A Different Perspective
Lil Baby weaves a narrative of a black community that is oppressed by police brutality and racism, yet wants a better way of life. To begin the song, he raps:
I gave ‘em chance and chance and chance again,
I even done told them please
Lil Baby gave the people who oppress him and his community many chances to change their ways, but he has seen no change happening. He elaborates on how he has seen racism enacted, referencing police shootings of African Americans (I find it crazy the police’ll shoot you and know that you dead, but still tell you to freeze) and the large number of African Americans in prison (Throw us in cages like dogs and hyenas). The instances of racism he has seen have resulted in anger and fear: Crazy, I had to tell of my loved ones to carry a gun when they go outside / Stare in the mirror whenever you drive… I see blue lights, I get scared and start runnin. Feeling as if he and his community have been disregarded and abused by those in power who could help them (Knowing we needed help, they neglect us / Wondering who gon’ make them respect us), Lil Baby sees no option for himself or his loved ones but to take a stand and fight against those unjust powers (You can’t fight fire with fire/ I know, but at least we can turn up the flames some).
Although Lil Baby declares that racial injustice is rampant in America, his position contains nuances which seeks to find common ground, and despite saying he’s going to “turn up the flames,” he wants reconciliation and justice, not more division (my neighborhood know I try to keep the peace / So it’s only right that I get in the streets). Lil Baby refuses to blame all white people or all police officers for racism or instances of injustice. He raps:
Every colored person ain’t dumb and not all whites racist,
I be judging by the mind and heart, I ain’t really into faces
Corrupted police been the problem where I’m from,
But I’d be lying if I said it was all of them
Lil Baby tempers his frustration by acknowledging that not every person who has been labeled as “the enemy” by groups like Black Lives Matter is the problem. But beyond the individuals who are racist or anti-racist, Lil Baby also claims that “the system” is the real problem (We get it, the system is wicked) and laments that African Americans are punished for being products of the environment (We just some products of our environment/ How the **** they gon’ blame us?). Is Lil Baby right that people are inevitably products of their environment? Is that idea compatible with or opposed to a Christian worldview?
Is the Problem Inside of Us or Outside of Us?
A classic difference between people who are politically conservative and politically liberal is that conservative people generally think that human nature is basically bad, while liberal people generally think that human nature is basically good. Conservatives are more likely to focus on improving the individual rather than improving the system, and liberals are more likely to focus on improving the system rather than improving the individual.
Both of these views contain truth. The Bible is clear that we are, by nature, sinful (Ephesians 2:3) and that our environment can make us worse (1 Corinthians 15:33). However, either view on its own is incomplete. Like Lil Baby says, we are influenced byproducts of our environments, but even in a perfect environment we would remain sinful. The problem is both inside of us and outside of us.
Systematic corruption exists because wickedness exists within each of us. No person will ever be completely perfect and neither will any system. That is why we must avoid the mistake of putting our hope in perfecting systems or individuals, but instead look to the perfect man, Jesus Christ, as our only hope.
What is Wrong With the World?
If it were true that we are merely products of our environments, we could all be free of personal responsibility. But if it is also true that our wickedness stems from our sin nature, we can all be held responsible for what we do. G.K. Chesterton, when asked by The Times, “What is wrong with the world?” is said to have responded with four simple words:
Of course, Chesterton was not claiming responsibility for all of the woes and wickedness the world over. He was speaking to a deeper truth. He was speaking to the truth found in Scripture that all humans are fallen and sinful, and all humans have contributed to the brokenness of the world (Romans 3:23). Although “I am what is wrong with the world,” is an incomplete answer to the question, it is the most important part of the answer. Any person who asks the questions “What is wrong with America?” or “What is wrong with race relations?” or “What is wrong with the church?” but fails to notice that, in their sinfulness, they too are part of what is wrong, has failed to answer the questions adequately. The problems we see in the world have their origins in the human heart, and each person has the responsibility to resist (by the help of the Holy Spirit) the wickedness in his own heart. So, when Lil Baby says,
We just some products of our environment,
How the **** they gon’ blame use?
