Bearing One Another's Burdens

I’m sitting here staring at a blank piece of paper, my mind filled with thoughts and my heart troubled. Like many of you, I’ve been trying to make sense of the racial tension that has our nation in its grip, and I’ve been dismayed by the tone and tenor of the conversation on social media, even among my friends and acquaintances. Calls for understanding are being met with resistance, requests for prayer are being ridiculed as inaction, and some are even predicting God’s coming judgment on one race over another.

Those of us who strive to follow the whole counsel of God are left to wonder if we are alone in trying to honor our common heritage as image-bearers of God, all of whom are worthy, yet all of whom have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. All I know with absolute certainty is that God’s thoughts and ways are not ours, and I want to think, feel and act as He does, as much as I am able.

As I pondered what to write, I came across Galatians 6:1-10, and it spoke to the stirrings in my heart. I’m going to use the New Living Translation:

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.
Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else.  For we are each responsible for our own conduct.
Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them.
Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone — especially to those in the family of faith.

Many of my black friends have bought into the idea that God separates us out by the oppressed and the oppressor, and He is going to render judgment on the oppressor and spare the oppressed. That is not the Gospel, however. As black theologian Dr. Al Pero states, “You simply cannot be true to the Bible and divide the world into oppressors and oppressed.” This is unadulterated politics corrupting the pure, clear message that none of us measure up to the righteousness of a perfect God, and all of us need the atoning blood of Jesus Christ if we are to receive eternal life. There is no exemption by race from this truth.  

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to change the people and institutions that foster oppression in our world. The Scripture from Galatians clearly gives Christians – “you who are godly” - sanction to restore our brothers and sisters who fall into sin, but we are to do so “gently and humbly”. Other translations use the word “forgivingly”.

The world tries to use strife and conflict to bring about change, but all of us, Christians and non-Christians alike, are subject to the same immutable law of God: “Don’t be misled – you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant”, or as most of us know the verse from the King James Version, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

We may get emotional satisfaction from inflicting discomfort on our oppressors, but the change we hope to achieve through such tactics will be fleeting, if it even occurs. Forced change drives the sin underground, where it smolders like a sleeping volcano liable to erupt at any time.

Not only are Christians called to gently restore their brothers and sisters who are mired in sin – and racism is a sin, which is why it won’t be defeated through policy or protest – but we are also called to “share each other’s burdens.”

One of the most powerful components of the Christian faith for me and my family is the bond of community. None of us live near where we were born, and our lives have taken us on travels around the world. No matter where we’ve been, however, we have a family to love and lean on in our local church. When we’ve gone through tough times, our church family has been there to care for us and keep us going. When times are good for us, we’ve tried to be there to help those in our church family who were suffering. That’s how it is supposed to work, and it is what the Lord calls us to do for one another. Romans 12:9-21 is a practical guide for living in a biblical community, and in a world that needs our love, even if it doesn’t deserve it:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

One of the points of contention I’ve witnessed among Christians is how to respond to the cries of racial injustice from the black community and the declaration “black lives matter”. A dear white Christian friend of mine with a heart as big as all outdoors mourns with her black brothers and sisters in Christ – indeed, she weeps for all black people who face injustice because of racism – and finds it easy to embrace the idea that black lives, devalued throughout history and even today in many instances, are just as treasured as any others.

In response, however, to her heartfelt sentiment that the only appropriate reply to “black lives matter” is “Yes. Yes, they do. Period”, many other white Christians pushed back at the notion that they should validate the slogan.

Some argued that the slogan has become too politicized and that endorsing it would implicate Christians in an unbiblical political agenda, and they pointed to the radical organization which sprung up around the slogan as evidence of this claim.

Others highlighted the disruption, conflict and occasional violence perpetrated by those who favor the slogan as a reason not to affirm it.

Still others contended that God is color-blind and doesn’t single out some lives as more important than others, and that “all lives matter”, even though the slogan, at its heart, isn’t stating that black lives are more important than others, but that they are just as important. The adverb “too”, not “more”, is implied at the end of the slogan.

If black lives were viewed and treated the same as others, there wouldn’t be the need to make the statement in the first place. Ironically, “black lives matter” is reminiscent of a slogan from 1787 which became the motto of the abolitionist movements in America and Great Britain – “Am I not a man and a brother?” Yet here we are today, still in need of a reminder that black people matter to God as much as any others.

Some flatly deny the narrative that black people are the victims of inherent racism and offer that they should look to the pathologies within their own communities first for accountability and solutions.

