Systemic Racism: Isn’t there a Better Way?

By 06/01/2020 June 29th, 2020 Headlines

“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”
– Attribution disputed

As systemic racism confronts us in the United States once again, the question remains: is there a better way? The death of George Floyd has surfaced what has been bubbling underneath for centuries. We must confront injustice. There is One who confronts injustice, includes those on the margins, and points His followers to live under the reign and rule of a different Kingdom. As followers of this One, isn’t it our job to do the same?

The Kingdom that Jesus ushered in was radically different than any that came before or any that has come since. Paul did his best to summarize what that Kingdom is like in Ephesians 4: unity, diversity, and maturity.

Rooted in Unity

Life in the Kingdom of God is rooted in oneness. Ephesians 4:1-6 says, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (ESV)

This oneness grounds us and bonds us together. No matter our race, gender, or culture. We miss unity because we so often focus on our diversity. This isn’t flowery language. Unity is the hard work of loving our enemy, listening first, asking questions, and confronting our innate judgments. This is the true work of seeing ‘the other’. The recognition of the other is essential for healing, embrace, forgiveness and peace. Through listening, storytelling and time we can actually recognize the other as a multi-faceted person that has a need for the love and grace of Jesus, just as we all do.

Unity is the hard work of loving our enemy, listening first, asking questions, and confronting our innate judgments. This is the true work of seeing ‘the other’.

The Good Samaritan Enters the Mess

In Luke 10: 25-37, Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan to a lawyer that wanted to know who his neighbor was. In the story, a thief robs a man and leaves him for dead on the side of the road. Two men – a priest and Levite – see him, but pass by on the other side not wanting to engage or touch the bleeding man. A third man, a Samaritan (the so-called enemy of the bleeding man), came, attended to his wounds, took him to an inn, and paid for his care.

Jesus calls the lawyer to be like the Samaritan. What was wrong with the priest and Levite? They were following the rules of the day, which said that if you engage in bloody mess, others will quarantine and exclude you from your tribe. They didn’t want to be quarantined. The Samaritan engages in the mess. Jesus calls His followers to engage, not isolate. To be rooted in unity, isolation is not an option.

Celebrating Diversity

Paul doesn’t stop with unity, he shows us that life in the Kingdom of God must celebrate and embrace our diversity. Ephesians 4:7-11 says, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
    and he gave gifts to men.’

 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers…” (ESV)

Jesus has given grace to each one of us. He gives gifts to everyone: women, slaves, men, masters, children, grandparents, black, white. EVERYONE. Everyone has a distinct part to play in the Kingdom. It is easy to think about our own gifts. The hard work is to think about how to recognize, value, and see the gifts that others have been given.

It is easy to think about our own gifts. The hard work is to think about how to recognize, value, and see the gifts that others have been given.

Onesimus is Restored

The story laid out in the short letter Paul wrote to Philemon gives a great picture of this. Onesimus, Philemon’s slave, stole money from the coffers of Philemon’s house church in modern day Turkey and fled to Rome. In Rome, somehow Onesimus encounters Paul and has a radical encounter with Jesus. Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon. Forgiveness and reconciliation happens. The body accepts Onesimus back into their community and eventually he becomes a very important leader in the global church.

I can’t imagine that oneness was easy when diversity and offense is staring right in front of you, but Philemon, Onesimus, and the rest of the community worked it out. They saw, heard, and valued Onesimus. Slave to leader. Thief to a trusted member of the community.

When we celebrate diversity – when see, hear, and value others for what Christ gave them – and when unity is our foundation, only then can we achieve maturity. We get the fullness of who Christ is and experience the Kingdom of God. This is what the world needs.

Maturity that Heals

Ephesians 4:12-16 says, “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (ESV)

We can translate the word, “equip” to heal, or mend, or align, or perfect. This gives us a better idea of what Paul was saying here. He says that by celebrating our diversity and rooting ourselves in unity, Jesus gives us everything we need to heal and mend what is broken. Is our community broken? Of course it is. The unjust and tragic death of George Floyd (and many black men and women before him) powerfully point to injustice and brokenness in the United States. But Jesus has given everything of Him to His body, so that we can see the fullness of Him on earth. We are not just yearning for life eternal with Him after death. We can attain to the fullness of life with Him here on earth.

by celebrating our diversity and rooting ourselves in unity, Jesus gives us everything we need to heal and mend what is broken.

Maturity Yields Action

The church in Antioch is a good example of this. Barnabas (a Jew), Simeon (a black man), Lucias (a Libyan), Manaen (a Roman friend of Herod), and Saul (a Jew) were all worshipping and praying together. They were unified even though they were diverse. What happened? The Holy Spirit came and set apart Saul and Baranabas for the work of planting the Gospel in new places. This is what happens when we see maturity and fullness take place – a call to bring the kingdom where it’s not yet manifest. It’s time that we seek the Lord. When we do, He will call us to action. Let’s be people of action.

Jesus Shows the Way

To bring about maturity that heals we need to see the apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding, and teaching functions happen in us and through us just as it happened in and through Jesus. Jesus is our model and our key. He gave these functions to us so that we can be the embodiment of Christ to the world. Let’s examine how Jesus produced maturity as he combated the injustices of the world.

He gave these functions to us so that we can be the embodiment of Christ to the world.

