By Steve Freeman
President, Tennessee Baptist Convention
As I write this article, our nation continues to struggle with the horrific events of Charlottesville, Va., that took place on the weekend of Aug. 11-12 when thousands of white supremacists gathered to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park. Along with those white supremacist protesters came a group of counter-protesters.
As one could assume, violence broke out among the groups. As discourse escalated, one deranged man protesting on the supremacist side, drove his car into a group of counter-protesters. This evil and violent act led to the death of one pedestrian and injured countless others. This was a weekend that outlined the atrocity of the great evil of racial discrimination that exists in our nation and abroad. I used the word “evil,” because we must understand first and foremost that racism in any form is evil — crafted by the devil himself as an attack on the crown jewel of God’s creation — the human race.
Racial discrimination is certainly not a new issue in our country. It has existed since the founding of our great nation. From the deplorable practice of slavery that was fundamentally abolished in the 19th century, to the intolerable treatment of those of different ethnic origins that led to the civil rights movement and the violence that ensued in the 1960s. Although many laws exist on the books that outlaw discrimination, racism is still prevalent in our nation. I believe that racism still exists because of the natural depravity of the human heart. The Bible says in Jeremiah 17.9 “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick.” Racial discrimination in any form stems from the issue of sin that plagues this fallen world and only has one cure — the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Those who stand for any form of racial or ethnic hatred are blinded by sinful hearts to the truth of God’s Word. The answer to the question of racial superiority within the human race is easily traced back more than 2000 years ago when Jesus provided for the church our fundamental and primary command to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28.19). The word “nations” is not necessarily referring to any geographic location. In this command, our Lord was simply mandating the “who” we are to go to, not necessarily the “where” we are to go. The word “nations” in this passage is the Greek word “ethnos,” from which we derive our English word “ethnic” or “ethnicity.” It provides incredible insight into the heart of God, outlining the fact that God’s heart is for all people, or “whosoever will,” to be saved and become children of God (John 1. 12).
The idea that any race, or ethnic origin, is superior to another is laid to waste under the gravity of the truth of God’s Word. To take that a step further, we as God’s people should truly understand that fundamentally there is only one “ethnos” and that is the human race! When we think about it theologically, every human being has the same origin: “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).
Again, it is sin and inherently wicked hearts that blinds people to this fundamental truth.
If we, as the church, are to ever be so reminded of our privilege and responsibility as the children of God, it is now. We must first understand that the only thing that will make “America great” is the gospel.
The hope of America is not rooted in a past, present, or future presidential election. The hope of the world does not rest on the legislative penmanship of a congress. The hope of the world rests in the power of I Corinthians 15:3-4 whereby “Jesus died for our sins according to the Scripture, He was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the scripture.” Racial discrimination can be alleviated, but not eliminated, by governmental laws. History has already proven that good laws cannot change bad hearts. This evil can only be confronted with the truth. If there was ever a time for the church to rise up and speak against the atrocity and the evils of racial discrimination it is now! But, not only should we speak against these great evils, we must also speak for the gospel. Romans 10:14-15 states “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?” I want to remind all Tennessee Baptists that we have been commanded to “go.” We have been “sent.”
Tennessee Baptists’ hearts, as the church, should be so burdened for those to whom “(our) adversary, the devil, (who) prowls around like a roaring lion (I Peter 5:8)” has devoured and blinded from the truth. Our hearts should be so prompted by the hope and desire that everyone on the planet would accept the invitation extended by Jesus in Romans 10:9 that we would be willing to engage all people with the fact and promise that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever would believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
I hereby call on all Tennessee Baptists, as we stand in the wake of this great tragedy, to read and adhere to Romans 10:10-18 in the days ahead.
Let’s “Win TN” with the power of the gospel and defeat the evils of racism in the hearts of our churches, communities, cities, counties, and the overall great state of Tennessee.