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  • Doug M Gehm

Grace, Race, & Repentance

There is a common dynamic in almost every conversation I have had lately. I already know that no matter what I say here, it will be too much for some and not enough for others. The environment of polarization within our culture isn’t new, and it makes it more difficult for us to reach a place of true understanding. We live in a time when the only thing everyone agrees about is that nobody agrees about everything. The irony isn’t lost on me.


I was recently talking with my wife about this and lamenting the general lack of nuance in our culture’s conversations. Ours is a sound-bite and video-clip society. Shallow fast food for minds and hearts originally created for depth and meaning that should be slow-cooked like a good Texas brisket. I value more than ever the ability to sit and talk and grow relationships over time. I am convinced that it’s necessary for genuinely healthy relationships. So, I know this one article isn’t enough for everyone. But I do hope it is helpful to someone.


With that being said, I write now with both trepidation and confidence. Trepidation because of the environment into which I speak. Confidence because of the solid rock from which I speak. The gospel of Jesus provides sure footing in slippery spaces.


The other day, I sat watching footage of a major riot in a major American city. I felt the weight of the issues personally, their impact in my home, and their impact on millions. I found my internal ache forming into a tearful prayer that sounded like this in my soul: “We need a leader, God. Who can fix this?”


I am the son of a white Police Officer, and I am the father of Black/Hispanic children. But, despite those unique and beautiful dynamics, I am not conflicted in my position on the issues of race and policing in America. In fact, I am more clear than ever because of these gifts in my home.


The most recent examples of these legitimately charged issues in our fallen world have brought fresh waves of grief, pain, confusion, conversation, and outcry to our Nation. To our governments. To our churches. To our families. And rightfully so.


I say it again: rightfully so.


I believe now is a critical time for each individual to find a place of deep empathy. We need the kind of compassion that Jesus had when he left the 99 to rescue one. We need the heart-wrenching Healer’s mindset when He crossed the sea to catch a break only to find that there was further intense need on the other side and no rest for Him. Jesus saw with the eyes of a Good Shepherd in that moment. He had compassion. Not resentment - not selfishness - not guilt-mongering. His response was of hope, healing, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.


To be honest, I haven’t seen this kind of response from hardly anyone or any angle in these conversations. I include myself in that little critique. I have observed much more defensiveness, judgmentalism, harshness, and self-seeking with few exceptions. It is truly heartbreaking. “We need a leader, God. Who can fix this?”


Now please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t presume to understand all of the dynamics in this space. I don’t believe for a single second that I have a complete grasp on things right now. I am seeking to sit at my Savior’s feet and open my ears. I have been listening to my friends and family of various ethnicities. I have been repenting from the heart for words, actions, and lack of action. Repenting personally - for the church - and for our Nation - to God and to my diverse friends.


“Repent” is the first word of the gospel. John the Baptist preached it to pave the way for the Savior to bring salvation. If we as believers do not walk in repentance in the face of sin, what right do we have to claim the truth of the gospel as our lifestyle? Will Jesus bring His life, light, and love to a modern space not prepared by John’s ancient call?


Here is the old hard truth for us to face freshly today: we are all wrong. There is no exemption from repentance. To ignore this to any degree, extreme or minute, is to dismiss the gospel of Jesus and the only true healing path forward.


With that now on the table, let me be clear about just a few things that I believe are true and where some of the tension resides in between the current conversation:


  1. Racism is present in our society, and it’s wrong. Everyone can and should do more to better understand how and why this is true by making a personal effort to walk in opposition to prejudice.

  2. Not all Law Enforcement are racist or murderers. There are far more good and honorable officers out there than those who should lose their badge or their freedom.

  3. Every single human person has a bias that must be educated, set aside, and ultimately overcome. Human beings are sinful and selfish. We gravitate toward our own comfort and toward those who resemble ourselves. It takes intentional effort to grow beyond this. Hard work that is necessary for each of us. You and me both.