Clear Identity

As Jesus began to establish the Kingdom of God (Apostolic Work), He first needed to know His identity. He went to the river so John the Baptist could baptize Him. When Jesus came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit landed on Him in the form of a dove and the Father said, “You are my beloved Son with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). The Spirit empowered Jesus, and knew where He came from and where He was going.

If we are going to be doing the work of ushering in the Kingdom, was must know our identity. The Spirit empowers us, the Father sees us, and Jesus knows us. The Lordship of Jesus is what everything is to revolve around. Justice without Jesus isn’t justice at all.

Apostolic Work

After God affirmed Jesus’ identity and Satan tempted Jesus in the desert, Jesus tells the world what He was about and began his apostolic work. Luke 4:16-21 says, And he [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

‘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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down…. the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.'”

For healing to happen, new work must begin. We must have people and functions in the body of Christ who are beginning new work to welcome and establish the kingdom where it is not – whether in an unreached people group or in your neighborhood or in relationships where there is no peace.

Prophetic Work

But Jesus didn’t just declare it. He demonstrated the Kingdom (Prophetic Work).

Jesus goes out to the people on the margins of society, heals them, brings hope, reconciliation and freedom, sets people into community, and declares and ushers in an upside down kingdom –  The first is last. The last is first. Jesus heals the lepers. He gives the blind sight, and the poor a voice. He puts the slave on the same footing as the master and raises the value of women to equal that of men. Before Jesus speaks truth, he demonstrates the truth. We often get this turned around. We try to proclaim truth before demonstration takes place. Nobody is listening to words that are not accompanied by action.

Jesus knew this and so must we. How can we demonstrate the Kingdom of God here and now?

Evangelistic, Teaching, and Shepherding Work

Jesus then calls His disciples to follow Him (Evangelistic Work). Only after the demonstration of the Kingdom does He invite others along for the journey. And when others start to follow Him, only then does He start to unpack the truth of the Kingdom (Teaching Work). He then calls His followers to live out that truth in community (Shepherding Work).

Now is the time to start at the beginning – to know who we are in Christ, to find out what is wrong in our communities, and to do something about it. Then we can invite others along on the journey towards wholeness. Then we can expose the truth and live it out in true community. We can love one another as Christ has loved us.

If we need different results, we need a different system. The way of Jesus is the only one that will bring lasting reconciliation, hope, and peace. Are you ready to usher in something new?

The way of Jesus is the only one that will bring lasting reconciliation, hope, and peace.


One resource to keep learning and growing that we have to offer: learn more about the APEST Functions via this free training featuring Alan Hirsch.

Joshua Johnson

Joshua Johnson

Joshua is the co-Executive Director of All Nations Kansas City (allnations.us) and a coach and consultant for 5Q (5qcentral.com). Prior to his current role, he spent seven years in the Middle East and Asia leading Muslims to Christ, raising up indigenous leaders, and coaching them to multiply disciples.

2 Comments

  • Avatar Sarah Travis says:

    Joshua, While many of the points in your article on systemic racism were valid, I feel the need to comment on a couple of others—first, your assumption that there is systemic racism and second, your use of the word diversity. Statistically, this is the least racist nation on earth with the least amount of racism of any nation that exists—look it up if you don’t believe me. I’m not saying there is no racism, but to call it systemic is not supported by any actual facts. In truth, a black or Latino person is far more likely to get preferential treatment in everything from job opportunities to higher education. I am disappointed to see a Christian leader buy into the leftist media hype. As to your use of the word diversity, which in this day and age clearly refers to race/culture/religion, you have misused Scripture. The differences the Bible speaks of that we are to honor and celebrate have to do with differences in giftings, jobs and social positions. And we are certainly not to celebrate differences in religion or in cultural practices that do not honor Christ. Race is never mentioned in Gods Word —because it is a social construct that doesn’t actually exist! God created all mankind in His image and we are all descended not only from Adam and Eve, but from Noah and his sons—who had the DNA diversity in them to produce every color, shape and size of person who had ever existed. As image-bearors, we are all the same in God’s eyes. Racism exists because of sin stemming from ignorance and fear. Why do you not mention these things in your article? I don’t want to stop supporting an organization that I feel has done so much to further the Gospel, but I’m struggling with understanding how Christians who know God’s Truth can buy into these falsehoods that are attacking the foundation of Scripture . In Christ, Sarah Travis

    • Hi Sarah –

      Thanks for your comment. You are correct – racism exists because of sin stemming from ignorance and fear. We are all the same in God’s eyes, like you said. So, the only thing that will solve any worldly issue is to have God’s perspective and to live in God’s Kingdom, under His reign and rule. I don’t mention everything because every article, comment, or teaching can never touch on everything.

      The point of the article is twofold:
      1. Systems of this world are broken (stemming from original sin)
      2. Our response to broken systems are of the world and not of the Kingdom

      So, I want to propose a new way of thinking about responding to crises in our time: the Kingdom of God. This presupposes that first and foremost people need to enter into the Kingdom – the reign and rule of God. So, our mission and vision of All Nations is crucial – making disciples and training leaders to ignite church planting movements among the neglected people of the earth, so that we can see all the peoples of the earth worship Jesus.

      All of what Paul said in Ephesians 4 was directed at the body of Christ – the global church. We need to be united in Christ, and work out of our individual giftings to strengthen the whole, so that we can become mature – and not tossed to and fro, but would stand firm. We would act and look like Christ to the world. So, the article doesn’t assume all religions/people outside of the Kingdom are part of this. This is for the body of Christ.

      – Joshua

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