Riots in the Street: a Biblical Perspective

by Jordan Standridge, Source: The Cripplegate

In April of 1992, a jury found two white police officers “not guilty” for their conduct in the arrest of Rodney King a year earlier. The verdict sparked week-long riots in Los Angeles; at least 63 people were killed, 12,000 arrested, and one billion dollars of damage was done.

On May 3 (a Sunday), 1,000 US Marines and 600 soldiers were deployed to the streets of Los Angeles to supplement 6,500 National Guard troops already there.

It was the first Sunday since the riots had begun, and Grace Church (where John MacArthur was in his 23rd year as pastor) is only a few miles away from where the King beating took place. Already five people had been murdered in rioting only blocks from the church, and there were questions as to weather or not it would even be safe for the church to meet that day.

The church did meet, and MacArthur paused his normal sermon series, instead preaching a message titled:  The Los Angeles Riots: A Biblical Perspective

He began by saying:

The problem in our city is not lack of opportunity or lack of education. The problem in our city is not too much possessions, materialism. Those are only symptoms of a problem. The problem in our city is the problem of the wretchedness of the human heart. And nobody escapes that. It knows no race. It knows no color. It knows no location. It is pervasive. Sin is the degenerative and damning power in the human stream that pollutes every man and every woman and every part of life.

He went on to explain why pastors were in many cases part of the problem, not the solution:

We live in a city with churches on every street corner. But most of them don’t make any difference, any impact in their community at all. And as long as these people keep meeting, these reverends with no churches and these churches with no gospel, and as long as politicians and policemen and whoever else meet, presidents and congresses and councils, and try to solve the problem of man educationally or economically, they will never succeed. It cannot be solved there. It is not an environmental problem, it is a nature problem. It doesn’t come from the outside in, it comes from the inside out.

The main point of his message was essentially that the human heart is source of evil and rebellion, but God mitigates against this depravity through common grace. He establishes government to be an authority, and he establishes family to teach the importance of respecting authority.

But Los Angeles as a whole had experienced a culture of corruption in authority, and a culture that systematically dismantled the family, and thus any concept of respect for authority.

This resulted in the riots. But he went even more specific than citing a breakdown in civil authority and family discipline. He went on to identify 13 different causes that combined to make Los Angeles a city engulfed by violence. Last week someone encouraged me to listen to this message, and I did (you can too, here). Today I want to repost his 13 reasons—13 conditions in society that lead to racial riots:

  1. THE TERRIBLE TRAGEDY OF LIVING FOR PLEASURE

He described Los Angeles as a society into cheap thrills, wanting mindless kicks. The entertainment culture created a people that don’t think deeply about issues because they are simply into fun, feelings, and pleasure. People that only live for highs and who take pleasure into wickedness. He pointed to 2 Peter 2:13 which says, “They count it pleasure to riot” and showed how that was what was happening in that day.

  1. THE TERRIBLE REALITY OF SELFISHNESS

Racism, stealing, and pride are all manifestations of selfishness. When athletes claim that they are “the greatest,” and people think that kind of declaration is noble, then it reflects how selfish society has become. This selfishness causes people to adopt a mindset that “I matter above everyone else.” This is why the Bible says that God hates pride (Prov 8:13).

When people become consumed with themselves, everyone else becomes a means of self-gratification. Only humble people can love, only humble people can truly care. So in a world consumed by pride (like the one James was writing to), the people need to be asked this question:

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? What is it that causes riots and quarrels and fights and wars? Is not the source your pleasure that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have, so you commit murders. James 4:1-2

  1. THE EVIL OF MATERIALISM

We live in a society where things are more important than people, and so then it is only a matter of time before people become a means to an end. For someone to be able to go into a store, shoot someone just to steal a CD player, they must have a materialistic mindset.

  1. THE TRAGEDY OF AMORALITY

MacArthur said that the sexual revolution has caused more deaths than any other revolution in world history. People like Hugh Hefner have advocated sexually deviant lifestyles, which has caused people to accept pornography, violently sexual music, and nasty sexual conversation. We have a culture of people who have substituted their life for their glands, and when people live only for their next sex thrill. They become accustomed to sexual immorality which prepares them to become accustomed to violence.

  1. THE DANGER OF ANGER

The Bible forbids anger, and MacArthur pointed out that anger used to be considered a sin. Society used to find self-control socially valuable, and kids used to get spanked for not exercising it. But now people feel that they have the right to say whatever they want, whenever they want. They feel they should be allowed to vent their venom, hostility and anger.