Whether it’s denial, deflection or dismissal, the message, particularly from white Christians to their black brothers and sisters in Christ, is that their experiences and expressions of concern are illegitimate. Instead of bearing their burdens, they are adding to them the burden of rejection. Pastor Jason Meyer challenges Christians to think about what they are doing:

When others are crying, will you judge the tears or join them? Will you weep with those who weep, or will you argue about why they shouldn't be weeping?
Will we listen when we hear about experiences that are not our own?
Show me a place in the Bible that says, "If I don't agree with your statistics, I don't have to feel compassion for you, don’t have to bear your burdens. If I think I'm right, then I have the right to not feel anything about what you're feeling."

Like a family, we are to share in each other’s triumphs and trials – “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.” Black and white Christians ought to identify more with one another than with their racially-defined tribes, because Christians are supposed to be a people apart from the world – “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession…” (1 Peter 2:9). If our tribes are more important to us than obedience to Christ’s call for unity in His church, then we are guilty of having other gods before the one true God - the sin of idolatry.

To my black brothers and sisters in Christ, I know it’s hard to be forgiving and gentle in our interaction with our white Christian family members, especially if they are resistant to our pleas to be heard. I beg of you to take the long view, even though it’s been a long time already – “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” There are white Christians who mourn with us, and whose hearts are breaking for us. I know many of them personally, and they want to show their familial love in word and deed. Don’t push them away because of difficult encounters you’ve had with others, Christian or non-Christian, who look like them. Christ says they are our brothers and sisters. Let them in and start building bridges with them first, and pray for those who aren’t there quite yet. Some may think prayer is inactive or “just words”, but if you’re a Christian, you believe there’s an almighty God at the other end of the line, and He’s listening to you.

To my white brothers and sisters in Christ, please understand the incredible power you have to change the racial dynamic in the church and in the nation just by listening to and caring for your black brothers and sisters in pain. Surrender the desire to be right, or to reduce our humanity to statistics, and let love alone steer your words and actions. If you are hesitant, ask the Lord to reveal your fears to you and help you deal with them. Most of the black Christians I know won’t exploit or abuse your love, and if they do, simply “shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town” (Matthew 10:14).

As a Christian who is also a person of color, I feel uniquely equipped to make this appeal to all my Christian brothers and sisters, because of the great favor the Lord has shown me in my life. I have been largely immune to the effects of racism, and because of it, I was like many of my white brothers and sisters when it came to claims of racism – I denied, deflected or dismissed them because they didn’t align with my life experiences. It wasn’t until I got into politics, however, as a participant and an observer, that I realized that my experiences were just that – mine and no one else’s.

The Lord admonished me to remember that it was only by His grace that I was born into a two-parent family, traveled the world as the son of an Air Force non-commissioned officer, lived in safe neighborhoods and attended good schools. I had nothing to do with the circumstances of my birth and upbringing. What if I had been born in Ferguson, Missouri or Baltimore, Maryland to a single mother in a crime-ridden neighborhood, with substandard, unsafe schools? Would I have been the same person? While some do emerge from those circumstances, most don’t. Who am I to assume I would?

Just for good measure, I went through years of personal trials, to include electoral defeat, financial troubles, unemployment and medical difficulties, exposing me to the despair so many others out there endure every day of their lives, not just for a season. It’s why I am sensitive to not only the plight of the black community, but also the working class and poor whites whose hopelessness is dragging far too many of them to alcohol and drug addiction or suicide, and an early grave.

Finally, he showed me the ugliness of some hearts out there in the world when it comes to race, and I realized that I had been blind to it. I shared an article on how the state and city were using regulation and fees to deny the 2nd Amendment rights of the mostly black residents of southside Chicago, and some of the comments betrayed dehumanizing racial stereotypes held by some of my readers. It rocked my world, and it made me realize that I had been blind to racism within my political tribe. It forced me to draw away from political activism and toward the Cross, and it's a decision I haven't regretted.

In short, through personal experiences and circumstances which brought me low, He opened my eyes to the plight of others. He humbled me, and it is that humility which drives me to my knees in gratitude for his mercies, and convicts me to use my good fortune in life to build bridges that span the racial divide in our churches today. He also gave me the spiritual gift of encouragement and a peaceable temperament, which helps me to be compassionate and patient, two essential qualities in bringing about lasting change between people.

As I’ve said on many occasions, if we truly put Christ first, racial reconciliation is not only achievable but inevitable. God doesn’t need a legion to do this – He asks only for the faithful few, and He will do the rest. Will you be one of them?