Racial Reconciliation, Biblically and Practically

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PASSION, NOT POLITICS

We here at Rambling Ever On write about the things that interest us most, the things we are most passionate about. We rarely broach on the hot button topics of the day, which seem to change every couple of weeks. This is sort of that and sort of not. Yes, it is written in part because of recent mainstream news events in the U.S. But more because this is a topic I am passionate about.

And although it stems from recent events, this will not be politically polarizing. It aims not to offend, beyond how the Bible inherently does so. I do not know what it is like to be racially profiled. I do not know what it is like to put on a uniform and constantly have my life at risk while doing my job. But I do know what it is like to live among and interact with cultures that are different than my own1. And more importantly, as a Christian, I do know that the Bible explicitly teaches that Jesus did not just die to reconcile men to God, but to unite two people groups that were divided by a cultural wall. He died to reconcile us to each other. I speak only to what I know.

Over 14 years ago, I moved to Chicago straight out of college. I had no clue what I was getting into.  I didn’t know the neighborhood was predominately Spanish. I didn’t know how God would change my focus ministry just a few years into helping plant a church. But he did and to Him be the glory. I think a few of the things God has taught me can be of help to others in this very volatile time of race relations in the U.S.

We can meditate on Scriptures that talk about racial harmony.

When Israel left Egypt they left as a mixed ethnic multitude (Exodus 12:38). When they were established in their homeland, God told them to treat those of other cultures with the same love they had for each other (Leviticus 19:33-34).  When Israel had worship services, the immigrants and the poor and essentially everyone else were invited to celebrate with them (Deuteronomy 16:9-14; Joshua 8:30-35). Jesus taught us to serve our neighbor even if that neighbor is the one from another race that we are taught to hate (Luke 10:25-37). The church in Acts began with people of nearly 20 different languages (Acts 2:1-11) and the early church did everything together (Acts 2:42-47). Revelation 5:9-10 and 7:9 both make it clear that nations and languages are worshiping together in eternity. And Ephesians 2:11-22 teaches clearly that the wall of hostility that existed between Jews and Gentiles was obliterated by Jesus dying on the cross. I could blow your computer up with all of the references in the New Testament about how the body of Christ is supposed to be ONE and not divided, especially along cultural and racial lines. (Here are a few: John 17:11, 20-23; Acts 4:32; Romans 12:4-5, 15:6; 1 Corinthians 10:17, 12:12-20; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:16, 3:6, 4:4-6; Philippians 1:27; Colossians 3:15).

     I could blow your computer up with all of the references in the NT to how the body of Christ is supposed to be ONE and not divided, especially along cultural and racial lines

The Bible is absolutely clear that God desires racial harmony in worship and community. We can start there. Otherwise it is just civil rights and that, while noble, sells my faith short. The Gospel of Jesus is exalted over the goodness of man.

We can take the attitude of a learner towards other cultures.

Few things communicate genuine love like listening to a person. And a most sacrificial form of this can be when we listen and observe and try to learn from people who dress differently than us, act differently than us and think differently than us. My brand of cultural Christianity often thinks you have to have answers and that revealing ignorance is shameful. But exposure to other cultures teaches me that there is so much I don’t know–about God, about people, about the world.

I realize that some reading this may not be able do this. But what if some of us took a month or two or several and just visited a church of another culture? And just observed? In my neighborhood in Chicago, God has led me to take this to trying to learn the languages of others. This doesn’t make me special or spiritual. It’s just a way to “consider others more important than myself” (Phil 2:3) and to preach the Gospel in the heart language of my neighbors, or how they will hear it best. Not all cultures require going outside of English to give us chances to learn from others, yet it will probably make us uncomfortable. But if we are going to be reconciled, we need to understand each other.

     What if some of us took a month or two or several and just visited a church of another culture? And just observed?

In a climate where everyone seems to have an opinion and an argument, it can speak loudly to other people for us to be slow to speak, slow to get angry and quick to listen to others. It may cause us to stereotype less. It may help us realize our way of doing something (like church) isn’t the only way or the right way. If we listen closely to what others are saying, some might think we are agreeing to what the other person is saying. It does not have to mean that. We can still have opinions. But sincerely listening to them can show humility and wisdom. It can mean to others “I love you enough to try to understand you” and “I am ignorant. I need to learn.”

If there is a clear basis for reaching others that both Jesus (Phil. 2:5-8) and Paul (1 Cor. 9:19-23) both held, it is the willingness to set aside rights to do so. For Paul as a zealous Jew called to the Gentiles, they were often cultural. What would it look like if we did whatever it took to reach people, removing all obstacles of offense except the Bible itself? To the Spanish, I became Spanish. To the Polish I became Polish. This doesn’t meant pretending to be something you are not. That is haughty and pretentious to me. But I can take the heart of meekness as a learner. Cultural pride can very much be an obstacle to the Gospel.

     In a climate where everyone seems to have an opinion and an argument, it can speak loudly to other people for us to be slow to speak, slow to get angry and quick to listen to others. It may cause us to stereotype less.

We can be intentional in personal relationships. 

Obviously, I think this is much more preferable when it happens organically, but my anecdotal evidence has taught me that often we must be intentional. For some when it doesn’t happen organically, perhaps living out the second point above will create opportunities.  In Acts 13 there was a multicultural leadership team in the Antioch church, including an African named Simeon, and this happened in huge part because the early church after a short time was intentional about reaching the Gentiles. I will be frank: there will always be racial tension when you have people of so many different races and languages and religions in one place. It may be like Jesus saying in Deuteronomy that you should not have poor among you and later saying there will always be poor among you. The fact that there will always be extremes that never seek middle ground should not discourage us from fighting for the ideal.

And on a micro-level we make all the difference in the world when we pray with other races, when we weep with them, when we rejoice with them, when we do community with them as they did in Acts. It’s worth the appearance of potential awkwardness in inviting someone you don’t know for dinner or for coffee. It’s worth people seeing your intentions as selfish. It’s worth the potential misunderstandings in the long run due to cultural differences, which happened in both Nehemiah and Acts. Nothing worth it is easy. If it were easy then 90% of churches would not be racially segregated2.  We must take the hard steps.

                                     

I realize this has not been deep. But I am convinced as a pastor, a preacher and just a person, that often the parts of the Bible we practice the most poorly are the easiest to understand. Tearing down the Jew-Gentile wall was such a feat in the New Testament that they wrote about it over and over. And today we build new walls. The church should be knocking them down with the early church as our role models. Because to them racial reconciliation was both biblical and practical.

 

 

  1. I appreciate the attempts by many people to claim there is only one “race in the world, but I will use that word interchangeably with “culture” in this article since, in my opinion, we cannot deny differences in behaviors and values of people based on these things. It is ideal to only see one race, but the past and present of the U.S. will not allow this. At the present, I would argue it is okay to see others by their ‘race’.
  2. DeYoung, Emerson, Yancey, Kim. United By Faith, 4. Though twelve years old now, I heartily recommend this book and feel confident that this statistic is still close to accurate.

Gowdy Cannon

I am the pastor of the bilingual ministry of Northwest Community Church in Chicago. Our church is intentional in trying to bring English and Spanish speakers together in worship and community. My wife, Kayla, and I have been married two years. I teach ESL (English as a Second Language) classes to adult immigrants in my community. I am, at times, a student at Moody Theological Seminary in Chicago. I love The USC (the real one in SC, not the other one in CA), Seinfeld, John 3:30, Chic-Fil-A, Dumb and Dumber, the book of Job, preaching and teaching, and arguing about sports.

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