But the truth, MacArthur reminded people, is that neither police nor citizens have a right to be angry (Eph 4:31, James 1:20, Ecc 7:9). Matthew 5:43 teaches that anger should always be replaced by prayer.

  1. THE DEADLINESS OF VENGEANCE

MacArthur said that:

The child of anger and hate is vengeance. A man strikes a policeman, a policeman strikes back. Then society strikes back. The police have to strike back. And pretty soon you have war. You can’t stop it. There is no place for vengeance, no matter what is done. It is a sin and it is a dominating sin and again it’s that same mentality. “I am the king of my universe, I have a right to anger, I have a right to hate, I have a right to pleasure, I have a right to fulfillment, and I have a right to possessions. And if you get in my way, I am going to give it to you.

MacArthur called everyone who was wronged in the riots to pray that God will forgive the transgressors through Jesus Christ.

  1. THE ABSENCE OF FORGIVENESS

We live in a world where if someone builds a fence six inches into their neighbor’s yard, the neighbor is as likely to kill them for it as they are to forgive them. MacArthur pointed out that this is so unlike Christ, who forgave the unforgivable.

  1. THE DIVISIVENESS OF PREJUDICE

Underneath these other causes is often the disease of prejudice, which God hates. But while God hates it, our society is loaded with it. Our society has essentially fabricated the concept of race, and then uses that to divide and sow hatred. This prejudice will rip, tear and shred families, neighborhoods, cities, nations. (Here is link to similar teaching by Pastor Anyabwile).

  1. THE LOSS OF RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY

MacArthur said that the amount of chaos seen in a riot can only be the result of a concerted effort to destroy a people’s confidence in law enforcement and the entire concept of law and order. The result of that effort will always be death and destruction [at this point—Sunday—the death toll of the riots had already passed 50]. He went on to say that causing people to disrespect those that bear the sword is a deadly sin, and when it becomes accepted in a culture, riots are not far behind. By the way, efforts to sow distrust in police ironically lead to the loss of freedom in the form of curfews and the military deployed in the streets [that Sunday was the first day that the Marines had been deployed in Los Angeles]. MacArthur called it a small taste of a society under police control (1 Peter 2:13-14).

10. THE DISASTER OF CIVIL REBELLION

If pride leads to murder, then disrespect leads to rebellion. MacArthur pointed out a causal connection: if you destroy respect, you encourage rebellion.

11. THE DECLINE IN SWIFT AND SEVERE PUNISHMENT

The loss of fear of punishment for wrongdoing is inextricably linked to our society’s disconnect between a crime and a punishment for that crime. The California culture had embraced slow justice, and thus slow punishment. In that world, the fear of punishment does not restrain crime or cause fear of evil [it had been over a year from the beating of Rodney King to the conclusion of the trial for the police involved].

12. THE EFFECT OF DRUNKENNESS

MacArthur made the point that drugs and alcohol have wrecked families, and more than any other sin are responsible for the destruction of our nation’s cities.

13. WEAK, IMPOTENT, FOOLISH, SELFISH AND SINFUL LEADERSHIP

MacArthur closed by asking this question:

Where are the great leaders? Where are the godly leaders? Where are the virtuous leaders? Where are the great moral men and women? Where are they? Hosea said, “Like people, like priests,” because they’ll never be any better than their leaders. And now we see it. The sins of the fathers have reached the third, the fourth generation.

You look at the society, what do you see? Lust for pleasure, self and things, sexual perversion, anger, hate, vengeance, unforgiveness, prejudice, lack of respect for authority, civil rebellion, drunkenness, weak, foolish, evil leadership that’s more concerned about politics than it is about morality.

Finally MacArthur warned about looking for secular solutions to these problems. He warned:

Nobody can escape, I don’t care if you’re black or white, I don’t care if you’re yellow or brown, or whatever of those simple colors represent the races of our world, nobody can escape the devastating power of his own sin, the wretchedness of the heart… I’ll tell you this, they may put the lid on it this week, but it will go off again. There’s only one thing that’s going to change it and that is the saving power of Jesus Christ. And my final word to you is this, you have an obligation in this society, my friend, if you’re a Christian and so do I and it is this, you are to live a godly life free from all these sins I have mentioned. You are to live a godly life free from these things. Secondly, you are to preach the only message that can transform the human heart, the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s what this world must hear if anything is to change.

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