posted on: Aug 16, 2017
Just over a year ago I wrote a blog post in response to the killings of two black men, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the retaliatory killings of police officers in Dallas in the wake of their deaths. In an attempt to help us process these tragedies, that post focused primarily on the fact that each of us has a skewed worldview because of sin. I also encouraged us to pray for those impacted by these killings, seek to understand those who are different than us, and work toward justice. The year before that post, I preached a sermon on how the gospel has torn down the dividing wall of hostility between races, cultures and, most importantly, between us and God. During that preach I sited instances of several racially motivated acts of violence, which still make me sick to my stomach when I think about them. Having grown up in Oklahoma in the 80s and 90s, I have seen the undercurrents of racism work against my own African American friends. I know it is still a part of the fabric of our country, and I know that our country has a history of racial violence and oppression. I also think most of us, especially in the PNW, expect things to be different in our country.
Yet here we are again. Racial tensions are at the forefront of our nation's new stories in the aftermath of the Charlottesville white po and anti-race rallies and the death of Heather Heyer. Not only is Charlottesville an absolute tragedy, but there is an added level of incredulity that comes when on sees Bible-verse-toting individuals saying that their racism is warranted and condoned in scripture.
As a dad of a mixed-race family (two of my sons are Ethiopian) I have struggled to find meaningful ways to respond to the situations stated above, as well as those closer to Tacoma, where my wife and I have now lived for over a decade. Is picketing and/or holding an anti-racist rally the answer? I don't know. What I do know is that want to do something, and I write this post because I know that many in our church feel the same way. I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I want to serve us well in regards to how our church can have a strong voice in seeing reconciliation come to our city and beyond.
In preparing for my preach in 2015 I read the book, Letters to a Birmingham Jail: A Response to the Words and Dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King. This book challenged me in many ways. Most notably, I remember reading that one of Dr. King's main laments in the struggle for racial equality was the lack of activity by white, moderate evangelicals. I just so happens that I am a white, moderate evangelical, and (at this point) so is the majority of New Community Church.
As events over the past few years have unfolded in our country I have learned that I'm good at feeling outraged and angry. It is very likely that many white, moderate evangelicals were also outraged during the Civil Rights era, but just feeling something doesn’t change anything. In my case, it just gets my blood pressure up to dangerous levels and causes me to look for an outlet to unleash my frustration. To remedy this, I turn to writing a ranting Facebook post here and there (I actually refrain from this most of the time), but that doesn't seem to do anything except get a few likes and/or ruffle a couple of feathers. What I'm not so good at, and what I am asking for wisdom for, is some an avenue for real-world steps I/we can take toward lasting, tangible racial reconciliation in our city and our country...and for that matter, the world.
I am far from an expert in these matters, and I am fully aware of this. Most of us are in the same boat, so where do we begin? Being paralyzed leads to no change at all, so that can’t be our answer. The Bible is very clear that racism is the antithesis of the good news of Jesus. Ephesians 2:13-15 says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.” This verse speaks directly of the potential for racism in the early days of Christianity, where non-Jews and Jews, who once hated each other, were now a part of the same family. The potential for racial division in the church was strong, yet church leaders (including Paul, who wrote these verses in Ephesians) wanted no part of racism in the church. In addition, 2 Corinthians tells us that our ministry is one of reconciliation. This indeed means reconciliation between us and God first, yet that reconciliation is also one between people, ethnicities and cultures. The final scene of the Bible in Revelation (see Revelation 7:9-17) shows us that people from every nation, tribe, people group and language are in on this reconciliation. All peoples are invited to have their sins forgiven, their needs met and their tears wiped away. This isn’t just some utopian view of society; it is our calling as children of God and followers of Jesus. It’s a calling to see something of heaven (what will be) touch earth now.
In light of the clarity of this calling, I’d like to humbly propose a few things that we can be confident in actually doing in the here and now to bring reconciliation.
