All my friends are heathens, take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don't make any sudden moves
You don't know the half of the abuse – 21 Pilots, “Heathen”
Every person in this world has a narrative. We all have a story about who we are, where we came from, and what we have gone through to get to where we are. Any one of us would be rightfully hurt if another person were to presume what our story was, or presume to know where we have come from or what we’ve been through. Every person in this world has a narrative—it is the story, not just of them, but of the world they live in.
It should be frustrating. We should be frustrated by how much we pride ourselves in our own unique story but then refuse to consider that the person right next to us might have one of their own. Racism, for example, is an evil that is dependent upon rejecting the reality that another person has a story. In every form, it seeks to dehumanize another human being. When we allow that, we allow, not only that person to be reduced to nothing, but we also allow the world, that they live in, to dismissed as well. We dismiss reality when we do this. Racism isn’t just against an individual. It is an attack upon the world because, although there are 7.5 billion of us here, every one of our stories intersect. When we dehumanize through racism, we cannot help but dehumanize ourselves as well. Let me be clear. Racism, groups that are founded upon or teach racism, or attempts to defend racism, are all evil and absolutely incompatible with Biblical Christian message. The Christian’s responsibility is to make every attempt to end evils such as racism.
Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, rebuke the oppressor. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow (Isaiah 1:16b-17 NIV).
The prophet Isaiah reminds us that we, those who claim to follow God, are to seek justice. The problem is in our misunderstanding of “justice.” For the most part, we believe that punishment and revenge are justice—they are not. A life sentence or even the death penalty does not bring back the daughter of a grieving mother. She has not received justice.
The Christian, the follower of God, is to rebuke the oppressor. It is disobedient, and thus sinful, to ignore or turn a blind eye to evil. The Christian must speak truth and rebuke that which is oppressive. We must never allow the culture, politics, or false prophets, to convince us that oppression is anything other than what it is—evil.
The Christian is to defend the cause of the fatherless. When there is no one to speak up for another, it is our responsibility to do so as if it were for our own child. We must get to know the stranger, the foreigner, the otherwise marginalized, so that we can take whatever advantage we have and become their voice.
The Christian is to plead the case of the widow. We must let the world know why our brothers and sisters are being oppressed, and hurt, and marginalized. We must learn the stories of those who feel helpless and then share them with the world so that the world would recognize and have compassion upon them.
Galatians 6:1 (NIV) Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.
It is also important that the Christian recognize that punishment and retribution are never the goal. If they were then Christ died in vain. The goal is restoration. Restoration is the single best way to end evil. True justice is found in restoration. You cannot threaten evil with death or suffering. After all, death and suffering are its goal. No, evil must be met with love that seeks to restore. This, however, is difficult. It is much easier, and immediately satisfying, to punish.
If your goal is to punish your enemy, then there is no need for restoration. If your goal is to end evil, then you must not allow yourself to be tempted to become evil, not even an evil that is justified by the culture. Is it not better that the racist, or the murderer, or the rapist recognize that their actions are evil and choose to repent? Or do we really prefer that they continue hating as we put a needle in their arm or close the cell door behind them? What is our goal?
For the Christian, the goal must always be restoration. Restoration requires learning the narrative of the one who hates so that we can help them see the error in their ways. It means studying the path that led them to where they are. That means humanizing those who choose to dehumanize. How else can we hope for true restoration?
The individual’s story is always important, even when it belongs to those whom we want to hate.
Grafted by His Grace,
Pastor Raul Granillo