Dear 922—A Letter from Your Pastors about God, Race, and our Church

Dear 922 Ministries family,

This is a letter from your pastors about God, race, and our ministry family, a letter we hope leads you closer to God and closer to the people he loves during this tragic, troubling, and confusing time.

By this point, most of you have heard about the gruesome death of George Floyd, an African-American man who perished at the hands of a Caucasian police officer, an event which has led to protests, riots, shattered hearts, and ripped-open wounds. We, as your pastors/fellow Christians/fellow humans are crushed that a life that mattered so much to our Father in heaven ended so unjustly. Sadly, George Floyd was not the first. Tragically, we fear, George Floyd will not be the last.

We refuse to forget that George Floyd (and every other victim of injustice) is more than just a headline or a hashtag. He was a human. A man with friends and a family who loved him dearly and who now miss him immensely. How disgusted would we feel if George had been our next-door neighbor? How numb would we feel if George had been a guest in our home? How holy would our thoughts be if George had been our best man?

The Devil, who heartlessly applauded during Mr. Floyd’s final breath, is still at work, using his death to rip apart friends, family, and even the church of Jesus Christ. He is tirelessly sowing seeds that will grow into apathy, rage, callousness, excuses, violence, hatred, and division. Perhaps you have noticed those seeds in your own heart as you process the headlines from day to day. As your pastors, God has called us to speak the truth in love, to help you figure out what to believe and, in turn, how to react.

Therefore, we feel compelled to say something, however weak or imperfect our words might be, for the sake of our souls, our church, and our country. The following statement is a clear list of ten truths we believe and how those truths lead us to behave. We hope that you agree with each one and embrace them, leading you to “follow our example as we follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

10 Things We Believe about God and Race

1. We believe in creation
We believe that our Father in heaven is the cause of our existence and the artist who created the color of our skin. We believe that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” a truth recorded by David, a middle eastern man who shared our faith in God, the maker of heaven and earth (Ps. 139).

What does this mean? It means that we, despite our ethnic diversity, share a common ancestry. While our culture, customs, and color might feel so different, our roots all go back to the same soil of that day when God created humans in his own image (Gen. 1). Therefore, George Floyd is not one of “them,” but one of “us,” no matter what color we see in the mirror. Any thinking that jumps to ethnic differences instead of starting with human similarities must be corrected.

2. We believe in the Fall.
We believe that the first people God created made a choice that changed all people. Black and White, Hispanic and Asian, Native American and mixed race, the fall into sin corrupted every nation, tribe, government, and person. It corrupted you. It corrupted us.

What does this mean? It means that the root issue of Mr. Floyd’s death was sin. The root issue of violent reactions to his death is sin. The root issue of millions of indifferent people is sin. The root issue of instantly defensive people is sin. The root issue of abuses of authority is sin. The root issue of systemic coverups is sin. The root issue of every crime is sin. The reason the headlines will always contain tragedy, poverty, war, and brokenness is because the problem of sin exists in every human heart (Rom. 1:29-32).

3. We believe in grace.
We believe that God responded to sin by promising his very Son (Gen. 3:15). For reasons we will never fully grasp, God loved the very people who brought sin into his perfect world. Although Adam and Eve would play a part in George Floyd’s future death, God nevertheless loved them and offered them forgiveness. That gracious God is the same today as he was back then, offering grace even to the worst of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15).

What does this mean? It means that while books, blogs, protests, and preaching can open our eyes to what needs to change, only Jesus can erase the sins of our past and offer us a place in the family of God. While we long for a better country, a more just and loving society, without grace our gains are merely temporary. Therefore, we see our primary calling as a church to point out sin and preach God’s grace in hopes that eternities might be saved and lives here on earth might be changed.

4. We believe in repentance. 
We believe that God wants to change our minds, our hearts, and our sinful behavior. He wants us to confront any and every thought that would pre-judge a human that he has made. He wants us to turn our backs on any sin that would fall short of love for our fellow man. He wants us to sorrowfully confess the sins that harm our neighbor, which, in turn, harm our relationship with God (1 Jn. 1:8).

What does this mean? It means that we sorrowfully admit and plan to change our sinful thoughts, our sinful words, our sinful actions, and every time when we did nothing when love required us to do something. We confess every racist assumption, every snicker at a racist joke, and every time we failed to “mourn with those who mourn” (1 Cor. 12). We confess our “sins of commission”—the evil that we have done—along with our “sins of omission”—the good we have not done. As men who have too often resembled the Levite instead of the Good Samaritan, we sorrowfully repent of our sins, which allowed others to suffer alone (Lk. 10:32-33).

5. We believe in the importance of faith.
We believe that, through faith (trust) in Jesus, our sins truly are forgiven. A connection with Jesus means that our sins, racist or otherwise, no longer define us, but that our identity is as children of God. Shame has no place in our hearts, since “the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7). It is through faith that we are saved, rescued from the danger of missing the eternal celebration in heaven with our Father and all of his redeemed children (Eph. 2:8-9).

What does this mean? It means that while we will learn, but we will not live in, our past failures. We plead with our neighbors to believe in Jesus so that their hearts can be changed and their minds renewed. Our deepest longing is that every police officer and every member of our community, no matter the color of their skin, would come to faith in Jesus so that God’s love would change us and compel us all to love one another (1 Jn. 4:19).

6. We believe in good works.
We believe that our response to God’s love is to love one another (Eph. 2:10). Love, as Paul describes it, is patient, kind, not easily angered, not self-seeking, and keeps no record of wrongs. Love, as James describes it, cares about people from different backgrounds and economic classes (James 1-2). Love, as Peter experienced it, does not divide by ethnicity but opens its arms wide to people from every background (Acts 10:34-35).

