The band-aid has been snatched off the gaping wound of the race problem in America, and there is much work to be done to heal the nation. What has happened over the past two weeks is the triage. Reaching a place of recovery, redemption and reconciliation will require long-term intensive care. Healing such deep, untended lacerations will take time.
Needless to say, racism is an evil that has plagued humanity for all of history. Colonization, enslavement and oppression has victimized black and brown people all over the globe since the beginning. It all needs to be addressed. But, in this American moment, God is doing something monumental in our land. On our soil. I can feel the earth buckling beneath my feet. And this violent, chaotic buckling has knocked the country to the ground. But now that America is on her knees, will she repent?
I don’t know much. I am not a historian or a lawyer or a sociologist. My opinions are not without flaw, but I try not to form many without first filtering them through God’s word. In recent days, I’ve been contemplating these verses from the book of James:
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.” James 5:1-6 (ESV)
The prescience of what God is saying in these verses is overwhelming, and we should all take heed.
I don’t know if there is a more American passage of scripture in the Bible. For too long, America has stood on the Biblical tenets of “liberty and justice for all” without ever turning the page to read “come now you rich, weep and howl”. This may explain the recent worldview whiplash of many white Christians whose side religion is patriotism.
I love and honor this country, but I love and honor the truth infinitely more. And it is the Truth of God—not the articles of the constitution—that will determine whether or not we live in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.
America, the scriptures have your number. Let us count the ways (or at least some of them).
1. “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” James 5:4
The oppressive fraud of the unpaid wages of slavery in this country can no longer go unrepented. It is America’s original sin. Black slaves tilled this land, wages withheld, for 250 years before being “set free” to fend for ourselves without any rights as citizens.
You cannot enslave a group of people for centuries, profit immensely from their bondage, set them “free”, and expect that “freedom” to be recompense for your sin.
Allowing an innocent man to be free is neither a gift to him or a sacrifice to God. Freedom is God’s to bestow, and he does—for every person, at the moment of conception. Stripping a man of any God-given right has only one recourse—repentance. It is repentance that washes the blood from your hands.
Now, “the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts,” and God is calling America to repent.
2. “You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.” James 5:6
Ahmaud Abery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. These are the names in the news right now, but they represent a countless number of black American citizens who have been unjustly murdered in the street, in their homes, in state execution chambers. Some of these people have never been named, and their stories have been buried—even though some of their bodies never received that honor.
I have researched many of these stories. Two years ago, while on a ministry trip in Springfield, MO, I did some research about the history of black people in that town. I discovered a story about a public lynching that you can read about in this short vignette I wrote about it here. It’s just one example of the condemnation and unjust murder of so many innocent black people, even when they “did not resist you”.
The blood of innocent men, women, and children is on America’s hands, and God is calling her to repent.
3. “You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” James 5:5
The idol of luxury and the sin of self-indulgence are fundamental to American culture. In terms of total wealth, America is the richest country in the world. In this quest for prosperity, America fattened its heart while slaughtering black bodies, black communities, and opportunities for black people to have an equitable shot at this “American Dream”. The hypocrisy of this dream is a whole essay for another day.
I encourage you to explore the scriptures to see what God says about luxury, greed, and self-indulgence. There are too many for me to list here, but a quick Google search will return enough Bible study material to get you through 2020. In all of them, replacing the personal pronoun with the words “nation” or “America” might help in the process of understanding what has been and is happening in our country.
I have been dwelling on these words of Jesus:
“For what does it profit a [nation] to gain the whole world and forfeit [its] soul?” Mark 8:36
Though America has “gained the world” in the form of economic prosperity, it has come at great expense to the soul of the nation. The soul of America is in shambles, and God is calling her to repent.
4. “Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. “ James 5:2-3
The economic downturn brought on by the pandemic has starkly revealed the foolishness of storing up treasures on earth, where thieves break in and destroy. When you build your house on the sand, it will fall fast and hard when the hurricane hits the shore. Unfortunately, many black communities whose storehouses were already close to barren, have been hit the hardest.
The corrosion of America’s silver and gold is evidence against a country that has for too long been too stubborn and too comfortable to repent.
How does an entire country repent? By acknowledging the devastating effects of its sin. By demolishing the strongholds of racism and discrimination that have gripped the nation for centuries. By dismantling the structures of oppression that have propped up the United States economy for centuries. By outlawing every physical remnant that celebrates or commemorates the slavery era. Every statue, every plaque, every flag, every piece of currency.
I’m not just talking about reparations—though I believe there is an irrefutable case for that—I’m talking about a complete transformation of the heart, mind, and soul of this country.
After all that has transpired in 2020, it is clear that things cannot go back to normal. We need a new normal. A new identity. In the words of the Constitution, “a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” This statement has gone unfulfilled for too long, and God is calling America to repent.
Repentance literally means to change one’s mind about a matter that does not please God. America has yet to change her mind about slavery, racism, and racial oppression. Yes, the overwhelming majority of Americans agree that slavery was wrong, racism is evil, and oppression is unjust, but the country as a whole has yet to make the practical changes that a true changing of the mind would inspire.
America, this is your hour to “weep and howl”. To heed the Truth and repent of the sins you have for too long swept under the rug of your conscience.
America, it’s time to change your mind.