When people ask me how I’ve felt the last year has been as it relates to race, I have replied that I think the conversation has been set back in more moderate and conservative church spaces. I mean that both theologically and politically.
As an example of this, just this morning I pulled up an email from an upcoming gathering which encouraged attendance if you are “worried about the powerful forces of cancel culture that are taking over our society.” In many parts of the church there is greater concern for the outcomes of a more racially just society than for ongoing racial injustice.
Have Things Gotten Worse
For many white Evangelical and Pentecostals there is a lingering question that looms over the current discussions and increased awareness around racial prejudice. Have things actually gotten worse?
Having been raised in an era of racial colorblindness, it’s hard for many to understand what exactly has changed besides opposition to President Trump and changes in the way the media is reporting, what many white Evangelicals and Pentecostals, consider to be isolated incidents.
I could go through statistics and point to the disproportionate number of people of color in prison system (largest in the world), I could point to unpunished crime rates that are being more fully enforced against minorities and lightly enforced among whites, I could point to history and legal barriers, but in addition to those significant realities, I want to point back to a theological point.
Shouldn’t it be enough that our brothers and sisters in Christ are more fearful in the Black church; fearful of where America could go? Shouldn’t their concern be enough of a motivator to sit down and really listen and consider. We hold to the unity of the body and or connection with other Christians so very loosely, but it ought to be enough that other Christians are deeply concerned about returning to an era of renewed legal discrimination. Their concerns should become our concerns even if listening raises more questions than answers.
Relationships Point Toward Solutions
The renewed sense of fear from the Black church should spur the more moderate to conservative Christian bodies into relationship and into a commitment to better understand this lingering divisional sin from within the church.
I have found that relationships with Black clergy are the foundation for my own understanding and advocacy around racial justice. In those relationships I have been convinced of the need for police reform. Check out what such reforms have done in the city of Newark.
The second thing I have become convinced of is the need for reparations of some kind. I am more open to the means and kind of reparations, but that we should have them; I am convinced we should.
Beyond policy, I am convinced of the need for concrete collaborations. Everything from raising funds to support our brothers and sisters in the Black church for their ministries to new collaboration points that help churches within a city and region of the country work more closely together on everything from evangelism, prayer, helps among those in need, and collaborative missions. In a deeply divided nation, our witness towards unity can be a healing balm in a land in need of some good news.
From a historical perspective most nations have founding stories about who they are and what they believe. The American narrative began as a noble quest for religious freedom but was quickly subordinated to a more expansive dream of Manifest Destiny to gain control of all lands from the Atlantic to the Pacific, regardless of who or what was in the way, including Native Americans. Initially, a narrow set of white races from Europe who were self-consciously Anglo-Saxons, a mythological group of people, arrived. Then immigration increased to encompass Southern Europeans, Slavs, and other European groups. Today, Hispanic and Asian immigrant populations dominant U.S. immigration.
This fundamental national problem of being a land for all people, but having a slow expansion as to who that means has been at the heart of the struggle for American national identity.
Christian traditions formed from within the encounter of being discriminated against in American national life have been shaped and deeply sinned against; while many Christians who benefited from being on the in-group in many cases were silent and resistant to expanding the circle to encompass more groups.
A Vision Toward the Future
So what should the vision of the future be?
I am not sure any one vision of the future is the right one for the church around race, save it be to follow Christ more deeply and collaborate more fully.
For some a renewed commitment to Christ and his Kingdom will be to plant and expand multi-cultural churches, for others it will be to strength and enliven their own traditions and denominations, but for all we must learn to collaborate.
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “We must learn to live together brothers or perish together as fools.”
Let us rediscover the true essence of what it means to love our brothers and sisters deeply and earnestly and within the bonds of peace.