Overcoming Injustice: Q&A with Pastor James Ward

by | Aug 20, 2022

The following article is condensed from two episodes of The Choices We Face, Overcoming Injustice: Part One and Part Two. Ralph Martin (RM) and Peter Herbeck (PH) interviewed Pastor James Ward (PJW), author of Zero Victim and pastor and founder of Insight Church near Chicago.

RM: Your book is the most hopeful thing I’ve read, given our country’s terrible divisions. Please tell us about yourself.

PJW: I grew up in Alabama in the early 1980s, at the end of segregated schools. Tuscaloosa was divided by the Black Warrior River, with white people on the north side and black people on the south side. I don’t recall seeing white students before our schools were integrated in third grade. Taking that bus to the white side of town was transformative, but growing up in a household of faith, with a father who was a deacon, traditional praying grandparents, and a mom who was a believer created the right environment for the Lord to prepare my heart for that experience and beyond.

RM: I was impressed with the warmth and love expressed to your family in your book’s dedication.

PJW: Family and the restoration of black families in America are dear to my heart. We’re not making the right connection between the disintegration of the traditional family in the black community and its adverse effects. With this more victim-minded culture, we’re quick to point at other issues as the problem. We’re not coming back to the roots of the family. One of the most powerful moments in my life was waking up early to see my dad kneeling next to his bed, praying. That opened my heart to know it was OK to serve God; it was OK to pray. Seeing my hero pray inspired me to follow in his footsteps.

RM: What happened when you went across the river to another school?

PJW: The landscape changed. On the black side of town, there were old cars jacked up on cinder blocks and litter in the streets. Across the river, homes had well-manicured lawns. It was a different environment. I began to say in my heart, “I want to be on this side of town. This is where I belong.” When I got to the newly built school, all the playground equipment worked, and the school was well-lit with fresh paint. That environment does something to you. This was God’s providence.

My third-grade teacher was a black lady who was poised and eloquent. Her hair was never out of place. She was soft-spoken; even her posture made an impression on me. She pioneered this integration, so to have her as my teacher was a blessing. Usually, you get recognition for doing something wrong, but she put our names on the board when we did well. I think she was trying to cultivate me, so she was a little difficult on me—but my name was always on the board for doing well.

As I was doing well, the white kids I thought could be my enemies were not against me. They didn’t hold me back or hinder me from being successful. Something clicked, which I believe was the Spirit of God in my heart, to disarm the hostilities around me and help me recognize I’m not a victim and the people around me are not against me. I no longer believe in white supremacy, because I don’t believe in black inferiority. Something changed in me, and that was the seed for the Zero Victim book.

RM: I hear things today that seem condescending to blacks—like they can’t get a photo id or show up on time at work. It’s a horrible attitude of white superiority.

PJW: It robs you of your dignity. It forces codependency. It controls the thought process and robs an individual of their identity and capability. We’re thinking, functioning people created in the image of God, and yet we never hear a voice speak to our purpose, but it always speaks to our pain. You can never be free under those circumstances.

RM: Tell us more about what got planted in you in the third grade.

PJW: That experience changed my life’s trajectory. Since then, I’ve had high-quality relationships with people of all ethnicities. Our church is diverse, and I’ve traveled the nations and have a different perspective. For example, I refer to myself as Black American and not African American. I’ve been to Africa many times. There are over fifty different countries. Each country has its own culture and language, so African American is a misnomer. It contributes to identity crisis and specificity. I’m an American.

What I mean by Black American is that I take ownership of my nation. I don’t feel like an outsider. I don’t feel deprived. This is my home.

The title Zero Victim comes from when I was working in a multicultural church and we took an attitudinal assessment. I scored zero in the category measuring the degree to which you see yourself as a victim. In twenty-five years, the facilitator had never seen anybody score a zero. He said, “I needed to meet you and find out what’s behind this.” Now I can say that I have credentials that I’m a “Zero Victim.”

RM: You got delivered from an oppressive lie, and you help others get delivered by speaking the Word of God.

PJW: The Zero Victim mentality is the mind of Christ. The only innocent man that ever lived suffered the world’s greatest injustice by being brutally crucified for other people’s sins. If that’s not injustice, I don’t know what is. Yet while in the act of being victimized, He prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Any other injustice is a lesser infraction when measured by that standard. It releases love and forgiveness. As believers, we must rediscover this Zero Victim mindset of Christ and share it. This is a solution to what’s happening.

RM: How would you describe critical race theory?

PJW: A philosophy that you can’t redeem the system because racism is so ingrained; you must destroy the system and rebuild it. This is dangerous; you’re talking about fundamentally redefining the United States of America. Just because something is damaged or not being managed correctly, you don’t destroy it; you fix it. Psalm 11:3 says, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” We must hold on to our foundations.

White privilege and critical race theory are rooted in victim mentality. We must go to the root, or those things fester. Jeremiah 17 says the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. We have a sin problem and not a skin problem. Racism is the fruit; sin is the root, and if you don’t kill it at the root, the fruit is going to keep growing back.

PH: What happened in 2020, when the Lord brought you into a situation that in some ways your whole life was building toward?

PJW: That was the most emotional year in our lifetime, with Covid, the George Floyd incident, and then in August, I got a phone call from church member Julia Jackson saying her son had been shot seven times in Kenosha, Wisconsin. We prayed that her son, Jacob Blake, would live and declare the works of the Lord (Ps 118:17). I had been teaching the Zero Victim mentality in our church. Julia had been a part of that discipleship process, and so we were prepared as a church to enter that situation and not be victimized and not allow that to define us even though it was defining the rest of the country. The Lord placed us there and turned to good something that maybe the enemy meant for evil. I’m proud of Jacob. He’s given his heart to the Lord. He has a tremendous story to tell of the Lord’s redemptive power.

