To be fair, I asked Dave to debate this issue with me and he did NOT respond in the official sense of “okay, let’s debate.” But he did respond and that is enough for me. The reason I am posting this exchange is that I hope to influence how you see this issue and change the way you think about it. I hope for real change. I hope for spiritual growth. I hope for sanctification. I hope for a unity of truth, of love, in our diversity as a body of believers.
Dave Miller wrote:
“Maybe it would be best for us (I’m assuming that like me, you are a white American) to work on removing the log of racism, prejudice, and all of its effects in America before we attempt to extract the speck of unforgiveness from the eye of the Black community?”
First, Scripture doesn’t charge the church with the responsibility for “fixing” the pagan culture. The Bible is unconcerned with external compliance to our favorite Christian principles. It is entirely concerned with heart-obedience, with full submission, with complete devotion to the Sovereign Lord of all!
Second, to suggest that we handle racism as a cultural problem prior to informing Christians who have unforgiveness and bitterness in their hearts is a dereliction of pastoral duty, indeed, of our Christian duty. God is sovereign. I am NOT entitled to anything, contrary to what someone else said earlier. Whatever I receive that is good in this life comes through grace, not some inherent RIGHT I have. I am a vile rebel against a perfectly good sovereign Lord who is also my Creator. The good gifts I receive are an act of grace. The trouble I experience are 1) consequences of sin, 2) but also being worked by God himself in my life for my good so long as I love him. Is this not what Romans 8 clearly teaches us? Is it not the case that Jesus said that if we do not forgive others of their sin against us, the Father will NOT forgive our sins? How could we let someone believe that it is okay to withhold forgiveness until the situation has been corrected JUST IN ACCORD WITH MY PERSONAL satisfaction?
Dave Miller writes,
“Can you not see how a White man lecturing Black people to just forgive and forget comes across less than effectively?”
No, I cannot. Not a black Christian, not at all. And this is the problem. It proposes to fix the “one-way-street” sort of racism. Is it okay for a black Christian to judge me, a white Christian, for speaking God’s truth to them the same as I would speak it to any other SIMPLY on the ground that I am white? This thinking does NOTHING to produce repentance and forgiveness. I resent the fact that I cannot preach to black Christians without being ipso facto judged to be a racist or sympathetic to racism. We are incubating hateful attitudes when we think in patterns such as this. The black Christian needs help in this area the same as some white Christians need sharp rebuke for their left-over racial attitudes. But it has to be 100% rebuke in BOTH directions, not just one. Why? Because that is the only Biblical response. Any other response is political and that is unconscionable in my opinion.
Dave Miller writes,
“It reminds me of a man in a previous ministry who was horrible to his wife for 14 years. She finally had enough and kicked him to the curb. Suddenly he “repented” and couldn’t believe that his wife didn’t immediately and completely forgive him for 14 years of verbal and emotional abuse.”
Your story reminds of the some of that hardest sayings that Jesus spoke. And the one on forgiveness qualifies:
- Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” . Mt 18:32, 35
- but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Mt 6:15.
I think we have all been wronged if we have lived long enough in this world. I know I have. I know I have wronged others. Where does our teaching Christians about forgiveness begin? It has to begin with the Christian concept of grace. I had a tough counselor a few years back. He was a Masters Seminary man. He asked me if I had been wronged or trespassed by humans to the extent and degree that I had wronged my heavenly Father over the course of my life. Then he asked me to justify withholding forgiveness from others in light of God’s own forgiveness toward me. Then he asked me to consider the cost of that forgiveness. I was hemmed in on all sides with NO EXCUSE whatsoever to withhold forgiveness. My heart was smitten over my sinful and ARROGANT attitude. I got it. I have taken that lesson with me to this very day. God put me through the wringer and I learned a beautiful lesson about true forgiveness. I also learned how to suffer better, something all Christians ought to learn sooner than later. I learned that I was created by God FOR God. My only concern is to glorify God according to his Word in every single situation I find myself. Those are two very valuable lessons. But someone had to bruise me, an already bruised man in order to help me see God’s goodness and my own wicked pride and arrogant attitude. Who is going to lovingly bruise our Christian brothers that suffer from racial maltreatment? Who will stand up and help them take up Christ’s attitude? That will take real courage. Anyone can join the band wagon. I am not interested in external, shallow political or cultural shifts. I am interested in real heart change. I am interested in genuinely loving my brothers enough to speak the truth into their lives. I am interested in the sanctification of my brothers just as I am interested in pleasing my God. And if my being “white” is a problem for them, then that only proves my point even more.
Dave Miller writes,
“We might do better to DEMONSTRATE our love and concern for the black community rather than lecturing them about their flaws in forgiveness.”
We DO demonstrate love for our black Christians and brothers in Christ when we help them see sin in their own life. To allow race to get in the way of loving our brothers the way we should is itself racism. It is saying this: well, because you are white, like me, I will rebuke you or correct you in love because I love you and I want God’s best for you. But I will not do the same for my black brothers and sisters because, well, you know, the race thing. Is this the sort of behavior we want from leaders? From Christians? I don’t think it is. I could care less what color you are. If I see hate in your attitude, I am going to remind you of that obscure THEME in John regardless of your race:
- 9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 1 Jn 2:9–11.
I think a case can be made that anyone who deliberately withholds the truth, God’s truth, from his brother who desperately needs it, hates his brother in that instant. Are we saying to the former racist whose sins are now forgiven him because of Christ, NOT SO FAST MR! You have some penance to pay. Christ may have released your transgression, your debt, but you still have ME to deal with. And if you want to be known as a true Christian, you will have to meet MY standards as well! Is that the sort of attitude we are unwittingly promoting, endorsing, or refusing to rebuke and correct? Really?
I hope some of you read this and see how this conversation is uncovering attitudes and thinking that are misguided and seriously diverge from Scripture. I hope you begin with a high view of grace, that you recognize the seriousness of the sin of unforgiveness, and that you also are connecting the dots of my main concerns on this subject.
I do not intend to be overly polemical or sharp. However, I do believe the real spiritual need is behind the curtain and it seems to me that most people are not talking about it. At least it is on the table at this point. I hope we can push forward and advance the conversation to a more substantive place.