On Saturday, August 3, a 21-year-old white, male, gunman took the lives of what is now 22 people in a mall in El Paso, Tex., shortly after posting online a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto that expressed fears of a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Within hours of the El Paso massacre, another gunman opened fire in a Dayton, Ohio nightclub, killing 9 people, most of whom were people of color. These mass shootings occurred in the same week as a shooting that took the lives of three people in Gilroy, California, by a 19-year-old white male found to have been engaged in online platforms of white supremacy1 and extremism.
As Christian Reformed people, we grieve this loss of life. We grieve the hatred and extremism behind these acts of violence. We, as God’s church and society, grieve that we’ve been unable to put a stop to mass shootings
What these shootings have in common is a fuel of false narratives that the gunmen were allowed to feed on. They were hearing stories about, connecting with communities that support, and believing in the idea that some people are less human than others, and that these “others’” lives are worth less. As long as this fuel is allowed to continue, senseless deaths will continue.
White supremacist acts of terror have been committed in the United States from its earliest days, at the hands of those most often radicalized on the margins or in secret. Today, these ideas have come into the mainstream, and have been espoused and amplified by people in leadership, even in the highest elected offices.
Words matter. Using dehumanizing and hateful speech when referring to immigrants, refugees, and people of color, fuels and affirms violent actions against them. And these words, especially when they come from people in leadership positions, greatly displease our God.
In the Old Testament, God was severe in his denouncement of kings who “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (1 Kings 15:25-26), which God ascribed to seventeen kings in the books of 1 and 2 Kings. The duties of Israel’s kings were to dispense justice and righteousness in the Lord’s kingdom. The Old Testament writers deftly contrasted the words and deeds of kings against God’s expectations.
In the New Testament, Jesus was the one true King of Israel who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” by fighting even his own people who chose to repeat the ways of the former kings. Our Lord cares about -- and holds accountable -- leaders who seek to use their office to label people as an “invasion,” and as “rapists,” “illegals,” “animals,” and less than human.
According to our God’s biblical standard for kings, leaders should use their offices to dispense justice and righteousness, and treat all people as image-bearers of God. Though the U.S. President’s statement denouncing racism and white supremacy is much-needed, it does not go far enough. He has not acknowledged or taken responsibility for his own rhetoric that has undoubtedly been part of this equation, and has been going on for years.
This is something that the Church should take very seriously. We know that words can fuel and affirm violent actions. Yet, all too often, we sit by and allow harmful words to be spoken, tweeted, and expressed without challenging them.
We are at a moral turning point. As Christian Reformed people, it is our job not only to preach the gospel of Christ, but to challenge false gospels in society. We are called not only to see all of humanity as image-bearers of God, but to also help others see the world in this way.
After just having declared kinism a heresy2 at Synod 2019, we as a denomination must make a choice: either we stand with the moral vision of Jesus or we stand with the vision of those speaking and committing evil in the name of white supremacy.
With this in mind, we call on all members of the CRCNA to take an active stance against false narratives. We ask them to stand up against racism and acts of white supremacy. We ask them to speak up against words of misogyny and of hatred toward immigrants. We ask them to be proactively anti-racist, proactively anti-sexist, and to proactively promote the dignity of all people.
We encourage all members of the CRCNA to:
- pray for the president and prime minister of our respective countries, our elected officials, and those with the most resources and political influence, that they will use their positions of power to promote the dignity of all people, particularly people of color, immigrant communities, and women targeted by these shootings
- pray for those who are grieving following incident of mass shootings and violence
- pray for Latina/o, people of color, and immigrant pastors and congregants of the CRC who may be feeling overwhelming fear and grief at this time
- pray for people of color, immigrants, refugees, and other vulnerable and marginalized people who are too often the targets of hate speech and violence fueled by false narratives in society
- pray that the individuals, who have been radicalized or are at risk of being radicalized by hateful rhetoric, would learn truth and find community with truth-tellers
- lament the ways in which the church has not only been silent about these false narratives but has, at times, used them to oppress others
- preach in our churches about anti-racism and the role of the church in overcoming hate with love and truth
- speak up from our individual places of influence when we notice hate-filled speech and white supremacist beliefs being shared around us
- follow and use the resources of the CRC Office of Race Relations to educate our congregations and unlearn white supremacy
- follow and take the advocacy actions of the CRC Office of Social Justice to do the advocacy work of racial justice and immigrant justice in the here and now
- extend an act of kindness or encouraging word to your colleagues, neighbors, fellow church members, and friends that are Latina/o, immigrants, and/or people of color
Dr. Steven Timmermans
Colin P. Watson Sr.
Director of Ministries and Administration
Rev. Reggie Smith
Director, Office of Race Relations
and Office of Social Justice
Ida Kaastra Mutoigo
World Renew Co-Director
World Renew Co-Director
Rev. Darren Roorda
Canadian Ministries Director
Rev. Zachary King
Director, Resonate Global Mission
Rev. Jul Medenblik
President, Calvin Theological Seminary
Rev. Kurt Selles
Director, Back to God Ministries International
1 We are using the term “white supremacy” not just as a label for neo-nazis and members of groups such as the Klu Klux Klan, but as an umbrella term for what Jemar Tisby describes as “a concept that identifies white culture and white people as normal and superior--even if they claim people of color as their brothers and sisters in Christ.” (Tisby, Jemar. The Color of Compromise. Page 16. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019. Print)
2 Kinism is a recent, though historically familiar, grassroots theological movement within some Reformed theological circles and churches that espouses that God has ordained for races to remain separate and that interracial marriage is a sin.