He only sees half of the picture. Although we are to some extent influenced by our environments, we must take responsibility to fight against the negative effects of our environments. Many African Americans may feel like they are trapped by their environment, forced to choose between bad choices and worse choices, and that is a terrible situation to be in; but as Lil Baby says:
It can’t change overnight
But we gotta start somewhere
Might as well gon’ ‘head start here
When Lil Baby raps these words, he is referring to “the system,” saying that even though it won’t change overnight, we have to start working towards a more just system. In the same way, even when our environment affects us negatively, we have to start working towards becoming more just and virtuous individuals. Again, this only happens by knowing Jesus and allowing the Spirit to work in us.
Race, Responsibility, and Reconciliation
As we seek to see the bigger picture on racial injustice and race relations, how should we respond to the current crisis of racial conflict? While there are many good answers to that, a good place to start is by taking responsibility for ourselves and seeking reconciliation and unity, particularly within the church.
Taking responsibility for ourselves means acknowledging that, in our sinfulness, each one of us is part of what is wrong with the world. Instead of blaming others, we should try to see how we are a part of the problem and do what we can to fix it. Christians are not called to passively disapprove of injustice, we are called to actively work against injustice (Micah 6:8). Only when we embrace personal responsibility—acknowledging where we are in the wrong—will we be able to cultivate unity and reconciliation. Instead of remaining in shame or feeling the need to virtue signal on social media, we should be actively pursuing reconciliation in our friendships, communities, and culture at large.
Unity and reconciliation sound nice but are not so easy to come by in reality. Jesus calls his Body to be unified (1 Corinthians 1:10), but even within the Body of Christ, division arises easily. While we aspire to unity, the mantra “Black Lives Matter” has been particularly divisive, even for Christians. On the extreme end of those who promote the slogan (and those who are part of the social movement of the same name at blacklivesmatter.com) are those who are demanding racial empowerment and an end to racial violence, in addition to radical socialist policies, the “disruption of the nuclear family,” and radical freedom in sexual identity and expression. On the extreme end of those who oppose the slogan are white supremacists who see people of color as a threat to their way of life, and as less valuable human beings. Both of these extremes should be rejected by Christians. The reality is that most who either promote or oppose the slogan fall somewhere in between these extremes. Many Christians support the phrase “Black Lives Matter” because they believe that racial injustice is a problem that needs to be addressed, not because they support radical socialist policies. While it is important to identify the connections between the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and the socialist political agenda, it is just as important to be able to differentiate the two. We can fully reject the socialist agenda of the Black Lives Matter movement and fully support the fight against racial injustice that the mantra Black Lives Matter represents, not allowing the phrase itself to divide us.
Reconciliation also comes with difficulties. When there is injustice or suffering, reconciliation cannot mean that we try to restore the status quo, continuing to work within a broken system as if the system is not broken. The process of reconciliation is often uncomfortable, difficult, and disillusioning. It means showing compassion, listening to people with whom we disagree, acknowledging suffering, and acting rightly for the sake of justice. Listening to stories like the one Lil Baby tells in “The Bigger Picture” is important because, even if you disagree with much of what is said or how it is said, seeking to understand someone is a vital step towards reconciliation. Reconciliation means “to restore to union and friendship after estrangement or variance.”¹ For us, then, reconciliation means fighting against injustice, and that fight should start with the church, united.
Lil Baby is using his music to give people a wider perspective on racial injustice, but the true bigger picture is found in the Gospel. The bigger picture encompasses the reality of sin, the reality of injustice, and the reality of reconciliation and redemption. Because Jesus reconciled us to himself through his death on the cross, taking our sins upon himself, we can hope that, despite the brokenness of the world, justice can become a reality, and racial reconciliation is possible. But what Jesus has done is not a reason to become complacent or to avoid personal responsibility. It is not optional to care about injustice; as the apostle John says, if we don’t love others, we don’t love God (1 John 4:20). We should be wary of assuming that we see the whole picture just because we “have the Gospel on our side.” If our picture of the Gospel can’t accommodate the reality of racial injustice, our picture of the Gospel is too small.
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