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Potholes On The Road To Racial Reconciliation

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By: Elisha Lawrence

Acts 14:22 — It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.


Paul told this to the believers in the towns where he just planted churches. These are the towns that Paul and Barnabas were run out of by jealous and angry Jews. In one of those towns, Paul was stoned and dragged out of the city but somehow lived through it.


Who wants to sign up to be a Christian?


Paul and Barnabas kept on going to place after place even though they met with opposition everywhere they went. The only reason they would do this is that Jesus is worth it.

Following the Lord will mean opposition. You might not get stoned by anyone and dragged out of a city, but hardships and misunderstandings are inevitable.

When I think about what’s happening in our world and the Church, I wonder what this means for us.

Where would we meet opposition?

Where is it that we’ll run into hatred and jealousy?


It’s interesting to note who was the source of the hostility toward the Christians. It was the Jews.

Jews were persecuting Jews. Jews were driving out and trying to kill other Jews. It didn’t start with the pagan Romans, although that would come later. It started with their own religious countrymen.


Now I’m not sure where opposition for City Church will come from. Indeed, the culture around us seems to be growing more intolerant of Christianity. There is a general disdain for the exclusivist truth claims of Christians and some want to silence Christian rhetoric altogether.


That’s a real danger.

But a conversation I had a few weeks ago alerted me to a possible source of suffering that I would not have anticipated.


I was sitting with a group of college students in Nashville at Watson Grove Baptist Church with their wonderful Senior Pastor John Faison. Pastor Faison welcomed us in for a few hours to discuss the roots of racism in America, particularly in Nashville. Pastor Faison is an intelligent, informed, and bold man. I feel privileged to have met him and learned from him. He's a Black pastor in a predominantly African American church. And he said something I hadn’t anticipated hearing. I’ll paraphrase here:


“If you are going to truly stand for justice, you may lose friends. You may get ostracized, but work with the Spirit regardless of where it leads.”


Pastor Faison wasn’t just speaking from historical study, he was speaking from personal experience. And he was echoing the words that Paul said to those young Christians in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch.


Acts 14:22 — It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.

The kingdom that God wants to bring on earth is often opposed. What's surprising, however, is that is that it is often opposed from within.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The greatest tragedy in life is not the deeds of evil men; the greatest tragedy is the silence of good ones!”


He is celebrated now as a Civil Rights hero, but in his day, he was greatly opposed by many Christians. We’d do well to expect a similar reception at points if we’re honestly going to move towards the type of diversity that the gospel encourages us to.


What my brother Pastor Faison was saying is that real diversity requires sacrifices that most people are not willing to make.


We may read that Christ came to die for people of “every tribe, tongue, and nation.” But are we willing to attend a school where our children might be the minority?


We may say amen to the “breaking down of the dividing wall of hostility” between different races, but are we willing to live in a neighborhood where we are a minority?


We may say we want diversity, but are we willing to listen to minorities to hear their experiences of injustice without lashing out in defensiveness or labeling it as political speech?


These are not easy questions for us. They aren’t easy questions for me. Yet they are necessary questions we need to be asking.

I am a white male. I don’t know the experience of a black male or a Hispanic female. Racism and racialization are massive issues in our country. I wouldn’t have said that just three years ago. At that point, all I noticed was the segregation on Sunday mornings. I thought having a diverse church service would solve the problem.


But the more I talk with minority brothers and sisters in Christ, the more I read about the history of our nation, the more I am painfully aware how short-sighted and ill-informed I was before the last three years.


City Church, I exhort you to learn, read, and be humble enough to admit where you have been wrong. To get where I believe God wants us to go with diversity and racial justice is going to take endurance, trust, and love for one another. It’s not going to be easy. We may even lose some friendships or be characterized as troublemakers.

Remember this:
Acts 14:22 — It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.


Reading Suggestions
Divided by Faith: Christian Smith, Michael Emerson
The Color of Law: Richard Rothstein
Removing the Stain of Racism from the SBC: Kevin Jones

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Why Racism Is Hell on Earth

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The recent scenes in Charlottesville, Shelbyville, and our hometown of Murfreesboro were examples of real-life, in-your-face hell on earth.

