The Need for Real Change
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
(2 Corinthians 7:10)
Thursday, Week of Pentecost
Lord God, we long for release from the burden of sin that remains in our flesh. It is this sin that isolates us from one another. It is this sin that causes us to hurt one another and consider ourselves better or more worthy. Forgive us for this, Lord. We humbly and boldly pray that You would lead us to an honest assessment of our role in the way racism still lives in our nation. Lead us to turn from this, Father, that we might truly live as Your children, living lives of service to one another. We pray that You would help us to communicate clearly and turn from the violence that has rocked our nation. Bless us with empathy and courage, that we might truly reflect Your eternal love to a world that needs it now more than ever. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
We live in a world that needs real change. My pastor, the Rev. Dr. Paul Linnemann, who serves as the President of the Northwest District of our church body, shared some thoughts recently that are worthy of sharing with you. I hope it will bless you and challenge you at the same time…
Pastor Langdon Reinke
[President Linnemann writes:]
For the past three months I have been writing weekly letters that have primarily addressed the pandemic situation in which we have found ourselves. While this is still a very real concern, this week there is an even deeper and challenging issue that has come to the fore. Our society has once again been confronted with the reality of racism with the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. People across our country have had strong reactions that have often erupted in violence.
As a white American of northern European descent, I have little experience with being the object of racism. It is primarily an idea for me, not an experience. I have not been afraid that my children or grandchildren or the people God has given me especially to love would fall victim to the violence we have witnessed in the past few weeks. That makes it even more difficult for me to write this letter, because it will be easy to dismiss its message because I am one of the privileged. At the same time, as a follower of Jesus, it is important to commit to the written word the reality of racism, to support those who suffer because of it, and to seek to make it a thing of the past.
When we are faced with such deep problems with such far-reaching circumstances, we have a tendency to react rather than respond. These reactions often take the form of wanting to find fault in others. If we’re angry enough, it might lead us to lash out, even to the point of violence, as has happened in many of the cities in America. It’s also our tendency to want to blame others for the situation, usually those whose experience and place in society is different than ours. We must resist the impulse to react. We must embrace the call to respond, and a healthy response is more than just decrying such behavior as sinful or evil; it means beginning to move toward true change.
Real change begins with real repentance, and repentance is so much more than simple regret. Repentance involves a commitment to making a change. True repentance begins with a simple question – how have I contributed to this situation? The possible answers to this question are myriad, ranging from an active and vocal racism to passive tolerance of something intolerable. Your answer to this question requires real soul searching and prayerful consideration of how our Lord Jesus’ Great Commandment – love one another – has or hasn’t been active in your life. If your response is, “I have no responsibility for this situation,” then you’re fooling yourself. We have all contributed to racism in some way, and, sisters and brothers, it’s time to repent and make some changes.
While northern Europeans like me are among the privileged and may not have real personal and tangible experience being the object of racism, we do share points of contact with those who have. We are parents. We have parents. We have deep relationships, and these deep relationships can serve as a foundation for growing in our understanding of what it means to suffer from systemic racism. It is our calling to live our lives with empathy and care for one another, and for someone like me, that means seeking to grow in my sense of empathy for those who are hurt by racism. It means seeking and growing in relationships with those who suffer. It means listening – really listening to their fears, their concerns, and their anger without dismissing it. It means seeking a more accurate narrative of our nation’s history and how we have allowed this to take place. It means praying that God would change my heart and my mind so that I can be a better instrument of blessing to individuals and to society as a whole. It means being sensitive to opportunities to speak into the situation with the mind of Christ.
Christianity has some foundational principles that directly speak to us. First, we believe that motivation for all of God’s action in this world is love. He has a deep love for people that is based on full and complete awareness of who they are. We believe that He draws near to us in the person of His Son, Jesus, who became one of us to save us. We believe that we have an advocate in the person of the Holy Spirit who leads us into a relationship with the God who loves us, and, while we are imperfect in our execution, we believe we have a calling to reflect the love we have been given with the people of the world, regardless of the color of their skin, their ethnic background, or their personal history. This is our calling, and, if we truly lived our calling, racism would be replaced with honor, respect, and love.
I want to call you and me back to where God wants us to be. We need to acknowledge the presence of racism in our society and to respond to it with the love of Christ. We need to take some personal and specific action to influence our society. We need to grow as God’s people and not tolerate the persecution of people in our midst. We need to follow Jesus.
Here are some thoughts you might consider:
- Look for intentional ways to connect with people in your immediate community. Begin to develop relationships with them. Identify local leaders who can help you grow in your understanding of the issue and deepen your level of empathy. These may be teenagers or young adults who are already a part of your relational circle.
- The last District convention called for a Task Force on Racism that will be helping us work with this issue next summer. Include this on your personal prayer list.
- Broaden the voices you are listening to. It’s easy to get lost in listening only to those with whom we agree. Look for opportunities to consider alternative perspectives by seeking other input. I’d recommend Strength to Love – a collection of sermons delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as one resource to check out.
- Reconnect with God’s Word as it speaks about division between individuals and people groups. Seek to reconnect with God’s heart to bring all people to the good news of the Gospel in Jesus Christ.
- Establish intentional ways that people in your ministry setting can talk about these issues, search God’s Word together, and pray for healing in our nation. Make it an intentional topic for conversation, study, and prayer.
- Brainstorm with other people ways in which you can grow in your awareness and identify responses to the problem in your local area.
God bless us with His Holy Spirit during this Pentecost season, that He might lead us into all truth.
Serving the Lord and His church,
Rev. Dr. Paul Linnemann
Northwest District President