Where to Start?
There’s been a lot of racial tension within our country recently, especially surrounding the various #mustfall initiatives. I’m not really interested in addressing the merits of each #mustfall initiative, nor am I so daring or naive to provide a resolution to the various #mustfall campaigns. I would however, like to consider the matter as a Christian and I would like to make a suggestion as to where the conversation must begin and how it ought to be informed for those who believe in the authority and sufficiency of the Bible.
The cruel and evil apartheid regime unjustly placed many blacks in a disadvantage and unfavorable position and the feeling among many black students is that institutions of higher learning are only perpetuating their struggle with certain policies on tuition and the preferred medium of instruction. It seems abundantly clear that black students feel a certain measure of injustice and unfairness when it comes to the matter of high tuition-fees and the matter of Afrikaans being a preferred medium of instruction at certain institutions.
I see merit in certain complaints and I am sympathetic with certain aspects of (let’s call it) ‘the struggle”. However, what interests me is the manner in which Christians are thinking and talking about this issue. There are sincere calls for understanding and empathy from both blacks and whites towards the students struggle.
However, for many blacks this can only happen once you really become personally invested into their struggle (if it is even possible). You regularly hear things like, “you won’t be able to understand, because you are not black”. Whereas, white people are calling on each other to understand their ‘privileged’ position so that they can be more empathetic towards the struggle of their fellow black students.
I do realize the precarious position I am in, speaking as a so-called coloured on issues that have almost exclusively been seen as a matter between blacks and whites. When there’s racial tension it seems limited to issues only relating to blacks and whites and I sometimes feel like the child on the playground who’s never really noticed and the ball gets passed from one player to the next – over my head. What makes my situation uniquely precarious is that as a coloured man (which means I’m seen as more black than white) I have an insanely misleading name – Riaan Rudolph Boer (definitely more white than black). Perhaps this places me in that ‘Trevor-Noah’ position where I can speak to both parties? Unlikely! Anyhow, I digress.
What is more important is that I am a Christian. What matters most to me is what the Bible says. One of the firm commitments Christians have regarding the Bible is that; the Bible is God’s authoritative and sufficient Word. All we need for matters relating to faith and practice are recorded for us in the Bible. So then, it is with a biblical mindset that we must approach all of life.
Now, as I read and listen to the many voices calling for reason, as I survey the many posts, articles, and reports calling for calm, empathy, understanding, sanity and even prayer , none of what I have read or heard holds up the sufficiency of the Bible to address matters relating to faith and practice, life and godliness!
Many whites are insisting that ‘their people’ be more sympathetic to the struggle of the black students. Phrases such as ‘white-privilege’ are used to get white people to become more conscious and caring for black students. On the other hand, nostalgic trips are taken down memory-lane to the unfortunate apartheid regime and used as extra incentive for black students to take their stand and assert their rights. I’m not saying that there is no value in being reminded of the past but I am convinced that, that is not where the conversation must begin, nor is that where the answer is to be found.
To better engage, treat and act towards others and to truly be able to sympathize and share in the difficulties of others, especially in highly contentious, racially sensitive and culturally diverse matters- as Christians we must begin with God’s Word and what it has to say regarding our responsibility towards one another. We cannot affirm Scripture’s sufficiency on matters of theology and ‘spiritual things’, but then set it aside when it comes to matters of practice and everyday living.
Scripture wasn’t written in a vacuum but was written in a historically diverse, culturally tense and racially (ethnically) divided context. The Bible knows of social injustices and ethnic barriers. So, we should expect it to have something to say to us about our current situation.
On a side note, much of the actions in response to perceived injustices taken by black students, who profess faith in Christ cannot be justified by the Bible. Keeping in mind that there were various ethnically oppressed groups and socially oppressed groups (even gender oppression) in the context and times the Bible was written.
However, there is no a call in the Bible to protest, stand up and fight the institutional and governmental entities for liberation against oppression! The Bible does not call on the individual Christians or the church to do what we see being done today. It may have something to do with our King saying “my kingdom is not of the world” (John 18:36) and Him also saying;
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
Often the Bible’s answer seems simplistic and unsophisticated to some, but then again God has said His foolishness is wiser than human wisdom (1. Cor. 1:25).
I think we are all in agreement that a reasonable discussion is better than the rioting demonstrations. And I am convinced that the discussion cannot begin on a sociological or even a anthropological level but it must begin on a theological level. In other words, to start off this discussion we must ask; “What has God said about this?”
To begin with, the way we view one another cannot be in racial categories, nor is the answer to be found by becoming more racially conscious! We begin by affirming the Bible’s teaching that man (irrespective of colour) is created in God’s image and the only distinction in God’s creation of man is a gender distinction where man is created as male and female, not a racial distinction.
Genesis 1:27 (NKJV)
27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
The Bible does not teach or affirm racial distinctions and we do not help any cause by framing the matter with racially conscious and preferential rhetoric. There are ethnic distinctions but not even this presupposes ethnic inferiority or superiority.
Acts 17:26 (NKJV)
26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwelling…
When we begin the discussion here at God’s creation intent and we see that man is created by God in His image we find our derived worth and our essential equality within God, the creator of man! For Christians this is where the discussion must begin.
Furthermore, the grounds for showing true empathy towards those who suffered injustices under an oppressive regime, and their children who are finding themselves in an unfortunate socio-economical position, cannot merely be self-introspection and a realization of so-called “white privilege”. Also the grounds upon which a historically oppressed and disadvantage ‘race’ calls for more understanding of their struggle cannot be motivated by a reflection and a reminder of past injustices and injuries alone. One Christian author correctly writes:
If we define ourselves out of a reaction to bad experiences, we will be forever translating our pain in the past into new pain for ourselves and others in the present. We must define ourselves not by person injury, not by fashionable hysteria, not even by personal variation and diversity (Ray Ortlund). He continues by stating that we must define ourselves by the truth of God’s Word!
The grounds for showing true empathy, and care and the grounds upon which we seek to understand and bear with one another must be informed by the Bible. In fact, it is not only biblical indicatives (e.g. imago Dei) but also biblical imperatives that regulate our relationships with one another. And of course there is no higher biblical imperative, that speak directly to how we regulate our relationships with one another than the second greatest commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself”.
Matthew 22:37–40 (NKJV)
37 Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
It is on biblical imperatives that we ought to center our responses and actions towards any situation and towards all people. My responsibility and debt I owe to my neighbor irrespective of their struggle is clearly prescribed for me in God’s Word.
Fulfilling the biblical imperative to love my neighbor is not made possible when I decide to walk a mile in my neighbor’s shoes or when I decide to check the price tag of my own shoes (i.e. white privilege). Instead, it is made possible because through faith in Christ, I have been born-again. God has given me a new nature, with a renewed mind and a new heart. Thus, the biblical imperative rests on the gospel indicative and only in that realization am I empowered to fulfill it. This is not to preclude the necessity of seeking to engage and understand one another on a personal, cultural and historical level, but it is to suggest that doing so does not naturally and necessarily empower us to better relate to one another.
Please understand that I’m not suggesting a focus on God creating man in His image and a call to love your neighbor as yourself is the answer to every aspect of the current dilemma. I’m merely illustrating that for a Christian the discussion must be a theological one, and be informed by the Bible.