Although the Alabama election is behind us, the responses to the accusations and allegations against Roy Moore revealed more than an unsurprising rift between the political parties. The responses exposed the need for the role of morality in this type of discussion. This does not merely pertain to political races either; it also pertains to the racial tension we feel in our country. The question we need to ask is this: what role does morality play in race relations? To answer, we must recognize the standard we hold to and the Savior we trust in.
Our Standard: The Bible
When we enter into a conversation on the racial tension and injustice our country is facing, we are joining a discussion on morality. To denounce or defend is to make a moral judgment. Yet, on what basis do we rightfully denounce racism? How can we defend and call for equality for all races and ethnicities? The reality is if we do not have an absolute standard, we cannot convincingly call out what is wrong. Without an absolute authority, truth and ethics are relative. But if an absolute standard and authority exists, then arguments against racism and for racial equality and justice become more convincing.
We have such a standard in the Bible and an authority of God Himself. He is the Creator who owns everything and everyone (Psalm 24:1) and He has made humanity in His image (Genesis 1:26–28). All ethnicities are God’s image-bearers. To curse any human being is to curse a person made in the likeness of God and that is sin (James 3:9–12). To show favoritism based on economics or ethnicity is to commit the sin of partiality (James 2:1–7). The authority of God in His Word is the standard which gives morality credence in calling racism wrong. It actually goes further, calling it sin! Racism fails to show love for neighbor, thereby failing to show love for God (James 2:8–10).
Our Savior: The Gospel of Grace
The Christian worldview does not stop with cursing the darkness of racism. The Christian worldview shines and shares the light. It is not enough to simply point out the problem of racism. The problem and sin of racism needs an answer and solution. We find such in Jesus Christ. As God in the flesh, Jesus perfectly held to the standard of God’s Word (Hebrews 4:15), He died for all we who have not (1 Peter 3:18), and His resurrection is now what gives us newness of life (Romans 6:4). His commission is to make disciples of all ethnicities (Matthew 28:18–20) because His salvation includes people from all tribes, tongues, and nations (Revelation 5:9–10, 7:9–10).
So, how does the person and work of Jesus Christ impact discussions on morality and race now? Jesus moves our conversations from race relations to grace relations. The gospel of grace transforms our response and our motive in this matter. If we are going to shine and share the light, our first response must be to confess our own sin to God (1 John 1:9). The grace of God does not excuse lack of morals; rather, grace drives us to morality (Romans 6:1ff). If racism is ultimately a failure to love God by not loving those in His image, then our sin is first and foremost against God. We must confess to God and, then, one another where we have been prejudiced and racist, showing favoritism and inequality, and even where we have been apathetic. We do not disregard the past, either personal or corporate, but we acknowledge the past. We do not abdicate responsibility for our sin, but we ask for forgiveness from God and others we’ve wronged through the act of repentance.
For those of us who have been wronged, grace relations commands we forgive those who confess and repent of their sin (Luke 17:1–4). At this point, objections may arise. Forgive? I could never do that! The truth of the gospel speaks to this, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). None of us can forgive in our own power. We need the motivation and power of the gospel to do that. When our hearts grasp how God has forgiven rebellious sinners like us, we will begin to recognize the motivation for forgiveness (Matthew 18:21–35). When we remember we are indwelt with the Holy Spirit, we will rely on the Lord’s strength to forgive. To be sure, forgiveness does not equate with immediate feelings nor does it mean the person will not have to deal with consequences. It will take time to build trust and the like. But Scripture calls for the extension of forgiveness because of the grace of God.
Grace relations speak to both the offender and the offended. Grace relations teaches us to repent and to forgive based on the gospel. Still, what does repentance and forgiveness look like when addressing past and present sins? I admit to you I do not have all the answers and I am growing in my own understanding as well, but one attitude should characterize our conversations: humility! As a Caucasian man, I believe it is particularly important for me to enter these conversations with humility. In the past, I have been ignorant and apathetic, which I ask forgiveness for. I cannot fully understand what life is like for my minority brothers and sisters. I should not seek to ignore discussing the dark moments of racism in our history but to soberly acknowledge them and to be active in working against such evil in my own day. In our interactions, we should all desire to follow the way of Christ and think of others more by looking to their interests (Philippians 2:3–4), because grace and love wants what is best for others. In humility, we listen in order to learn. We should not be quick to anger or speech, but we should be quick to listen (James 1:19–20).
Grace relations lays its foundation on the standard of the Bible and its structure on the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ for any discussion on race relations. Morality leads us to grace and grace leads us to a morality produced by the gospel that points us to repentance and forgiveness, guiding us to an attitude of humility. Our standard and our Savior. That is the role of morality in grace relations.