Introduction: Racial reconciliation is never an easy conversation to enter into, but if we are going to consider what it means to be a life-giver then we cannot ignore the life-giving opportunity of unity in diversity. It is hard to ignore how many lives are affected by the life-taking injustices of racism and prejudice. In the midst of that reality, Christians must fully embrace the reality that the Gospel of Jesus Christ where God makes children out of his enemies has something to say about race and racism. These three posts will be an attempt at beginning that conversation. Please note that every Scripture passage used is quoted from the NIV. Come join us as we step into a conversation littered with the bodies of broken relationships and painful memories. Come see the God of justice and life work within that brokenness.
Crossroads Bible Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan
In our first post, I began with Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile’s quote from 11 Things I’m Thinking in the Wake of Recent Events: “‘Race’ is not only powerful, it’s also about power.” And, as with any conversation about power the experience can become rather volatile fairly quickly. What is ironic is that despite this volatility, many in our surrounding community are actually engaging it, yet we struggle to even begin the conversation within the church. We misappropriate Colossians 3:11, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all,” and adjust our color blinders, pretending that the conversation is advancing some sort of agenda. While the agendas in this conversation cannot be ignored, neither can we ignore the hurt, pain, and injustice those within minority cultures experience.
To say that this conversation doesn’t matter is to misunderstand some deep implications of the mission of Jesus in the Gospel. He does not eliminate cultural differences for the sake of plain unity. Instead, “he has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians 2:14-16). As described in the first post, reconciliation and unification shine in all their glory at the end of the biblical story in Revelation 5:9 and 7:9-10, where persons from every nation, tribe, people and language are before the throne of God, purchased by the blood of the lamb, and praising him. They are still different, but they are also one in Christ.
This conversation is not easy to have, but we must have it. God is at work in it and the storyline of the Bible testifies to his work of unity within diversity. So, if you are wondering how to enter the conversation, here are a few resources:
- Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith
- United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity by Trillia J. Newbell
- Check out the bookshelf of the Reformed African American Network
Listen to It:
If you are wanting some suggestions about what you can do, here are a few from The A.R.C. of Racial Reconciliation by Jemar Tisby:
- Pray that God would position you to take action for the cause of racial reconciliation.
- Think like a missionary
- Start with acquaintances: “Maybe there’s someone in your church who is of a different race. You know each other, but you’ve never spent significant time together or had a substantive conversation. Why not invite that person out to coffee or have their family over for dinner? It’s a natural, organic way to deepen a relationship you already have.”
- Don’t over-complicate friendships: It doesn't have to be perfect or feel like walking on eggshells. Offer friendship and pursue authentic relationship.
- Find new places to hang out: Check out ethnic restaurants or sports/clubs/activities. Maybe you can join a YMCA or rec league and hang out with people with which you normally would not cross paths?
- Intentionality: “We don’t naturally gravitate toward those who are different from us. We naturally gather in similar groups…[So,] we have to do something unnatural, or rather, supernatural, to break the cycles of social sameness that hinder racial reconciliation.”
- Interrupt ignorance: If someone is making a stereotype about a people group, then stop and ask, “Why did you say that?” or, “Hey, you might want to rephrase that.”
Pastor Anyabwile reminds us in “I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me”: The Intra-Group Gaze of Race and Identity that “only a truly Christian anthropology can both affirm who we are in our unity and distinction while at the same time freeing us from slavery to those distinctions.” The conversation is happening around us. The question for us Christians is, “Are we going to speak up?”
Erick Solomon is currently in his last year of seminary at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and serves on staff at Crossroads Bible Church as a pastoral resident. He and his wife just celebrated four years of marriage and have a seven-month-old daughter.
You can find Erick on Twitter @ericksolomon or on Instagram as ericksolomon.