How does one just fix racism in America? America thought it fixed the system in 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation but we still had legalized segregation with the Jim Crow laws. Then, in 1954, America took another step forward with Brown versus the Board of Education, and next the Civil Rights Act of 1968. However, these laws began the fully legal process of forming ghettos for African-Americans in the inner cities. This history is rich and evolving, but in the wake of the recent Philando Castile and Alton Sterling shootings, many of my white friends are asking, “What can we do to bring about true racial reconciliation in our country?”
As we conclude preaching through the book of Isaiah, I wanted to post the end of my manuscript this week. It is a birds eye view of the whole book. Nearly every week I’ve called us to get up close to Isaiah to see what he see’s—to understand why he is saying what he’s saying, or what action he’s calling the people to. So I want to summarize with five passions that Isaiah makes us aware of throughout this book.
- Isaiah Makes Us Aware of God & His Glory
- Isaiah Makes Us Aware of Our Sin & Idols
- Isaiah Makes Us Aware of God’s Grace & Renewal
- Isaiah Makes Us Aware of Jesus Christ the Servant
- Isaiah Makes Us Aware of Hope For All Nations
Visit veritascolumbus.com for the audio of the sermons.
I was around eight years old, barely able to pack my own lunch, when I first heard someone at the bus stop yell “N* Lover” at me. I grew up in a racially charged neighborhood with a bi-racial brother so it wasn’t the first time I experienced racism. In the 80s, my parents proceeded with adopting my brother though they knew they would face issues of race even from friends and family. They didn’t know how to navigate the racial tension. There wasn’t a national conversation happening to guide their thoughts. There were no “racial reconciliation” slogans or campaigns. Yet, Mom and Dad had to lead on as our parents so they simply loved on us both and taught us the evils of racism. We moved along as a family.
As a white pastor of a large church in a diverse city, I reflect on these childhood events and have one thought: I’m ready to move along with racial reconciliation.
Voice 1: A Church Just Like Me
Some of my friends in both the black and white community encouraged me to forget about the effort towards racial reconciliation and focus on the “low-hanging-fruit” (which is code for, “focus on people just like you”). Veritas saw tremendous growth in our first several years. It was like the blink of an eye, a wave we couldn’t control. One day, we looked up and said, “we grew big and white, overnight.” The culture of our church community has grown much more diverse over the last few years, despite how “big and white” we were but I look back and have no doubt that God did it. Period. So let’s move along.
Voice 2: A Church Not Ready
Still, others were bold enough to proclaim the church wasn’t ready for authentic racial reconciliation. The posture of the people weren’t at a place to explore new expressions of worship, invest the hiring of diverse leadership or make the effort to build authentic relationships with those of another culture and race. In all honesty, though, I don’t know if I’ve ever met a church that was truly ready. What does “ready” even mean? How does one get ready other than carry a conviction of hope and pray? We are all sinful people who love ourselves and all expressions of ourselves. We won’t ever be purely ready. Period. So let’s move along.
Can We Move Along?
How do we move along? Does moving along mean we should forgo our efforts and proceed with the ‘homogenous unit principle’—engaging with people just like us? Should we throw our hands up and walk away resolved that the church is not ready to change? One of the most helpful reads on this very dilemma came from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together.
“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. […] Do what is given to you, and do it well, and you will have done enough.[…] Live together in the forgiveness of your sins. Forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.” (pages 36-38)
When we read from passages like Ephesians 2, we see the reconciling of Jews and Gentiles. Or Revelation 5:9, we see a picture of our glorious future as all tribes, tongues and nations gathering together. These images can cause us to look at the current church community in front of us with disgust. We often sacrifice the community we have been given by God for an idolized version that we think is more righteous.
Bonhoeffer’s challenge to us is not to forgo the dream or to give up making the effort of racial reconciliation—he is challenging us to get on with it in a posture of forgiveness toward one another’s brokenness, to do the best we can to engage the broken community around us, and to pray.
I, for one, am exhausted from trying to force the perfectly reconciled community NOW rather than finding joy in the unreconciled community I currently live in. Racial reconciliation will happen! It is promised to those in Jesus Christ! We may get small tastes today of the fullness to come in the future but don’t destroy or give up on the people in front of you.
I hope to be more like my parents—humbly admitting to not having all the right answers or “fixes” to racial reconciliation for the world (or even the church) but to simply move along by loving their white son and bi-racial son just the same.