Who Is My Neighbor?: On Race, Justice and the Way of Jesus
The tragic and senseless killing of George Floyd is another painful reminder that there remains much to be done here in America around issues of racism, both personal and systemic. His death reminds us of a wound in America that has not yet healed. It is a wound about which we find it difficult to talk, not only in society at large but also within the Church.
Does the Scripture have anything to say to us in these days? Are there starting points for us? There are many. I will only point to one here and now.
A religious leader asked Jesus one day, “Who is my neighbor?” He hoped to comfortably justify himself concerning the biblical command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27-29). Rather than a direct reply, Jesus told a story illustrating this kind of love in action. This story, known as the parable of the Good Samaritan, intentionally emphasized the ethnic tensions of that time. Take some time to read it, imagining it in a 21st-century setting.
The actions of the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable provide a defining aspect of Christlike love in action – reaching across ethnic and racial lines to love as we would want to be loved. Such love propels one beyond words to action. I am reasonably sure that Jesus’ cast of characters stunned His listeners and left some of them with awkward, if not uncomfortable feelings.
A Samaritan? Act lovingly toward a Jew? Really?
I am grieved by the grave racial injustice that dominate news headlines, preempting the current pandemic. It is not a new story. It is another chapter in a long story that our black neighbors have endured for generations, even centuries. For many of us who do not come from the black community, our lack of awareness over time has led to inadequate responses to the injustice and accompanying suffering endured by our black neighbors.
We were silent when we should have spoken up. We were inactive when we should have been active. And today, conditioned by our contemporary context, we continue with some measure of blindness and bias.
However, people and organizations can experience seasons of growth and learning. I believe we are now in such a season. And I believe God’s people must rise to the opportunity, humbly seeking His enabling grace.
While TEAM has, for 130 years, sought to proclaim and live out the Gospel among the nations, we also want to stand with our black brothers and sisters here in America. We need to listen, to understand, and to act in love as “joint heirs of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). As a leader in TEAM, I desire to grow in my understanding of and biblical response to such matters as race, ethnicity, and class. I want to ask all the friends of TEAM to do the same.
We affirm the theological truths that:
- All people are image-bearers of God — regardless of skin color, language, gender, age, economic status, or any other category (Genesis 1:26-27).
- As image-bearers of God, all people should be treated with dignity and respect, recognizing that love, not injustice, signals the coming Kingdom that Jesus is revealing through His people (John 13:34-35).
- Racism, whether personal or systemic, is nothing less than the sin of partiality, condemned by God and against which the Scriptures teach (James 2:9-10).
- In Christ, people who otherwise would have no earthly reason to associate can find acceptance, love, and genuine fellowship as members together in that glorious Church Jesus Himself is assembling from all peoples, languages, and tribes (Matthew 16:18, Ephesians 2:14, Revelation 7:9-10).
It’s a matter of “loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.” And especially in these days, loving my black neighbor means taking the initiative to befriend, listen, understand and lament — and then stand with them.
I must speak up for my brother, my sister. Such love in action across racial lines is deeply needed in America. The church of Jesus Christ should be among the first responders to acts of injustice. Rooted in the Gospel, we can together pursue a future that genuinely glorifies God —one of reconciliation and peace.
May God, by His grace, have mercy on us, enabling His Church to be the agents of change that He intends us to be in these days of need. May He change us as He wills to reflect His glory and grace in a world desperately needing healing and peace. And when it comes to loving our neighbors, may we live up to the words Jesus spoke to that religious leader when considering the actions of the Samaritan: “You go and do likewise.”
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Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
In my book this article perpetuates racism does not dissuade it. Where has there ever been any evidence, much less overwhelming evidence that George Floyd’s death was racially motivated???? You’re saying the mere fact that one was white, one was black makes the cop a racist??? In lieu of this fact you just opened up a political can of worms that can stand between people and the gospel message. Watching what that cop did infuriated me but it now turns out most of the facts were hidden from us. Definitely serves as a criminal justice lesson but turning it into a scriptural lesson on racism is actually a perversion of truth and scripture. If you are not prepared to tackle the fact that black people have disproportionately murdered white people at a 4:1 ratio about white people for generations don’t dive into hot topic, complicated, politically charged issues for the gospel, love your neighbor as yourself stands unpervertedly simple and true for those who will receive it.
This is an amazing response to these critical times. Thank you for your leadership and articulate message calling us all to action!
Thank you Dave! The Gospel of the Kingdom which Jesus and the Apostles lived and proclaimed is what we too have been entrusted with. Justice is an intregal part of the Good News for everyone. Here is an excellent resource from the Bible Project. Please watch the video.
Great video ! Also great conversation starter for neighborhood gatherings.
Thank you, Dave. I have had the privilege of serving in leadership roles with four congregations, only one of which was white. The missions community has a unique set of tools and skills to stand with our Black (and Latino and Asian and Indigenous) brothers and sisters in order to proclaim with joy and power the Gospel which brings together the Samaritan, the Jew, and the Gentile into one Body of Christ. Thank you for encouraging us to go and do likewise.
A very timely message Dave, thank you.
Well said. I pray your message will be received.
Amen, Dave! Thank you for sharing these thoughts.
A few years ago, while doing research on Fredrik Franson, I found the following information in “God Made It Grow” by Dr. Vernon Mortenson on pages 39-40:
The mission committee meeting of January 22, 1892, also decided to send a party to Africa. Franson had earlier ministered among blacks in the United States, and had even mentioned in his China appeal of November 1890 that perhaps he should try to interest black American Christians in a mission to Africa; so when he received feelers about sending missionaries to that continent he was willing to accept this challenge also. He at first considered Angola as a field, but as further information came to hand, decided on a work among the populous Zulu tribe in South Africa.
While I could not find evidence that black missionaries actually served with TEAM at that time, I love that TEAM’s godly founder was inclusive. Pete Johnson, our TEAM Mexico Ministry Area Leader has a slogan, “Together, We’re Better!” Franson would have loved it.
Correction: Pete and Emily Johnson are TEAM Mexico’s Co-Ministry Area Leaders.
Thanks Dave for keeping and reminding us of action steps we can take in our own neighborhoods . Then beyond that. Asking God where am I in that story?
Thank you for not remaining silent. Silence perpetuates ignorance. Prejudice and hate are learned behaviors which also means they can be unlearned and in its place, love is not simply a concept but learned, spoken, and lived out one-act; one word at a time. Like our Father God; we can declare, “Let there be and it is so and the world will know we are Christians by our love.
I would like to thank you