I recently attended a racial reconciliation forum put together by INITIATIVE in Dallas, Texas. The conversation was put together in response to the outcries heard across our country concerning the events that happened in Ferguson, MO.
The conversation that night focused on how the churches can pursue more diversity and unity. You can listen to the Q&A of the conversation here.
“Racial Reconciliation” is a buzz word term. Given recent events in Ferguson and New York, it may even be a safe word that permits and allows delicious emotional responses that inhibit our more rational faculties. In other words, in the name of “racial reconciliation” we just might permit ourselves to binge on anger, resentment, and revenge.
Rightfully so, the forum I went to knew to separate the conversation about racial reconciliation in the church, and racial reconciliation in the streets. This post will be about the church, and a post will follow about my thoughts on the ways to make progress in the streets.
INSIDE THE CHURCH
The phrase is often quoted that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. The statement suggests that the Sunday morning worship hour presents the most racially divided hour in our country.
The sound byte rang true for a time in our history.
Certainly there are many other somewhat racially exclusive hours and activities in a given week, like say house parties, certain dance club events, or even some sporting events. But the statement isn’t meant to be scientifically true. It’s meant to make a point. Or better, to ask a question. And that question is, “Why do we have so many racially exclusive worship experiences in the American church?”
It’d take a different blog to explain the why’s for ethnic environments of some churches. I’d much rather discuss why the question (and therefore the answer to the question) even matters.
Why does it matter that a certain congregation is highly one-sided in its ethnicity? Should ethnic diversity in our congregations be a universal goal of the local church? If so, why? Who says?
It seems to me the only mandate of the local church is to follow the Spirit’s lead of that ministry. If such leading includes amassing a diverse congregation, then God be praised. If, like Peter with the Jews and Paul with the Gentiles, a pastor or church follows the Spirit’s lead and it leads to a specific ethnicity, then God be praised.
The collective CHURCH belongs to God, as does the individual churches. We are collectively sent to save the world, every nation and tongue. And we are meant to love our brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of race or skin color. The Spirit is our guide. If we seek God first, “these other things” will follow.
THE ONE THING
We can sum up the issue of race relations in American churches with one word. Identity.
So many of us have attached a sense of identity to our skin color. To our race. And because we have done this, we are walking around with scabs on our racial history sores waiting for the first Ferguson situation to yank it off.
Suddenly, the Christian is looking to the church to solve a sin problem it is never meant to solve. Race relations are not cured by churches, they are cured by the Gospel. But to see that, we must be reminded that as Christians, our identity is not found in our ethnic history, our skin color, or our racial background.
If you are a Christian, saved by the power of the Holy Spirit within you, then you are a new creature. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
That means, as a believing son of God who has been transformed by the renewing of my mind, made new by the Spirit of God, I am no longer identified as an American, or a black man. And my white and brown brothers and sisters in Christ are not identified by their whiteness, or brownness. We are, instead, sons of the God together in one big family. Not only should race relations not be a problem in the church, it should be barely noticed (along the levels that we notice green eyes, tall people, or blond hair). If it’s true that our identity is wrapped up, tied up, and tangled up in Christ, then what room is there for the “old things” of racial pasts and ethnic identities.
The gospel is the great race reconciler. It is through the gospel that chains of resentment and revenge are loosened. The church and its Christians should not indulge the emotional vomit of racial resentment and entitlement, when inside him lies the victory that takes down strongholds. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, Paul tells us. Instead, we battle sin, wickedness in high places. We pursue justice for all people (which means going beyond racial accusations).
At the very minimum, the church should remind its Christian congregations their identity and allegiances are not to some ethnic, cultural standard. But that in Christ, we don’t see color. We see the work of he who heals working through is people, and the work of he who destroys working through secular society.
At it’s maximum, the church can influence society’s tendency to binge on emotional responses by wisely identifying the true injustice. For instance, Ferguson is not a black vs. white issue. It’s a power vs. powerless issue. And more than that, it’s a class issue. It’s a survival issue. It’s the result of a conglomerate of sin of which racism is both the least contributor and the thing we really can’t do anything about. We can, however, hold our police departments accountable for the way they treat AMERICANS (not just black people).
How might it change things if the church became a trailblazer for the rights of all American citizens? How might it look if we held all municipalities and powers responsible for all their injustices, not just the white-on-black ones (hello, Dillon Taylor)? But to do this as the church, we cannot be caught up in our previous identities. We cannot jump to conclusions about how racially motivated a situation is. And we must use our leverage to do all we can to fight efficiently the powers of injustice. In this way, the gospels saves on several levels, and the colors of our congregations mean less and less.
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