A Letter to the Body of Christ

This was first presented orally at the opening of the Carl Spain Center on Race Studies and Spiritual Action at Abilene Christian University, Abilene, Texas. It appears in the volume: Letters of Conscience to the Churches in America: A Courageous Christian Response to White Supremacy. I was invited by Jerry Taylor to offer a letter in support of the new Center, and this is what I sent him.

April 21, 2020, From Nashville, Tennessee

To my Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

At least two horizons are important for this moment in history.

One horizon is the heart of God, which is displayed throughout God’s story given to us in the Bible. The other horizon is the moment in which we live with its historical baggage, situated complexities, and systemic practices.

God created one humanity. Though it—as God intended—grew in diversity and culture as human beings spread across the globe, we are all one blood from one ancestor (Acts 17:28). Every human being is invested with dignity, honor, and glory as the image of God. Moreover, in the new creation—the body of Christ—we are one genos (1 Peter 2:9), a community bound together by the Spirit of God. We are a new race—a family of sisters and brothers in Christ. This new creation participates in the reality gathered around the throne of God where all languages, tribes, and peoples stand before the throne of God and the Lamb (Revelation 7:9). The body of Christ—expressed in our common human dignity, our shared life in the Spirit, and our future home together—ought to rise above all divisions in this evil age (Galatians 1:4) and cry out with one voice to proclaim the reconciling gospel of Jesus the Messiah.

But this evil age has a history. It is filled with slavery, violence, and discrimination. This history has a formative effect on people, families, and nations. Just as Israel could not escape the cumulative effect of its sins against the poor and its injustices, so no nation can escape them now. The evils in our history are a powerful debilitating presence, and they shape us in ways we do not even know. That history grounds and empowers the systemic evils of our nation’s laws, courts, and economic practices.

African Americans have experienced these evils over and over again. From slavery through Jim Crow segregation, from Jim Crow segregation to Redlining economic exclusion, and from Redlining to mass incarceration, the system—in all its facets—has oppressed African Americans economically, judicially, and relationally. The system created an atmosphere of suspicion, hostility, and prejudice.

White nationalism produced that system. White privilege maintains it.

The present times give new evidence of this evil age and its systemic hostility to African Americans in the United States. Armed white groups protest when African Americans cannot even kneel in protest at a football game. The Coronavirus is killing African Americans at a higher rate due, in large part, to years of neglect and poverty. Hate crimes are increasing. Racist language and practices are given space in the public square and in our government policies.

I suppose it is not much different than it has ever been, but its prominence, public expression, and prideful arrogance has leavened our public discourse with hate, bickering, and self-interest.

Sisters and brothers, hatred, violence, and unjust practices are not the prayer of Christ. We seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness. We pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is heaven. We give greater weight to faith, mercy, and justice. We follow Jesus to the cross in obedience to the will of God rather than seeking our own interests and ambitions.

Our politic is neither Republican nor Democrat. Our politic is the kingdom of God. The reign of God calls us to treat every human being with dignity and honor, eschew violence against others, and call for economic and judicial justice for every human being.

This is the time—as it has always been the right time—to pay attention to the systemic evil that is now raising its ugly head. Too often our national consciousness receives this as normal.  It is not, however, the way things are supposed to be.

When Christians do not raise their voice against racism, they betray their Messiah who unites all peoples in one community gathered around the throne of God. When we deflect and distract from the real problems and their systemic nature, we betray our Lord who confronted evil rather than making excuses for it. When we ignore the problem, we become part of the problem. We are called to be ministers of reconciliation rather than harbingers of evil.  When we are silent, we are complicit; when we are complicit, we participate in the evil.

Let our churches pray for peace and reconciliation, but also let our churches act for peace and reconciliation. Let the white churches make the first move! Let us humble ourselves, making ourselves nothing, and seek forgiveness and reconciliation with our African American sisters and brothers.

Who will make the first move? Who will confess their sin? Who will love their neighbor without conditions?

The white church must make that first move, confess their sins, and lovingly listen to its black neighbors. Only then may the healing begin, and only then will our white eyes open to the realities of this evil age for our black sisters and brothers.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

John Mark Hicks, Professor of Theology, Lipscomb University

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