  4. Violence in any format will not affect positive change. It will only drive the divide deeper and steeper. So “Be angry, and do not sin” [Psalm 4:4, Eph 4:26].

While not exhaustive, if you find any of these propositions difficult to agree with, I would humbly submit to you that it’s possible you are unintentionally closing yourself off from a valid point of view that deserves a seat at the table in the conversation of how to move forward in a positive direction for the sake of our generation and even more importantly, for the ones to come. Our children can’t afford for us to bunker down into positional rhetoric and engage in hostile wordsmanship.

Ravi Zacharias, who recently passed away from a bout with cancer, impacted my life in an immeasurable way. As a native Indian man, I heard him reference a proverb of his home country, which he paraphrased into English like this, “It does no good to cut off a person’s nose, and then give them a rose to smell.” The clear implication being this: if in the process of presenting something good, you wound the person you are seeking to win, you have lost. Motive matters in this conversation. Intention matters in this conversation. Methods matter in this conversation. Tone matters. May I humbly challenge us all in this space to check both our motives and our methods? Ask yourself, is the goal to win people to a just cause? Or are you holding to a position just because?


Martin Luther King Jr understood that methods mattered. In speaking about what he called “The Method of nonviolent resistance,” he wrote, “it is a method that challenges all people struggling for justice and freedom. God grant that we wage the struggle with dignity and discipline.” He saw his mission as a struggle between justice and injustice. He considered the people active on both sides of that equation worthy of redemption when he continued to state, “May all who suffer oppression in this world reject the self-defeating method of retaliatory violence and choose the method that seeks to redeem.”


Those whose lives have been truly transformed by the gospel of Jesus should know this better than any other soul alive. We belong at the front of the line for the great cause against injustice in all of its sinister forms.


“We need a leader, God. Who can fix this?”


I am genuinely convinced that the ultimate solution for racism, for brutality, for the eradication of those things and more besides them both in society and in my own sinful heart is found in the King we are all longing for: Jesus. His substitution on our behalf, His life in place of ours, His wounds to cover our own. His kingdom on earth.


Our Creator has injected Himself into the equation and suffered with us and for us. He has carried the weight of every act of injustice and violence ever committed. He has felt every blow and seethes with righteous anger at the atrocity humanity has inflicted upon each other for thousands of years. He came once before to bring mercy and grace while shouldering the justice and wrath of God. And He has promised to come yet again to hold each one to a just account. When He returns, He will bring justice in righteousness. He will restore and heal and bring wholeness to the empty spaces we cannot influence on a social media platform, political forum, rally, riot, protest, conversation, or address fully with words in any language.

God’s answer to my ache, “We need a leader, God. Who can fix this?” is both “I have” and “I will.” His answer has a name and can be known well: Jesus

So, what do we do until he comes?


While I firmly believe the only ultimate answer and hope we have for true healing and harmony is found in Christ and His return, I just as firmly believe that the church has been left as His Ambassadors. Each of us is here to represent God Himself. His goodness, His grace, His mercy, His justice, His compassion. And we are to express the image of God to every race, color, language, etc. until He comes.


What does that look like in my life?


Start listening // Have conversations with trustworthy people about this issue. In the past two weeks, I have personally conversed on this subject with Black men & women, Hispanic men & women, Law Enforcement, and more besides - All of varying ages and experiences. It has been hard work, inconvenient work, uncomfortable work, and healing work. I heard things I didn’t want to hear, and I confessed and repented of things I had forgotten. I listened more than I spoke. And I learned so much.


Don’t listen to all of the media; don’t listen to everything you read on social networks. Speak with the wise. Search the Scriptures.


My request to you who read this to the end, start a personal conversation and listen, then search the scriptures. You will grow to know what to do from there. The King of justice will guide you.


After all, if Jesus Himself is the solution - and we are His Ambassadors, then the answer to my question, “We need a leader, God. Who can fix this?” might start with you and me.

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