Voices: Jesus set the captive and the captor free

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This is the sixth time I have sat down to write something in response to the unrest that swept this country in response to the racially motivated murders of Black men and women by police officers.

The sixth time I have determined to weigh in with the full heaviness of my heart, a heart full to bursting with sorrow and anger and frustration.

Each time, I have written maybe a paragraph before finding myself at a loss for words, overwhelmed by the enormity of the issues and my own tumultuous emotions.

It’s a lot. And with all due respect, it’s a lot in a way my white brothers and sisters never will understand, and in a way I have not been sure how to bear some days. A lot in a way, most days, I have not borne well.

So, for the sixth time, I am sitting down, this time in the hope I finally can bear this burden well, that I can speak into pain as God calls his people to do, that I can speak honestly and biblically.

Being honest about racists

The truth is racism is real, racists are real, and they are everywhere. I have known them, I have spoken to them, I have eaten dinner with them, I have talked and laughed and shared life with them.

I have been told by racists how much they respect me, how they love me, and how they want to be there for me. And I have struggled to reconcile these two sides of the people around me, these two utterly incongruous responses to the same skin, people I have known since childhood in some cases.

In this wrestling, I have come to an important conclusion, something I have known for a long time but think, in all my anger and fervor, I may have lost sight of.

Racists are people, too.

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Racists are not irredeemable monsters utterly devoid of humanity or good qualities and undeserving of happiness or forgiveness. They’re people—sinful, flawed, broken and fallen, but beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of a perfect Father. They are God’s beloved creation—just like me—and they can be forgiven—just like me.

Forgiveness is a challenge

I realize that’s difficult to read. It’s difficult for me to write, because forgiveness is inherently difficult. We in the American church talk about forgiveness so much, yet understand it so little. In doing so, we devalue and undersell it.

Forgiveness is a miracle made possible by the grace of God. Forgiveness transforms lives that do not truly deserve it, which is precisely why it is so important we show forgiveness even to the most hateful and spiteful among us. Such people are no more beyond repentance and redemption than you or I are.

It’s hard for me to think that when I read the letters sent to me in response to my calls for justice, letters that sound like they were written in 1957 instead of 2020.

It’s hard for me to think that when I get on social media and see friends, former church members and people I grew up with saying the same things but with prettier, subtler language.

It’s hard when my feed is flooded with one example after another of my Black brothers and sisters being oppressed, brutalized and even murdered for the color of their skin, having their voices silenced forever for the simple crime of being bold enough to use them.

But love often is difficult, and forgiveness always is.

I do not know if I can say I love each of these people who have tried to unravel my skin with their words, their fists, their policies, their authority, their power, their deception. But I do know I want to love them and will try my best to do so, even through all this pain, even if they never reciprocate. That is what Christ calls me to do, no matter how hard it may be.

A tension in forgiveness

Forgiveness is even harder when I see how it has been weaponized against the Black community in an attempt to keep us docile. We are told we should forgive, that we should let things go, that we should release our anger, that we are somehow not being Christlike. But forgiveness is not divorced from justice, nor should it be.

I can demand the officers who murdered Breonna Taylor be imprisoned, while simultaneously calling for my community to offer them grace. The officers can be punished for the sins of their past without being chained to them, while still being set free to grow as people in the future. In fact, punishment for sin is an important step in achieving freedom from it.

Forgiveness and justice often go together. I want both for my racist brothers and sisters in Christ, because while they may be wrong, they still are my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I want to tear down racism and the systems that perpetuate it, because both are evil. I do not want to crush racists underneath the systems and “isms” when they come tumbling down, because Jesus came to set free both the captive and the captor. Jesus came to redeem us all.

It’s OK and even right to be angry right now. But don’t let anger cause you to lose sight of God’s heart. Seek justice and love mercy, to the glory of God.

Trent Richardson is a student at Dallas Theological Seminary and the student ministry intern at Valley Ranch Baptist Church. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

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