certain cultures by way of an advantageous tailwind rather than a perpetual headwind. So I find myself now saying “I’m trying to understand” as opposed to thinking I have already arrived at an adequate understanding of what others regularly experience.

Finally, am I willing to join other believers in re-doubling our efforts to allow God’s grace to transform us into the kind of Christian communities that model genuine love, respect, concern, justness, holiness, etc.? The church certainly doesn’t have the best track record on that front. Until we improve, we could be squandering yet another opportunity to demonstrate that reconciliation with one other (and beyond mere reconciliation, genuine love for neighbor) is uniquely found in/enabled by reconciliation with God through the gospel of Christ and the power of the Spirit. People who might not always mesh well naturally can thus do so supernaturally. In circumstances like ours, that will certainly get some people’s attention; conversely, if they see the same problems and tensions in our churches as they see in society in general, they will look elsewhere for a solution.

I know it isn’t always easy to discern how best to translate our Christian convictions into constructive action in the quest for racial justice. As one resource to help, we will soon be hosting a free webinar featuring CJ Quartlbaum, one of our African American graduates who is doing inner-city ministry in New York. We want to give him a platform to address this issue so that others who might not otherwise hear his voice will be given an opportunity to do so. We pray that his wisdom will be used by the Lord to show how our devotion to Him can be even better expressed in our interactions with others as we work towards kingdom goals.

It is my prayer that my words might be similarly used to the same redemptive effect.

We do care.

Your co-laborer in Christ,

Randy Roberts, D.Min.
President/Professor of Christian Spirituality