In 1955, an African-American teenage boy named Emmet Till was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he was accused of disrespecting a white woman in a grocery store. Till was abducted, brutally beaten, and shot in the head by the woman’s husband and his brother.
After Emmet Till’s body was recovered from the Tallahatchie river, his grieving mother insisted on a public funeral with an open casket. Published photographs of the boy’s grotesquely mutilated body, and the subsequent acquitting of the killers by an all-white jury, forced America to confront the violent evil of racism.
Today we find ourselves in another Emmet Till moment. This time, though, the moment is captured forever on an eight-minute, 46-second video showing George Floyd dying an agonizing death of suffocation at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer. Though we do not yet know whether the officer acted out of racial hatred, Floyd’s horrific killing fits a deeply disturbing pattern. It followed closely on the heels of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery by a former police officer and his son in Brunswick, Georgia, the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky by police who broke down her door with a “no knock warrant” and shot her eight times after her boyfriend tried to defend their home.
George Floyd’s death was a tipping point. Demonstrators spilled into the streets in protests that quickly spiraled into violence. Rioters and looters piled injustice upon injustice, injuring hundreds of police officers, destroying small businesses, and killing innocent victims including a retired African-American St. Louis police officer named David Dorn.
In the Bible, the Psalmist cries out:
How long, Lord? Will you forget
me forever? How long will you hide
your face from me? How long must
I wrestle with my thoughts and day
after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph
over me? (Psalm 13:1–2)
The outrage cuts across all religious, racial, and economic barriers, and yet America grows more divided by the day. Peaceful protests have been disrupted by violent extremists. Rhetoric becomes more extreme by the minute. Social media posts have quickly fallen to the lowest common denominator, making accusation and anger seem the only common language of the Land.
What is happening behind the scenes is deeply disturbing as well. As the days have passed, progressive and left-leaning activists have devised what many see as a new religion in which the world’s brokenness is explained as “white privilege” from which all may be saved through “systemic change.”¹ Systemic change means different things to different people, but according to published policy demands of the Black Lives Matter organization as revealed on its various websites, it means the “radical transformation” of society through defunding of the police, the scrapping of private education, reparations for slavery, abolition of the nuclear family, and the collective ownership of wealth.²
This agenda is fueled by a well-organized fundraising campaign in which those who want to contribute financially to organizations they believe will help the black community are having their donations funneled into the campaigns of Democratic candidates and those who support them. For example, the “Donate” button on the Black Lives Matter and NAACP websites takes donors to “ActBlue,” a political action committee dedicated to “Powering Democratic candidates, committees, parties, organizations, and c4s [political action committees] around the Country.”³ ActBlue is a fundraising juggernaut, boasting more than 10 million regular donors and more than 5 billion dollars raised.
How are Christians to respond? Micah 6:8 guides believers: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah’s admonition is based on the principle of shalom, a Hebrew word meaning “Peace, prosperity, completeness, safeness, salvation, health, satisfaction, contentment, and blessing.” It is the word for “welfare” used in Jeremiah 29:7, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
In Bible times, shalom was the goal of Hebrew life in community. Following this principle, Christians through history have advanced human rights, brought about the abolition of slavery, secured the basis for women’s and children’s rights, established modern education, formed the practice of modern medicine, instituted principles of modern charity, built the foundations of modern science, and shaped the arts. The influence of Christianity has been so profound that even the atheist philosopher Luc Ferry has said that it is to Christianity that Western Civilization “owed its entire democratic inheritance.”
In line with the principle of shalom, many believers have called for racial reconciliation and a greater sensitivity to the structural sin of racial injustice. Others have demanded practical policy solutions, such as more humane police procedures and a reform of police unions that protect bad cops.
Many Christian, however, have responded with a shame-based appeal to racial guilt, often accompanied by self-exalting pronouncements of their anti-racist credentials. Many of these messages employ cult-like persuasive techniques, demanding conformity, playing on the emotional vulnerability of those who crave acceptance, cultivating an “us versus them” mentality, insisting on public confession, and isolating and humiliating those they deem to be insufficiently pure.
We need biblical thinking, and we need it urgently.
Over the next several weeks, I’ll make six observations about justice from a biblical worldview and conclude with several specific thoughts about where we go from here, applying biblical principles of justice to our current situation of racial tension and instability. The goal of these short articles is to strengthen the ability of Christians to move beyond virtue-signaling to understand the times and discern what America ought to do. We need the wisdom of a biblical worldview to have a serious dialogue about the source of true justice.