What does this mean? It means that the heavenly minded are to do earthly good. That “good” might be reading our Bibles, saying our prayers, honoring our parents, inviting our neighbor to dinner, policing our community with integrity, confronting half-truths in our friends, teaching an uneducated sibling, rebuking a racist friend, forgiving those who hurt us, voting for those who have high standards of justice, and/or begging a fellow protestor to be a peacemaker despite his anger. The prophet Micah once wrote, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

7. We believe in progress and not perfection. 
Since the Devil is still lying to us, the world is still enticing us, and our own hearts are still deceiving us, our good works are not perfect (Rom. 7:19). While we strive, with God’s help, to progress in our love and grow in our faith, every day will be a battle to be patient, kind, merciful, forgiving, just, and faithful.

What does this mean? It means that talking about the sin of racism in “yes/no” terms is inaccurate and unhelpful. Just as there still is pride, bitterness, and envy in our hearts, there is racism, prejudice, and bias. Saying, “I am not a racist” implies perfection and avoids the real growth that God intends for our hearts. We believe it is better to say, “I am trying to be less racist and more like Jesus.” Such an approach would open conversations in our homes, Life Groups, and campuses so that we are enabled to confess such sins, find grace at the cross, and grow with the help of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

8. We believe God has a purpose for the government. 
The Apostles Paul and Peter talked clearly about God’s goal for those in authority (kings, governors, presidents, police officers, etc.), namely, that they would justly punish those who do wrong and vigorously protect those who do right. Paul insisted that the authorities should “hold no terror for those who do right” (Rom. 13:3), an ideal that is far from the reality in our world. This is why Paul commanded Christians to pray for the governing authorities (1 Tim. 2:1 -3) and also confronted injustice when he saw it (Acts 22:25). In addition, both apostles insisted that we submit to the authorities—obeying their laws and honoring their position—unless they ask us to sin (Acts 5:29, Rom. 13:1).

What does this mean? It means we must regularly pray for our government, police officers, and local authorities, since all authority comes with a burdensome responsibility. We must beg God that men and women of integrity, truth, and character, and no one else, be allowed into such positions. In addition, we must confront evil when we see it, as we would confront an abusive father who is using his authority in horrendous ways. This could include any number of steps, from persistent protests (like the Old Testament prophets) to private conversations (like Jesus suggested in Matthew 18).

9. We believe that sin is to be expected but must never be accepted.
Due to the sinfulness of every human heart, we are not shocked that there are bad people, bad pastors, bad protestors, and bad police officers. If Satan led even one of Jesus’ own apostles astray, then we must not be surprised that sin exists in every place. However, that sin must never be accepted. When church leaders cover up scandal, people will understandably leave the church. When the educational system protects incapable teachers, people will understandably grow disillusioned. When police departments make excuses for unnecessarily violent officers, people will shout at the badge. When furious citizens pick up bricks to break windows, people will ignore their desire for justice.

What does this mean? It means that we have no respect for the covering up of sin and much respect for organizations that take it seriously. As a church, we believe repentance is required for membership, and that no one living in sin is allowed to assume they are a member of God’s family. As a country, we believe justice is required for those who are in the justice system, and that no one unjust should be allowed to remain. Our integrity depends on it.

10. We believe Jesus is coming to fix this.
Our great hope is not a perfect society, a perfect police force, or a perfect resolution to racial tension on our planet. Our hope is in Jesus. One day, as he promised, he will return to make all things new and create a new earth where evil will not exist (Rev. 21:5, 22:15). On that day, he will judge the living and the dead with perfect justice (Acts 17:31). We long, ache, and pray for that day to come soon (Rev. 22:20).

What does this mean? While we work tirelessly to understand one another, forgive one another, and pursue a better form of justice in this life, our ultimate answer is Jesus. In a culture where the love of many is growing cold, we ask God to help us shine brightly as people who live sacrificial lives, no matter what it costs (Mt. 5:16). We pray that we never stop fighting for changes that must be made. Yet our best love is only a glimpse of the love that we will see face to face on that glorious day when the King of Mercy and Justice returns.

Next Steps:

So, where do we go from here? While the problems at hand are overwhelmingly large, we believe small steps can make a big difference. That is why we are encouraging you, especially if you are not African American, to learn more about race, ethnicity, and the history of this nation.

We recommend...
  1. The following sections of God’s Word—Luke 10:25-37, Acts 10:1-11:18, Romans 1-3, Ephesians 4:17-32.
  2. The sermon series Race & Religion, which can be found on the 922 campus websites under “Media.”
  3. The blog “George Floyd and Me” by Shai Linne, a short and eye-opening read about the experiences of one Black Christian man in America. It can be found through a simple Google search.
  4. The book Letters to a Birmingham Jail edited by Bryan Loritts. This collection of essays reflects on the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
  5. The podcast 30 Minutes with the Perrys. Preston and Jackie Hill Perry are an African American couple who love Jesus, love his Word, and love each other. Listening in on their conversations is a small way to understand the experiences, culture, and amazing faith that characterizes much of Black America.

While we know that most of you live busy lives, we also believe that change takes time. Therefore, we pray that you take the time in the days to come to listen, learn, and let God change your heart.

In conclusion, we, as pastors and as people, are a mixture of angry, confused, heart-broken, and lost during this time in America’s history. This is why we are turning our eyes to the place where our true help is found—to the Lord—and we are asking you to do the same (Ps. 121).

Called to lead you to Jesus,

Tim Glende, Jim Fleming, Michael Ewart, Mike Novotny, and Bill Monday