I’ve spent some time reading up on the events from Saturday’s shooting, including learning about the victims. Two of the deceased were sister Young and brother Patterson of Buffalo, New York—both active deacons and leaders in their church, known for loving God and people selflessly.
Authorities have called last Saturday’s mass shooting in Buffalo a racially motivated attack. What solidified this was the N-word inscribed across the suspect’s rifle and a 180-page manifesto he wrote filled with hate speech linked to the “great replacement.“
The great replacement is a conspiracy theory stating that non-whites are being brought to the US and other Western countries to “replace” whites. The events of Saturday prove that replacement theory is not only dangerous but deadly. When heretical teachings of replacement theory and racism give way to murder, we need to be reminded about our God-given calling to unity as Christ’s church. Click To Tweet
When I read and watch how the victims were slain in the name of replacement theory, it grieves me to the core. It’s hard to watch the gunman apologize to an apparently white male for almost shooting him while hunting down innocent blacks. It’s hard not to see myself in the likes of these victims.
I’ve had anxiety about the reality that some would consider me a target, regardless of my faith and public Christian service. Satan and his divisive spirits are working overtime in the world, and because they hate God and the imago Dei—the image of God—there will be no stopping them until the end.
The End Is Near
As our church closes out 1 Peter, I’ve found the closing exhortations of Peter’s first letter to be timely:
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:7–8).
Peter has reminded me again that the right response to the darkness of hate is the light of love. Though it’s true that the demonic forces behind every evil in the world are relentless and seem to be unstoppable, the end is at hand. This is all the motivation we need to meet suffering righteously. I’m reminded that there is a way to suffer well. I can cast my very real anxieties at his feet, knowing he cares for me (1 Pet. 5:6–7).
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr., Easter Sunday sermon, “Loving Your Enemies,” 1958
The Prayer of Jesus
Sure, I want to fight, but I know how this spiritual battle will be won. For this reason, I’ve found myself joining Christ yet again in praying earnestly for the unity of God’s people.
John 17 is often referred to as the high priestly prayer of Jesus. Remember in ancient Israel when the high priest would enter the most holy place? He wore a breastplate around his neck whenever he went in. In it were embedded 12 precious stones, one for each tribe of Israel. In line with his duties, when the high priest came before God, he wasn’t coming for himself or alone; he brought all Israel with him. He represented all the people to God. The right response to the darkness of hate is the light of love. Click To Tweet
Jesus’s prayer in John 17 is of the same sort. He doesn’t come to the Father alone. He bears a beautiful tapestry of the multiethnic church on his heart, presenting us to his Father. When we examine his prayer, we learn one of the things that means the most to him—unity. When heretical teachings of replacement theory and racism give way to murder, we need to be reminded about our God-given calling to unity as Christ’s church.
Here are three brief observations from Christ’s prayer for unity that I hope will motivate the church to be who we are in our divided world.
1. Unity is a reality for the church, not a goal. Be who you are.
Oneness is what the Lord Jesus prays for his church. That we would all be one. Of all the things he might have asked for us, he prays for our unity.
Remember, this comes in the form of a prayer, not a command. Christ doesn’t tell us, “Try your hardest to be united.” Instead, he prays to his Father, “May they all be one.” This is an important distinction to make because if Jesus prays that we would all be one, and if the Father hears the prayers of his Son, then we must acknowledge that our unity is not a goal but a reality. We are one. Union isn’t something we have to strive for, but something certain and already true based on the cross (Eph. 2:14–16). Because oneness is our blood-bought, new covenant reality, Christians need only live into the truth of our existence.
2. Unity is not uniformity. Be who you are.
In John 17:11, Jesus prayed “that they may be one, even as we are one . . . ” followed by, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” (v. 21). In the eyes of God, our unity finds its root in the eternal Oneness of the Trinity. Perhaps our unity is off because our theology is off. Click To Tweet
What do we know about the Trinity? Three “distinct” persons, yet all God—equally, essentially, and eternally. In the same way, God is One, though he is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Christ prayed for the church to be one as a beautiful unity in diversity. Christians often struggle to live into our reality, assuming that unity necessitates uniformity. It’s a sad reality that many well-meaning Christians have adopted the philosophy of color-blindness and conformity to a dominant culture when it comes to Christian community. Perhaps our unity is off because our theology is off. If we reject modalism based on its notions of deified assimilation, we must reject modern theories like color blindness and racial superiority based on the unity in diversity of the Godhead, as informed by Christ’s prayer.
3. Our oneness is about our witness. Be who you are!
As the Lord continued praying, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me,” the end of verse 21 is a powerful reminder about the significance and eternal impact of the unity of the church. Have you ever considered that there’s a sense in which advancing the gospel hinges on our unity?
Our oneness makes a gospel appeal to the world (John 13:35) as it displays the barrier-breaking, division-shattering power of the gospel. United together, the church is God’s missionary witness in the world. The greatest weapon we have against racism in the world is reconciliation in the church. Click To Tweet
In the days following tragedies like this, there are sure to be campaigns and coalitions debating about solutions. But the church holds the answer. Puritan preacher Thomas Manton once remarked, “divisions in the church breed atheism in the world.” The opposite is also true: the greatest weapon we have against racism in the world is reconciliation in the church.
Be who you are!