I had a great conversation with a brother in Christ about Black History Month. He asked me two sincerely heartfelt questions: Why and how should a Lutheran church celebrate Black History Month?
Let me take the “why” question first. I will use as the Scriptural basis for the answer the book of James. James writes, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14).
Why Should We Celebrate Black History Month?
Before we get too deep into this, let me clarify what appears to be a contradiction between James and Paul. Are we are saved by grace or by works? When examining the life of a Christian, we walk a fine line. Where people get into doctrinal danger is trying to balance faith versus works. It is not either/or but good works flowing out of a life of faith.
So when we talk about why we might celebrate Black History Month, it is not an issue of doing so out of guilt or because it is a good work that will earn us favor. We do so because it flows out of our love for neighbor. How can believers remember and find encouragement from the great cloud of witnesses?
How Should We Celebrate Black History Month?
The “how” question is more complicated to answer. One thing the death of George Floyd did was pull back a shroud and reveal a deep hurt in our nation and many Black communities. It has made this Black History Month feel different, like we need to do more than just remember or encourage or learn about the past. This year seems to require a more active approach.
James gives his readers a practical example of what an active approach might look like. Suppose you are confronted by a brother or sister in Christ who is naked and impoverished (v. 15).
How can the Church approach the challenges facing Black communities? Faith compels us to not just sit on the sidelines but to respond. James points out we are left with two options in the example from verse 15; what good is it to say, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled!” if you don’t give them what their body needs?
From Words to Action
The events of last summer reminds the Church we should not pass by gawking at the destitute, the hurting, the brokenhearted, and those in need. If that is our response, what good is our faith? Saying, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” (v. 16), while admirable, is an inadequate action. Words provide comfort but do not solve needs. The needs of the hurting brother or sister of color still go unmet. They are still naked and hungry. They are still living in dire conditions, still dealing with discrimination. Jesus did not leave us in our spiritual situation. When it comes to faith, should we leave people in their dire circumstances?
The call to action here is not merit-based response. We are saved not by our works, but faith motivates us to work. To live up to our high calling, our faith moves us to act in love. May our Black History celebration move us to reach out with love to engage in actions that reflect the faith and love of Jesus extended to our black and brown neighbors.
How do we live out our faith? We live it out by living a life that is not just words but backed up with actions.
Use One Nation under God: Healing Racial Divides in America to study racial divides from a biblical perspective.