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Why are we focused on changing laws instead of changing hearts?

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Racism is both a heart issue and much larger than a heart issue. If sin were just a matter of individual deeds, heart change would be sufficient, but sin has corrupted every aspect of the world, including structures. Focusing on only changing individual hearts leads us back into the trap of individualistic faith. Sin exists in our hearts and in society at the same time.

White pastors raised this same criticism against Martin Luther King Jr. Had he listened to them, the civil rights movement may not have happened and America would still be living under Jim Crow laws. And while we still have a long way to go, most would agree that, by ending segregationist policies and policies that barred blacks from power, the civil rights movement has improved many white people’s attitudes toward black people.

The concept of the Christian faith being about changing individual hearts rather than changing the laws of the land was used by white folks to keep black and brown people silent. When whites argue this today, it continues to have this connotation to many black and brown people.

Of course, it’s not an either/or. We point people both to reconciliation with God and with each other. If we’re going to be wholly reconciled, we must defeat racism both through heart change and through dismantling any infrastructure that supports white supremacy.

Finally, it’s important for white people to vividly imagine George Floyd as your father, or brother, or son. Would you not do everything in your power to correct whatever it was about the law that allowed this to happen to your loved one? Paul didn’t hesitate to speak to governmental authorities about injustices done to him, since he, as a Roman citizen, had certain rights that needed to be respected. [1]  If he was willing to do this for his own sake, how much more should we be willing to do this for fathers, brothers, or sons – whose own voice (“I can’t breathe”) is not given as much weight as our own?

[1] Acts 16:35-37, Acts 22:22-29

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