A Few Theological Reflections During the Aftermath of the Baltimore Riots

I write these monthly ministry newsletters (if you want to receive them, just shoot me an email), and I sent one out earlier today talking about my ministry in Baltimore in the aftermath of the riots. After re-reading it, I realized that some of the content was very blog-like, so I decided to copy and paste that portion here. Enjoy!

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Christians Need to Care About the World’s Problems

One of the best sermons I’ve ever heard was given by Tim Keller, and it’s called The Church Before the Watching World. Based on Jonah 1, he makes a fascinating comparison between Jonah and the church today. Just as the sailors in the storm rebuke Jonah for sleeping instead of helping them, the world today is waiting for the church to help them. Keller says that many in the church, just like Jonah, are guilty (1) of not knowing about the world’s problems and (2) of not doing anything about the world’s problems (here’s the link to the sermon; start listening at 22:45). Instead of being self-absorbed in its own problems, the church needs to be using its faith for the public good.

Today, when some Christians hear about events like the earthquake in Nepal or the riots in Baltimore, they immediately dismiss the whole situation as irrelevant. If it doesn’t affect their lives, then it doesn’t matter. However, I strongly believe that if our faith is genuine, we need to be seeking to understand these issues, and we need to explore ways for us to address these issues. At the very least, we can pray!

Christians Need to Address Systemic Sins

There are two types of sins that we inherit from the Fall: individual sins and systemic (or corporate) sins. Individual sins are personal choices that we make that go against God’s will (i.e. pride, adultery, greed). Systemic sins are broken social structures that negatively impact groups of people, which also go against God’s will (i.e. poverty, war, racism).

Note: If this idea is relatively new to you, I encourage you to read up on it. For starters, Pastor Dan of the Village Church wrote an entry on the Gospel Coalition, and Pastor Joel of the Garden Church was interviewed by Christian Post, both touching on the issue of systemic sin in light of the Baltimore riots.

I bring this up because it can be easy when hearing about the Baltimore riots to focus only on the personal sin of the rioters and looters, or to focus only on the systemic sins of racism, poverty, and police brutality. Dialogues on both are necessary.

Systemic Sins Require Long-term Work

Several weeks ago, I found myself sniffling and sneezing a lot, and I started carry around tissue paper with me all the time. Eventually it started to get very uncontrollable, and my eyes started to get itchy and watery. I then realized that it was allergy season, and my allergies have been getting really bad, so I then started to take allergy medicines.

Why didn’t it work to just use a lot of tissue paper and eyedrops? Because my sniffling, sneezing, and itching were symptoms of a deeper problem: I was allergic to pollen. Therefore, I needed to do something to address the allergy problem. If I never did anything to address the allergies, I would have only addressed the face-value problems and not the source of those problems.

In the same way, when we talk about systemic sins, we need to be seeking to understand the source of those problems. Giving away groceries meets the problem of hunger, and it is very good, but it fails to address the deeper problems. Why are people in need of food? Because their local stores are closed from looting. Why did people feel the need to loot those stores? Those issues are much more complex.

What issues am I talking about? In Sandtown, for example, where Freddie Gray lived, 52% of all people between 16 and 64 are unemployed, 25% of all people are on welfare, 61% of all people older than 25 do not have high school diplomas, and 91.2 of every 10,000 people are victims of gunshot wounds. People in Sandtown, along with hundreds of other neighborhoods throughout America and around the world, grow up in neighborhoods in which whole systems are broken, from education to food access to police departments. And while these systemic sins do not justify personal sin, growing up in cultures that de-prioritize education and normalize violence can be very challenging.

What then do we need? We need Christians who are passionate about teaching, Christians who are passionate about health, Christians who are passionate about social work, Christians who are passionate about business, and Christians who are passionate about law to move into these neighborhoods and to dedicate their gifts to the public social good.

But even more than that, we need Christians to make disciples in these neighborhoods. Systemic issues at their core are addressed when enough people within that community choose to follow Christ and to adopt Christian values. Ultimately, we need individuals who have been changed by the gospel, because it is through changed individuals that whole systems are changed.

I strongly believe that the more disciples are made in these neighborhoods, the more the incarcerations rates will drop, and the more the employment rates will rise. Of course, this will take years and years of dedication and commitment, but that is what it costs to see true gospel-centered change.


One response to “A Few Theological Reflections During the Aftermath of the Baltimore Riots”

  1. Thank you, Larry, for your thoughtful and analytical response to the Baltimore Riots.

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