PH: You were part of a press conference with Jacob’s mother and then with the president of the United States. What happened?

PJW: Julia asked me to open the press conference, and I spoke out of this Zero Victim message. After those few moments of speaking God’s perspective about the matter across the nation, we heard from thousands of people saying, “Your tone is different. You’re not crying about whether black lives do or don’t matter. You’re not angry. There’s a peace about your voice that’s different.” I heard from atheists and agnostics saying, “I’m not religious but what you’re saying makes sense. I want to hear more.” I eventually got a call from President Trump. Every King David needs a Nathan the prophet who speaks honestly. We had a great conversation. He asked on several occasions for advice about how to handle the situation, which led to a great relationship. Some folks celebrated that, and we also got some death threats. That’s where our nation was.

In Joshua 5, Joshua asks an angel, “Are you for us, or our adversaries?” The angel responds, “I’ve come as commander of the Lord’s armies.” That’s our posture. I’m not Democrat or Republican. We’re kingdom citizens. Our nation has become so concerned about right versus left instead of right versus wrong. We’re here to call people from all sides up into the kingdom of God.

PH: Early on, the Lord helped you understand that your identity is in Him. You lived it and taught it, and then a moment of radical confusion came, and the Lord put you in the center, saying, “You’ve been faithful in little things, now I want you to say what I’ve taught you and help people think differently.”

PJW: No one is more interested in justice than God. But we’re going about it our way instead of God’s way. The Lord is calling the church to be his agent of true biblical justice. There’s a calling on Black American believers to lead in that in that area, so I am calling for this Zero Victim movement as an alternative to what we’re seeing in society—something Spirit-led and redemptive. That’s my challenge with critical race theory; it’s not built on the love of God, and it’s not redemptive.

PH: What is at the core of the Zero Victim movement and how are people dominated by a victim mentality?

PJW: The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. In America, sentiments about race and politics have become idols—and there are consequences from God for idolatry. Satan knows if he can get us to feel a certain way and live from those feelings, it will override our reason, our understanding, and our capacity to obey God’s command. Zero Victim mentality disarms being led by our feelings. Victor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and Holocaust survivor, said between every stimulus and every response there’s a space. Zero Victim mentality allows you to get into that space with the grace of God to respond instead of reacting.

PH: The enemy can lead us where he wants us to go by keeping us preoccupied with our feelings. When we feel bad, we think somebody must be the cause of that. There’s no being rooted in the security of knowing who we are as children of God.

PJW: We’re seeing a nation of people bankrupt morally and spiritually because of their departure from the Lord. Three laws govern every society: spiritual, moral, and civil. Civil law is the weakest, but that’s all we talk about. Spiritual law comes from God. Moral law is governing myself based upon spiritual law. You cannot make people better by only focusing on civil law. If we don’t get our nation back to focusing on spiritual and moral law, it’s just a matter of time before we implode. I’m afraid we’re in the beginning stages, and that’s why we’re calling for this Zero Victim movement as the right way to approach current challenges.

PH: How is this message resonating with other black leaders? There’s so much pressure to only look at things as systemic racism, instead of seeing more deeply into the human heart.

PJW: I believe we’ve hit rock bottom, so there’s an openness and a desire for a fresh way of thinking, and it’s growing as more people understand it.

We’re beginning to see a faltering of even the American political system. People are losing faith in that and now is the time to introduce the kingdom of God, which is a different way of thinking.

PH: There’s so much deception and saying we’ll be in trouble if we don’t say a circle’s a square. There’s only one answer, and that’s reality—and God Himself is the ground of all reality.

PJW: Paul writes, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in the last days many will depart the faith by giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tm 4:1). In Matthew 24:11, Jesus warns us, “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.” Satan never makes a complete lie; it’s always a partial truth that’s been perverted and manipulated. We’re seeing doctrines of demons who are educators taking over our college campuses. It’s getting into our schools’ curriculum and redefining marriage, family, and human sexuality.

PH: It’s fundamentally a spiritual battle. You can see the pressure building and the enemy getting hold of people who are not standing on the rock or discerning what’s happening. They’re living in fear. Corporations are saying, “Just tell me what to say and do so it doesn’t affect the bottom line.” It’s revealing idolatry: we’ll do whatever it takes to keep the gold growing.

This is a unique moment for black leaders. Many white folks are paralyzed: they don’t know what to say or do. How do we move forward in a cancel culture, in the grip of a political system that’s trying to silence everybody?

PJW: I encourage exactly what we’re doing—black and white friends coming together in a context of love, good faith, and deep care for each other to speak the truth in love. We’re allowing society to lead the conversation that the church should be leading. Whoever controls the narrative controls the culture, so we must start by having these conversations. Believers should talk about Scripture, love, and forgiveness. Get into a place of humility and repent. Say, “Search me, God, know my heart, know my thoughts, and see if there’s any wicked way in me.” We’re trying to fix each other instead of guarding our own hearts. The conversation starts with deep humility.

About the Author

<a href="https://www.renewalministries.net/author/staffnick/" target="_self">Renewal Ministries Staff</a>

Renewal Ministries Staff

Renewal Ministries seeks to foster renewal in the Catholic Church by helping people grow in holiness and equipping them for evangelization and ministry with the power of the Holy Spirit. We pray that these blog posts will encourage and strengthen you!

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