Christians have a Gospel that is profoundly influential, transformative, and significant in the way we think about race, said author and pastor John Piper.
Piper, of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn., is set to join Pastor Tim Keller, of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, and King’s College Professor of Theology Anthony Bradley in a conversation on the Gospel and race this week in New York City.
As a preview to the talk, Piper explores how Christians should approach race issues in a March 22 blog entry amid the uproar over the death of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old African-American teen killed in February by a 28-year-old man named George Zimmerman. There have been rallies and petitions signed across the U.S., and thousands are calling for Zimmerman’s arrest, saying the shooting was racially motivated.
Piper says that even though it’s year 2012, race still plays a huge role in our society. He notes that it is also an issue central to biblical salvation. In the New Testament there were incidents “constantly revolving around ethnic realities,” Piper highlights.
Christians should be aware of and thinking about how to approach these tensions when it comes to race in the 21st century, he says. Piper cites Hebrews 13:3 as a reference point for conversations about race: “Remember those who . . . are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”
He writes that the verse has nothing to do with what color your body is. “This is a cry for Christian whites and blacks and Asians and Latinos to feel the human flesh on their faith in Jesus. Trayvon’s flesh. His dad’s flesh. George’s flesh. His dad’s flesh. That kind of getting in their flesh will yield a long night’s groaning.”
Piper explained that because of Jesus’ death on the cross for all sinners, he also “died and rose again to say no to racial reactions that result in dead boys. Not just to say no. But to empower no. And the power is not in shedding others’ blood but his own.”
This kind of power is humbling, and gives people of different races the power to not be suspicious of each other or to buy into their own racial inclinations and suspicions.
Being a Christian means being crucified with Christ, and crucifying daily that “old fearful, suspicious, unloving self. That self died with Jesus,” he said.
And for Piper, even though the Martin case is still missing many details, he said that if only George Zimmerman had had this view of race, the one we can have in Jesus, he might have thought: “I have a gun. For Christ’s sake – for the sake of love – I better not follow this young man. I might wind up using it. Law enforcement is on the way. I have done my duty. Lord, I pray that this man will be treated with respect, and that justice will be done, and that your name will be great in this place.”
Because at the end of the day, Piper said that Jesus died in love for love and “Jesus – like love – Jesus-empowered love – would rather be shamed than shoot.”