11.22.16

A Theology for the Black Lives Matter Generation: Societal Restoration

How broken is the world?

Consider that question for a moment. Just how broken is the world we live in?

The world we now inhabit is not the world as God originally made it. God created a world of perfect order, of abundant supply, of communion and life with Him. In the Garden, there was no suffering, no death, no disease, no war, no famine and no pain. There was no spousal abuse or child abuse in the Garden. No one stole from their neighbor, acted violently in “road rage,” opened fire in elementary schools or on college campuses, ambushed policemen, filled their veins with drugs, or vandalized churches.

God created a world full of life and plenty.

But sin unmade what God created. The entrance of rebellion affected not just the individuals in the Garden, but all people who followed, the created order itself, and human society.

Our world is very broken. By God’s grace nothing in our world is as broken as it could be. But nothing in our world escapes the corruption of sin. In fact, the entire creation groans and hurts like a woman in childbirth while it awaits the adoption of sons ().

The renewing and remaking of all things has begun in the cross work and resurrection of Christ. Yet, the ultimate renewal of creation awaits the adoption of the children of God. When Christ returns all that sin unmade will finally and fully be remade in Him. We live the Christian life between those poles—between the first Advent of our Lord when He atones for sin and becomes the firstfruit from the dead and the Second Coming of our Lord when He consummates all things in His eternal glorious reign.

The question becomes: What do we do in and about this broken world?

The Ferguson Declaration” attempts an answer in paragraph 2.3. The authors call the Black Church to the work of societal restoration as superior to “State-sanctioned Wrath.”

2.3 “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins” and “And when [Jesus] had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised”  (; ). We reject the false doctrine that State-sanctioned Wrath is superior to God’s way of Forgiveness and Freedom. Black Churches proclaim the Lordship of Christ, who is the head of the Church Universal as well as all other institutions (st Timothy 6:15). We believe that free societies operate in their healthiest states when models the example set by Jesus. Forgiveness, accountability, and restoration should be a community’s priorities when it comes to non-violent offenders of the law. Black Churches call for an end to the War on Drugs, militarized police, the School-to-Prison pipeline, and the closure of the privatized prisons. We support the on-the-ground grassroots efforts of the people of Ferguson as well as #CampaignZero . Lastly, due to the fact that we value the sacred worth of all persons, and respect those in authority, we must all work together for background checks and gun control to ensure the safety of police officers and civilians alike.

With the quotation of and , “The Ferguson Declaration” joins together a biblical statement about the Christians salvation in Christ with the Messianic statement about Christ’s own work in the world. I assume the writers join these texts as a way of saying the Christian has work to do in the world, specifically the same kind of work Christ came to do—preach the gospel to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, preach deliverance to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to set the bruised free.

The Declaration then prioritizes “God’s way of Forgiveness and Freedom” over what it calls “State-sanctioned Wrath.” The text leaves “State-sanctioned Wrath” undefined and without illustration. We may infer from the remainder of the paragraph that things like punitive sentencing, “the War on Drugs, militarized police, the School-to-Prison pipeline” and “privatized prisons” are in view. In these ways and perhaps others, the authors see the state acting in wrathful ways against its citizens. They call Black Churches to speak against these policies and practices. And the authors state their support for grassroots efforts, Campaign Zero, and background checks for firearm purchases.

While it’s not clear why these specific organizations and policies are mentioned, it is clear the authors of The Declaration wish to see real action at the local and policy level to ameliorate what it sees as unjust state force harming the community rather than restoring it.

We must remind ourselves that the final reconciliation of all things was done through Christ and will be finalized at His Second Coming (). Yet in saying that, we must not lapse into the Pharisees’ scrupulous and ultimately superficial escapism. For in the Lord Jesus rebukes those who “tithe mint and dill and cumin,” which is scrupulous but superficial when contrasted to, “and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” The Lord goes on to say, “These you ought to have done” (the scrupulous tithing of spices), “without neglecting the others” (the weightier matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness). According to the Lord, there are some small things we ought to do (tithing) and some major things we cannot let the small things keep us from (justice, mercy, faithfulness). We must do both the small and the great.

Keeping “the weightier matters of the law” presumes real engagement with this fallen world and society. Justice, mercy and faithfulness enter the broken spaces to bind up, heal, correct and restore. Christ calls us to be ambassadors of reconciliation—first to Him () and then with one another (). Christ calls us to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (). That means we have an obligation to both submit to the state (; ) and to confront the state through lawful protest in order to advance righteousness on behalf of the weak ()—especially in the American context where the right to protest is Constitutionally granted and protected. We do no wrong opposing injustice; rather, we do right. We do no right ignoring injustice; rather, we do wrong. The Christian must engage the world with faith-filled, God-trusting, neighbor-loving, righteousness-advancing, sin-opposing hope that by some incremental way the already-begun restoration of Christ might be seen in this not-yet-consummated era.

In the immediate context of “The Ferguson Declaration,” we hear the call to promote restoration rather than wrath on the issues of unfair sentencing, mass incarceration, police misconduct, and any prison expansions motivated by profit. Christians of good faith may choose different organizations to support or conclude some policy approaches are better than others. But no Christian with a biblically informed conscience can say, “There’s nothing wrong with the world as it is and I need not concern myself with ensuring justice is maintained for all.”

19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (ESV)

12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (ESV)

17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
(ESV)

11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1

2:1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, (ESV)

12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (ESV)

17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
(ESV)

19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (ESV)

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (ESV)

20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (ESV)

24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (ESV)

17 learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause. (ESV)

13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (ESV)

3:1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, (ESV)

Open your mouth for the mute,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy. (ESV)

Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile serves as a pastor of Anacostia River Church (Washington DC). He is the happy husband of Kristie and the adoring father of two daughters and one son. Holler at him on Twitter: @ThabitiAnyabwil

C’mon Up!

  • Rick Gilbert

    Good stuff!

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Thanks for coming onto the porch, brother, and for the encouragement. Grace, mercy and peace to you!
      T-