This is far from a trite attempt at looking for a mollifying answer. Prayer is our number one calling as God’s children. When my kids hurt themselves, or need help, they call out to me and I run. How much more does God run to us when we call out to him? I can’t even recount how many times over the past several years that I’ve read a news story or a post on the internet about a tragedy and it has literally felt like a punch in the gut. My heart grieves deeply, I ask God why these things continue to happen, and then I call out to him for help. This isn’t new to our world. When David was being oppressed and hunted by Saul he wrote some of the most desperate pleas to God ever recorded, which can be found in Psalms. We can learn something from this. When the Israelites were enslaved and oppressed in Egypt they called out to the Lord and he heard their cries and answered. This is the way of God’s people throughout history. Additionally, the gospels are full of Jesus’ plea for us to ask, seek and knock. Not only does God act on our prayers, but he meets us in our desperation and brings us peace by the power and presence of his Holy Spirit.
In addition, there is a PDF at the end of this post that will walk you through 7-days of prayer for racial reconciliation.
For me this has meant face time trying to understand the point of view of local law enforcement, reading books and blog posts, and sitting down with or reaching out digitally to friends of other ethnicities whom I can learn from. In addition to people’s stories, here are a few resources that have begun to reshape my perspective on race:
BE AWARE OF WHAT YOU ARE TEACHING OTHERS (ESPECIALLY YOUR KIDS) WITH YOUR WORDS, POSTS AND ACTIONS.
This continues to be a place of intense learning for me. Our worldviews are baked in to us. Many times we aren’t even aware of our racial biases, and the way we react or engage situation like news, social media posts, inappropriate jokes, etc. Even so, this is something that is necessary for us to become aware of in ourselves. This likely means asking for input from those around us, especially people of other racial backgrounds, and those who are closest to us.
CHOOSE IN-PERSON INTERACTIONS OVER ONLINE DISCUSSIONS.
Social media can be great, and it can be a distracting mess. Another quote from Letters to a Birmingham Jail that both helped and challenged me went something like this, “Until our dinner tables on Saturday nights become more diverse, our Sunday mornings won’t become more diverse.” As person to person interactions become scarcer, they become that much more important. There is a specific need to rely less on social media for our microphone or megaphone and to share our meals and our lives with those who are not like us. This is where biases, fears and prejudices begin to melt away and empathy and understanding begin to take their place.
USE YOUR PLATFORM (HOWEVER BIG OR SMALL) TO HUMBLY SPEAK OUT.
While I can't gain a platform to speak to millions (Lord Jesus, please don't give me that!), I do have a small platform to speak to those in my life whose trust I have gained. All of us have at least that, and our responsibility is to humbly speak out for those around us who are being oppressed. This is where our Community Groups can rally and begin to serve others. Are there people in our schools, our neighborhoods, our jobs and elsewhere that we can speak up for? Are there refugee or immigrant populations that we can help provide for? If we remain silent as we see injustice, then those who could receive help may not receive it.
LOOK FOR AND ACT ON OPPORTUNITIES TO SERVE OTHERS, ESPECIALLY THOSE WHO ARE UNDERREPRESENTED OR OPPRESSED.
Psalm 9:9 says, “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” Psalm 103:6 says, “The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. “ James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
God loves, stands up for and brings justice to the oppressed and those in need. As his church, we get to be a major part of that outworking. Serving is such a broad term, and it can look like so many different things, but it isn’t serving if it doesn’t involve some sort of action. In all honesty, this is probably where I fall shortest. I live in a neighborhood that is fairly diverse and has those who are in need, and our church exists in a city that is incredibly diverse compared to most of the US. Our city is also full of those in need. Where might we work side-by-side with those who are not like us socially, racially or culturally? Where can we come alongside and love those who are in need? It may be in your neighborhood, it may be a shelter, it may be a non-profit, a mentoring program or foster care. There are numerous ways to serve, love, provide for, protect and stand up for those who are in need. That’s what Jesus did for us, and we get to, in a small way or large, do the same for others.
My hope is that this post can bring some specific help and direction to those of us who are trying to figure out the best way forward. Many of us desire to be peacemakers, which can lead to a lack of action because we don’t want to cause a fuss. Yet being a peacemaker does not equate to a lack of action. We can love our enemies like Jesus called us to do, even those who distort the truth. We can ask for help from those not like us to understand them and their situations. We can see change and bring peace, even if it is small amounts. The small amount of change that came from Jesus’ first followers grew exponentially, and by God’s grace, wisdom and courage working in us, we can see that same multiplication come in the form of racial reconciliation and a vibrant multiracial and multicultural family that makes much of our God.
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