As white supremacists marched down the streets with Confederate and Nazi flags, screaming racial slurs and hailing Hitler, we saw the antithesis of heaven:

You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slaughtered,
and you purchased people
for God by your blood
from every tribe and language
and people and nation.
You made them a kingdom
and priests to our God,
and they will reign on the earth. (Rev. 5:9-10)

The tree of life was on each side of the river, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, and there will no longer be any curse. (Rev. 22:2-3)

This gathering of nations—from the Greek root word ἔθνος, where we get the word “ethnicity”—is what heaven looks like now, and gives a glimpse into New Jerusalem’s eternal population.

Eternity will not be white faces marching to destroy colors through the Nazi flag of death. Instead, it will be faces from every single hue being healed by the tree of life. Jesus’s blood has redeemed people from every ethnicity, and every ethnicity is and will be represented in God’s kingdom.

Regarding race and culture and nationality, diversity is heavenly; uniformity is hellish.

But this raises the most critical question: what should we do about it?

On the one hand, the most important thing has already been done. Ephesians 2 says that God is right now destroying racial and ethnic division through the cross.

White supremacists are not original.

We’ve seen this sort of evil and hatred throughout American history and the histories of nations throughout the world. They fancy themselves as revolutionaries and heroes, but they are stale, generic villains. The arc of history bends away from them.

Their legacy will be summed up in one word: defeat.

On the other hand, this has massive implications for Christians. Matthew 28:18-20 says that we’re called to make disciples of all nations.

I used to think of this as merely a call to “evangelism”—telling lost people about Jesus. However, it has become more and more apparent to me that this also must be paired with 2 Corinthians 5:11-21: Christians are ministers of reconciliation.

This ministry has countless implications, but a clear implication is this: making disciples of all nations and looking toward eternity, when all tribes and tongues will worship together, means breaking down walls of racial and cultural divisions.

As new creations, we are called to mirror eternity in this life. One foundational way to preview eternity is to intentionally seek justice and equality for people of every nation, tribe, and tongue. If there are no walls in eternity, there should be no walls right now.

First, then, we should admit our biases and blindness.

As Christians, we are fundamentally called to be humble, teachable, peacemaking, wall-smashing, ministers of reconciliation. So our first instinct should be to listen, not to shut our ears and throw out insults and dismissive platitudes.

If we can’t recognize that systemic issues in our land — a land whose unifying moments (Emancipation Proclamation, desegregation, voting rights, and Affirmative Action) were merely legal concessions and not intrinsically built into our foundation — then we’re just not ready to listen to those who feel the most hurt by it.

We don’t have to agree on every nuance or policy or logical conclusion, but there should be a baseline recognition of the apparent historical and ongoing separation in our country. The Christian call to pursue unity isn’t optional.

Don’t point the finger; lend an ear.

Second and relatedly, we should put this into action by not huddling up with people like us, waiting on God to sort it out later.

That would be easy. Instead, we should fight tooth-and-nail against the temptation to be comfortable and monolithic. The cross of Christ demands that we press on to the point of shed blood to love our brothers and sisters of all races and ethnicities.

Our churches should be as diverse or even more diverse than our neighborhoods (imagine Sunday morning at your church being the most diverse gathering in your neighborhood each week!).

Our dinner tables should likewise have regular seats filled with those who don’t look like us.

As Russell Moore so aptly puts it, in the fight for racial reconciliation, “We’re not getting anywhere if we gather in church with people we’d gather with if Jesus were still dead.” The death and resurrection of Jesus mean that sin and death are dead—taking hatred and division to hell with them.

To my white brothers and sisters: don’t merely post on social media about your frustration about race relations in our country.

Don’t let your actions be relegated to hashtags and retweets. True reconciliation happens around dinner tables and in marching lines. True empathy comes not only from watching another iPhone video but from putting your arms around someone whose skin doesn’t match yours.

True friendship comes not from a Twitter follow or a Sunday morning sentiment but from a lifelong commitment to co-suffering and co-laboring.

True love doesn’t happen with a half-hearted apology, but with an open mind to be an active part of the solution.

Though personal relationships are the most important, it would also help to read some books on race by black authors. Let their perspective help shape the narrative for you.

For example, read Life and Times of Frederick Douglass by Douglass and United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity by Newbell.

Racism is hell on earth. But we as Christians are called to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

You may feel like only one friendship, or one conversation is a waste, but it isn’t. Nothing you do in this life is inconsequential.

God works through even the smallest steps, however awkward and heavy they may seem. As Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Make your anywhere count.

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