The enduring effects of Adam’s transgression on race relations in Ferguson and beyond
As many know in our nation, on August 9, 2014, an African-American male from the small community of Ferguson, Missouri, once again became the star of another tragic American drama. Michael Brown, an unarmed 18 year old African-American teenager, was shot six times by Darren Wilson, a white St. Louis County cop. The aftermath of Brown’s tragic death created excessive violence both toward and from African-Americans. Brown’s family has urged residents of Ferguson to forgive and to abstain from violence, but many African-Americans (and some whites) have taken their anger to the streets of Ferguson in protest of Brown’s shooting. Their acts of protest have resulted in even more violence and have resulted in more tragedy for African-Americans in this small Missouri suburb.
As an African-American Christian, my first reactions to another sad story of a young African-American’s life snuffed out too soon consist of anger and sadness, because another African-American life was cut short and because another African-American family grieves the death of a son. However, I am not in the least surprised by this sad event or by the series of subsequent events that have emerged in the aftermath of Brown’s death. The reason is simple: Adam’s transgression has enduring effects on modern day race relations.
In Genesis 2:17, God promises a universal curse of judgment upon the entire cosmos if Adam disobeyed his command in the Garden of Eden. As soon as Adam disobeyed, his sin brought the immediate curse of sin and death into the entire creation (Genesis 3:14-19; Romans 5:12). Sin’s universal power over creation due to Adam’s transgression manifests itself in multifarious and nefarious ways throughout the Genesis narrative (e.g. pain in child-bearing, the difficulty of work, human depravity etc. [see Genesis 3:14-19; 6:5]). In Genesis 4:8, sin first manifests its power in a violent way over the entire creation by means of murder.
The first violent act committed by one human against another occurs in Genesis after Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:17-4:8). Once sin’s lethal fangs sank its teeth into God’s good creation through Adam’s transgression, the entire creation became subject to sin’s tyrannical power. Unfortunately, creation will continue to be subject to sin’s power until God emancipates creation from its current futility (Romans 8:19-25). Creation’s futility because of Adam’s transgression is currently being manifested in Ferguson via violence and the numerous violent responses to Mr. Brown’s shooting.
The Bible presents the gospel of Jesus Christ as the only solution to the enduring effects of Adam’s transgression on race relations (Galatians 2:11-21; Ephesians 2:11-22). Yet, many African-American citizens of Ferguson have chosen another path besides the reconciling power of the gospel. Various media outlets have shown many African-Americans in fierce protest in the streets of the Ferguson community in an effort to take justice into their own hands. Some protests have resulted in violence. And violent protests have resulted in more suffering for many African-Americans in Ferguson. In addition, fiery speeches delivered by certain civil rights leaders have only added fuel to angry fires in Ferguson, without offering the citizens of this troubled community the true hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
However, the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims a message of hope to all African-Americans (and to all races) during this very dark time in American history. The gospel says that the best way to defeat sin’s weapon of violence and to reconcile race relations in Ferguson and throughout the world is with the bloody, resurrection-empowered, and reconciliatory gospel of the crucified, resurrected, and exalted Lord Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, because of the enduring effects of Adam’s transgressions on race relations, Mr. Brown’s story will not be the last report of a police officer (white or black) gunning down an unarmed African-American for questionable reasons. African-Americans will in all likelihood continue to gun down fellow African-Americans in many of America’s streets and cities, and African-Americans will continue to be the victims of unjust violence from those in positions of power and privilege. And no human or natural effort or device will be able to stop these enduring effects of Adam’s transgression on African-Americans — neither marches nor protests, neither laws nor policies, neither arrests nor police brutality, neither tear gas nor guns, neither programs nor propaganda, and neither campaigns nor inspiring speeches from famous civil rights leaders.
The problem in Ferguson is fundamentally a spiritual problem, that is, a sin problem. Adam’s transgression has created death within every human heart, and every human heart regardless of race rebels against God and against his fellow-man (Genesis 3:8-9; 4:8; 6:1-6; Rom 3:9-18). Ever since Adam’s transgression and because of Adam’s transgression, humanity has always and will continue to act out the wickedness that is in his heart (Genesis 6:5). As a result, Adam’s transgression will continue to manifest itself in many ways, including the violence against African-Americans and other ethno-racial communities throughout the world, unless Christians use the supernatural weapon of the gospel to destroy the effects of Adam’s transgressions.
God himself offered his Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross and to resurrect from the dead in order to reverse the universal curse of Adam’s transgression and to reconcile sinners to himself and to one another (John 3:16; Romans 3:21-26; 5:6-21; Ephesians 2:11-22). Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can transform the human heart. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can rid the world of racism; only the gospel of Jesus Christ can create love where there is hate; and only the gospel of Jesus Christ can once and for all end the enduring effects of Adam’s transgression over creation, a transgression that continues to show its ugly face by means of violence against African-Americans in Ferguson and against other races throughout the world.
If Christians want to see less racial violence, we must believe, proclaim, and live the gospel of Jesus Christ and allow it to move us to gospel-action in the church and in society. We cannot simply talk about the gospel, write books about the gospel, preach sermons about the gospel, write blogs about the gospel, or give lectures about the gospel—as important as all of these things are — in the comfort of our homes or offices without interacting in critical engagement with real people in our culture. And Christians can no longer believe the lie that race relations, racial issues, and racial reconciliation are social issues instead of gospel issues — perish the thought! Christians must instead preach the ethno-racial gospel that centers on the death and resurrection of a Jewish Messiah, who died on the cross and resurrected from the dead precisely to save some races of people from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation to make them a new race and new kingdom in Christ (Revelation 5:9-10). And Christians must act out the gospel in our churches and in society to put to death the enduring effects of Adam’s transgression by becoming engaged in the various racial problems that face the church.
Violence is not an African-American problem or uniquely an American problem. Rather, it’s a sin problem. The entire church of Jesus Christ throughout the world must be armed with God’s power unto salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16) and prayer to fight against the enduring effects of Adam’s sin. May God help all gospel believing churches by the power of his Spirit to arm themselves with the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ and with prayer in the spiritual war of reversing the violent effects of Adam’s transgression on race relations (Ephesians 6:10-17), violence which is currently being seen in Ferguson and in other parts of the world by the violent suffering of many.
Jarvis J. Williams serves as Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Seminary. He is the author of Maccabean Martyr Traditions in Paul’s Theology of Atonement: Did Martyr Theology Shape Paul’s Conception of Jesus’s Death?, One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology, and For Whom Did Christ Die? The Extent of the Atonement in Paul’s Theology.