A Realistic Approach to Race Reform

In 2014 the world mourned the death of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, of which their deaths birthed the Black Lives Matter movement. Shortly after two NYPD officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Lu, were shot and killed by Ismaaiyl Brinsley as revenge for the shootings. Two years later, we are mourning the death of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and police fear for their life more than ever after the shootings in Dallas which happened during protests. After two full years, race relations have disintegrated and any hope for change and reform seems bleak.  Rhetoric is thrown around both sides of the aisle from proclaiming the shootings of Blacks as genocide to suggesting that victim deserved to die in such a way. But such words only fuel more division and violence.

This futility stems from not only erroneous views of the nature of social sin but also the origin of sin. If we correctly understand the fundamental brokenness of the human condition, then and only then, can we work toward meaningful reform and change.

Firstly, we must understand the reality of social sin. Along with individual acts of injustice there are also corporate acts of injustice done by government, economic structures, etc. While it may be easy to recognize individual act, it is much harder to recognize social sin. We would never think to murder, steal from, or cheat on a person but we can be part of a community, group, or organization that effectively commits such atrocities. Moreover, we may become so subtly conditioned by our environment, finiteness of awareness, and group membership that we distort reality and question that evil exists at all.

We’re guilty of this distortion of reality when it comes to race. Many Whites have failed to put themselves in the situation of many Blacks, who feel not only scared of police but also afraid to walk on out on their home streets. This failure to empathize makes it difficult to adequately discuss the concerns of Blacks for their community and safety. On the other hand, many Blacks fail to put themselves in the shoes of police officers, who willingly risk their lives to protect the communities they love. They fear for their lives daily and are expected to diffuse the most dangerous situations. An inability to empathize with them results in painting the undeserved shootings of Blacks as genocide carried out by police and the criminal justice system as a whole.

To be sure, it is impossible to separate the individual and his actions from his community. We are not islands, our actions are influenced by the groups we are a part of and similarly, the actions of the individual are bound by the group he is a part of. A classic Biblical example is the actions of Achan cause the death of thirty-six Israelites and defeat at Ai. As a result he and his family is stoned to death. In this situation the actions of a few police officers cause the stigmatization of the entire police force as racist, and the actions of protests cause the stigmatization of their movement and cause as terrorist-like. The solution to both of these situations is to denounce the actions of perpetrators of both groups as unreflective of the true values of both groups. Moreover, we can make strides by creating structures that hold not only police accountable to the public for their actions but also violent protesters. Blacks should also create stronger and more stable families that disincline youth toward joining gangs and causing crime, which perpetuates common stereotypes.

Secondly, it is paramount to acknowledge the need for a correct view of the origin of sin. If one emphasizes the reality of social sin and disregards individual sin, then sin is the social, economic, and political oppression of the poor by corporate personalities. Taken here, this view of sin would suggest that the total criminal justice system is systematically killing Blacks and impeding their right to self-determination. The solution is then that Blacks should fight for against this oppression through any means. This means that violent rioting, destruction of communities, and even harming Whites is technically justified because it is in the name of fighting Black oppression. To avoid this, one could say that humans are not inherently sinful but that sin is learned through education and social conditioning. The solution to this view is to negate the education through reeducation. In this case, racism is seen as learned and passed on through generations so the solution is to educate police not to be racist. This view believes in a perfectly just system in which there are no racist police.

A correct view of sin views human beings as inherently sinful and broken. We are born with natural instincts and drives but the reality of sin distorts those drives toward evil ends. In this case, racism is the distortion of the drive to take pride in one's group and be suspicious of strangers. This view makes racism a constant factor that can only be changed by divine regeneration, which is done through the means of the preaching of the Gospel. This and only this can fundamentally eliminate racism and broken systems of injustice.  

As a nation struggling with race relations for the past two years, we need empathy and strategy now more than ever. While sin is always a constant, it does not eliminate the possibility of taking practical steps to put checks on authority and reform broken parts of our law enforcement system. Lastly, the Kingdom of God is already but not yet, we may be able fight racism through the unifying power of the Gospel but true justice will only be served at the Second Advent.


Stiven Peter

Stiven Peter is a student who has a passion for culture, theology, and philosophy. His favorite authors are Herman Bavinck and Carl Henry.