It’s been hard to escape the discussion of race in America over the past couple of weeks. First came the tapes of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s incendiary comments about race and government from the pulpit of his Chicago church. Then, Sen. Barack Obama had to step through minefields of questions about his pastor’s comments and their impact on his presidential campaign. Finally, he addressed the larger issue of race in America with a speech called “A More Perfect Union.” I don’t have anything particular to say about presidential politics or Rev. Wright’s theology or Sen. Obama’s speech. However, I do think this is a significant cultural conversation among citizens of the United States. It is a conversation that we can’t ignore or take a pass on. Why? We are citizens of the United States, too. But first, we are citizens of heaven (Phil.3:21). We have a prior allegiance to King Jesus and His policy for all things: the gospel.
How do you have (or lead) a gospel-soaked conversation about race relations? First, remember the inherent, God-given dignity and value of every human being. Each person on our planet is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14) by their Creator and loved by Him-whether they be black, white, Hispanic, Asian, etc. Every one you see is deserving of respect and love.
Next, walk into any situation with your eyes open to the reality of human depravity and the expansiveness of sin. Yes, there is a lot of hurt and pain caused by racial discrimination. Yes, there are hateful words spat towards other human beings that shouldn’t be in anyone’s vocabulary. Yes, there are paralyzing suspicions between people of different races that make relationships nearly impossible. Yes, there are enough preconceptions and misperceptions of whites by blacks, and of blacks by whites, to go around. Yes, there has been prejudice, separation, segregation, hatred, abuse, neglect, arrogant supremacy and unspeakable injustice in the name of race. All of this is the result of the Fall and life in a broken, screwed-up world. Nobody is exempt; nobody is innocent. Racial struggles are just another word for sin.
Third, be aware of and take ownership of your own story. Nobody can claim objectivity here. We all deal with race out of our own story– the parenting, heritage, people & experiences that filter how we view people of other races. We all have blind spots. Despite our best intentions, we don’t walk in blank. Be honest about that. The person across from you doesn’t, either. Be gracious to hear and respect their story, too-even if it is vastly different than yours. In other words, don’t assume that your story is the whole story-or even the right story.
Above all, remember that our King’s gospel policy is, at its core, about reconciliation: “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:19) The cross is a place of reconciliation vertically, between God and people, and also horizontally, between one person and another. Our calling is to spread the fullness of this reconciliation.
So listen: “For He Himself [Christ] is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” (Eph. 2:13-14). As the old saying goes, “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.” But there’s more: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female [and we could add, there is neither black nor white], for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28) In other words, the best model and hope for racial reconciliation is in the church, where sinners of all ethnic backgrounds come together-forgiven, changed and made one by the saving power of Jesus.
If we live that in our church, we can then spread out and share that sort of reconciling love wherever we go. Racial reconciliation will not come by speeches or marches or lawsuits. It will come one grace-soaked relationship at a time-across a school cafeteria table, the fence in neighborhoods or the cubicle at work.
I pray we will be a reconciling church that leads the way to reconciling people of different races to each other through Jesus, and then makes a difference in bringing racial harmony to our society.