This Just In: Countering Chaos with Christ
By John Nunes
The gruesome murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day has become both a symbol of injustice and a flashpoint for protests in society. We may find ourselves feeling anger and outrage as tensions continue to rise. What does it mean for Christians?
We Are Pro-Life
Race may have been a factor in the death of George Floyd—we don't yet know the motivation in the heart of the former police officer who killed him. We do know that the seemingly willful suffocation has led to charges and accusations that the officer's policing actions were wrong—that is, immoral and unconstitutional.
Let this be our first focus: God, the creator and preserver of life, made humans in His image (Genesis1:26). The United States' Constitution recognizes that as a right to life and liberty. The Fifth Commandment prohibits murder based on that image of God in which humans are made (Genesis 9:6). As Christians we vigorously defend life, the fundamental dignity of all human persons, from the conception to natural death. Martin Luther shows us that this positive approach to living out our Christian ethics means not only the avoidance of evil such as murder, but also the intentional pursuit of good things for our neighbor, like the promotion of life. By grace, through faith, Christians serve others in ways that are the opposite of that evil: "God rightly calls all persons murderers who do not offer counsel or assistance to those in need and peril of body or life" (Large Catechism, Explanation to the Fifth Commandment).
We Are Opposed to Racism
Regardless of the motivation of the police officer, the murder of George Floyd has understandably served as a spark for discussion regarding racial justice.
St. Paul tells us that race itself does not exist theologically: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Scientists have confirmed this biblical worldview with their studies of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), showing that there is often more of a difference within so-called racial groups than there is between them. Race is truly fictional. Racism, however, is a tragic fact. The public theology of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod takes a clear stance, calling racism a sin because it denies the God-given dignity of other groups while exalting one's own group. "Racist thought seeks to justify self-aggrandizement, cruelty, and paternalism in favor of the 'superior' group and to inflict low self-image, subservience, deprivation, loss of equal privilege, and even slavery upon the 'inferior group'" (Commission on Theology and Church Relations, Racism and the Church: Overcoming the Idolatry, p. 11). In this area, pastors are encouraged to preach the Law practically and pointedly, including "careful and specific applications of the way the sin of racism actually works in the lives of people" (CTCR: 36). No one—NO ONE—gets off the hook of guilt for sin. We will always have sin with us; that doesn't mean we don't repent daily from it. Likewise, we will likely always have racism; that doesn’t mean we don't work to be peacemakers and bridge-builders in the Name of Jesus. And how is this possible for us Christians? We experience an abundance of grace through the forgiveness of sins given to us in Christ Jesus. We are free in the Gospel to foster peace out of love for neighbor.
In the face of this tragic situation and time of turmoil for the United States, we cling to our confession of faith. To be a confessional Lutheran means three things: 1) to bind yourself to the Scriptures which bear witness to Christ through the guidance of the Lutheran Confessions; 2) to daily confess your sin—including the sin of racism—and to receive the ever-fresh forgiveness that comes from Christ; and 3) when you sense the Holy Spirit pushing you to be talkative, or when you are feeling speechless about life, use the words of the Nicene and Apostles' creeds as your confession of faith. It's a fabulous framework for the Christian witness.
There's no room for moral superiority or thinking yourself better than others. Virtue-signaling is not who we are or what we do. We are all too familiar with our own sinfulness. We know that working to address the consequences of sin is itself always tainted by sin. We comprehend the former more easily than the latter; namely, it’s easier for us to see the consequences of sin in others than it is to discern that stain in ourselves.
That is why we confess! In the midst of a culture of death, we confess the abundant burst of baptismal life that Jesus Christ gives liberally to all people, from each tribe, of every nation, of every complexion. In the chaos and caterwaul of protests, extremism, looting, and shooting, we confess our own sinfulness and we seek new ways to serve the least, last, and left behind in society. Christian historian Jaroslav Pelikan reminds us that "in the darkest hours of life, you've got to believe something specific. And that specification is the task of the creed." (Jaroslav Pelikan). Ultimately, we know that genuine hope is not found in deeds, but in the hope in the center of our creed, Jesus Christ, through whom we receive newness of life, both now and in eternity.
Rev. Dr. John Nunes is the president of Concordia College-New York in Bronxville, New York.
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