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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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The Gospel and Race: Where Do I Start?

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The Gospel and Race: Where Do I Start?

In the wake of the recent shooting of Terrence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott in Tulsa, OK and Charlotte, NC, it’s difficult to know what to do.

If you are white, you may wonder, “What will offend? What will get me into trouble? Maybe I should just sit still, be quiet and let this blow over…again.”

If you are black, you may wonder, “Where are the voices of the white brothers and sisters in my church that are supposed to love me? Why do they just go on with their lives as if nothing is happening?”

Here’s my answer.

As a Christian, you should never let injustice just “blow over”. You are called to mourn suffering (Romans 8, Romans 12:15). We are called to cry out to God to end suffering. Jesus was angry about Lazarus’ death, even though he knew he was about to raise him to life again (John 11). Sin, death, and all of their ugly cousins should be noticed and mourned by the church.

As the Church, we are called to be a weird people (1 Peter 2:9-12) not because we constantly mourn suffering, but because of the signs of the Kingdom we show that testify to the hope of Jesus making all things new. 

The Christian’s relationship to death, suffering, violence, racism, and injustice should NEVER be indifference or apathy. It should only ever be the kind of “snorting” (think of a bull) anger that Jesus displayed outside of Lazarus’ tomb, just before he showed a sign of his own resurrection (and the church’s ultimate resurrection) by doing something about Lazarus’ death.

In light of this, many of you are still asking “So WHAT do I do?”

The better question is “Where do I start?” 

Pray without ceasing. In this case, that means don’t pray for racial injustice ONLY when violent events happen. Systemic racial injustice happens in more than the violence in isolated events. It happens in the workplace, in the classroom, even in the grocery store. Injustice is ongoing, and so should our prayers for God to fix it.

Understand the problem. Again, this IS about violence, but it is not ONLY about violence. There are more insidious things happening alongside violence. This article might be helpful

Make friends, change patterns. If you don’t know and love people of a different race and culture, you are far more likely to stereotype their actions and be disconnected from their pain. Neither of those things is Christ-like. This means intentionally breaking up the patterns of your life to put yourself in real relationships that help you see through someone else’s eyes.

Here are some resources to help:

1) My sermon from this summer: “A Tale of Two Sunday Schools: Why Black Lives Have to Matter to the Church”

2) D.A. Horton- “God’s Cleaning His House…the Church” Specifically see his reading suggestions in “Intellectual Equipping.”

3) VIDEO: Grace, Justice, & Mercy: Bryan Stevenson & Tim Keller 

4) SHORT BOOK: The Gospel & Racial Reconciliation

5) Bryan Lorrits’s message from the 2016 Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission's National Conference: Right Color, Wrong Culture: Pursuing Multi-ethic Cultural Engagement

Photo courtesy of Relevant Magazine