I can still remember seeing the news footage of white truck driver, Reginald Denny being pulled from his semi-trailer and beaten by a group of African American men in the street at Florence and Normandie in Los Angeles.
This seemed to me at the time a horrific conclusion to the news footage about a year earlier of the vicious beating of an African American man named Rodney King by Los Angeles Police Officers. The 1992 LA Riots were a reaction to the not guilty verdicts of the officers on trial for beating Rodney King. The beatings of Rodney King and Reginald Denny became tragic symbols of racial tensions that some thought had been dealt with during the Civil Rights Movement. Our nation would learn in 1992 that we were nowhere close to truly living out the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The church still today at even greater levels must be a force of transformative truth, new life, reconciliation, justice, and empowering love.
In the Spring of 1992, I was a senior in college at Saint John’s University in Central Minnesota. This was also a time of discovery for me. During this time I had a real sense of being called to ministry. I discovered a strong passion for racial reconciliation. During my junior and senior years in college I watched the Civil Rights Documentary Eyes on the Prize multiple times. It took time to digest this original PBS series that spanned the key moments in the African American struggle for equality between the mid 1950s to the early 1970s.
As I watched the news footage of the 1992 LA Riots from my college dorm room, I began to wonder how far we had really come in this nation when it came to race. I also sensed a call to play some role in being a reconciler and transformer within the racial divide in a meaningful way. The writings of theologian J. Deotis Roberts would provide a biblical foundation for me in understanding both liberation and reconciliation as central to the work of Christ.
While in seminary working on a Master’s degree in theology, I would wrestle deeply with the writings and sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Still to this day, I don’t believe that violent riots are the answer to racial injustice. I also don’t believe that colorblind conservative commentary is the answer to violent riots.
I believe that ultimately, the transformative work of advancing God’s Kingdom in a diverse yet deeply divided mission field is the way forward. A holistic and biblical understanding of missions can bring evangelism, discipleship, leadership development, church development, and Christ-centered justice to bear upon the racial and class division which still exist today. This is why World Impact exists to empower urban indigenous Christian leaders today.
World Impact as an urban missions organization was originally birthed during the Watts Riots of 1965 (pictured) and was given even greater clarity of mission and purpose during the LA Riots of 1992.
In the last couple of years we have once again seen protests and riots in cities all across this country. The cries and even the unfortunate violent acts of some of the poor, marginalized, and oppressed among us is a continual call to the Church to remember its true mission in alignment with the public ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ.
The church still today at even greater levels must be a force of transformative truth, new life, reconciliation, justice, and empowering love. Where there is violence and riots, there must be love, redemption, empowerment, and transformation.
The above commentary was originally published at WorldImpact.org.
Efrem Smith is the President and CEO of World Impact, a Christian missions organization committed to the church-planting movement in the inner city.