How do we as a church wisely address the racial tension and injustice in our nation?
I sat here for way too long wondering how to even start this blog and begin this conversation. I am a big believer of "when in doubt throw all your cards on the table", so that is what I am going to do here.
Here's the reality going on in my brain as I type this...my heart has been broken on a daily basis for way too long as I observe the growing racial tension in our nation, the injustice that is being highlighted, the helpless feeling of living in the tension of feeling way too ignorant on the topics at hand yet at the same time wanting to take the posture of a learner and realizing that by being a man who has been stewarded a place of leadership in God's church, that I should be speaking truth into areas of tension and injustice.
So, I guess that my attempt to engage this conversation should just start with an honest confession that I find much of what I see as confusing and I want to learn, but I find it ironic that so much is being written and stated, when learning usually happens by asking questions, and if I am bluntly honest, I see more potificating than question asking going on and I think that it complicates rather than bringing clarity.
All of this is further complicated by the tone at which much of this conversation(s) is/are taking place. There is so much vitriol. And a lot of it is coming from the mainstream evangelical church...people who believe the bible but seem to ignore verses like "Blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9)".
Let me be clear, when I say "The Church", I am mostly referring to individuals. I have never been much of a fan of people who just casually and sloppily insult "the church" as if they have a pulse on what the entire church is up to. Also, people who tend to make those types of blind indictments against "the church" tend to be pretty myopic and are typically referring to "the American church" forgetting that we are but one small piece of God's Kingdom, and even boiling it down to the American Church, it is still ignorant to say that "The American Church is doing...this...or...that...." because they are rarely well rounded enough to be speaking for the faith of an entire nation. Seems kind of arrogant if you ask me.
At the same time though, the tension is real, because often conversations about race, injustice, nationalism, etc...are compounded by vitriolic statements by Christians, often on social media as the primary platform. It is compounded when "Celebrity Pastors" come out and say something ignorant because for some reason people have this sick unbiblical notion that if someone pastors a large church that they are somehow now representative for Christian thought (what a weird notion and its probably worth an article unto itself how bizarre that is. I mean, think about it, do you really think that what some dude with a large church in LA or something pops off and says something ignorant on Twitter that it really represents "the church", or represents "my church"? Who decided that "a Tweet" should have such power? Was there a counsel? Is Mark Zuckerberg the new Athenasius?).
But, I qualify all of this to say- we should be careful and nuanced in our words at this time because you don't combat ignorance with generic sweeping statements or indictments against "the church". In short, you don't fight ignorance with ignorance.
To be honest with you, most of the times when I hear folks reference "what the church" should be doing or making brought statements about "what 'the church' is failing to do, I cringe
So, why spend so much time qualifying statements? I mean, I haven't really touched the issue(s) yet. Well (spoiler alert) I am going to spend this whole first article qualifying the conversation(s), because I truly believe that if we spent more time defining the terms, the common goals, the commonly held beliefs and putting agreed upon parameters around the conversation, that it helps the conversation going forward and it helps us be on the same page rather than shouting over each other and shouting past one another.
When we (carefully) lay God's Word as the foundation and begin to address issues from a prayerful and humble place guided by God's Word, it cuts off so much of the periphery. I am not saying that there are not issues that are not complex and incredibly nuanced. This conversation would not be so messy if there were not some real complexities. I also feel like the tone of the conversation would be impacted if people were slow to speak, quick to listen, quicker to ask questions than to "get their ideas out there" and actually looking at Scripture before throwing another log on the fire.
This series will be an attempt to join in on a necessary conversation, but this first entry is just about laying some parameters to help our meager contribution be as helpful as possible. So, here are some guiding thoughts:
- If we are going to get to a place where we can speak to each other, rather than shout over each other, we need to be careful with our pronouns and with our "categorical bucket statements". What a mean is, when we look at statements like 'the church' and actually define who we mean. Do we mean the whole church worldwide, a segment of it or just the yahoos spewing their special brand of ignorance on social media platforms? When we mention "what we should be doing", we should define the "we". When we refer to issues of systemic racism and injustice, we should take care to define who is being unjust and who the ones effected by injustice truly are, and how they are effected. It helps us learn so much more than just throwing around generic "we's" and "they's", and ultimately, it helps provoke the question of "I", as in "what can 'I' do to be a part of bringing the Gospel of Reconciliation into a situation sorely in need of Gospel Reconciliation.
- It is helpful to parse the issueS and to realize that there is more than one issue going on. When everything is bunched up under meta-headings, it makes it sound like there is just one issue to combat. I want to use an analogy that I think should resonate with most of us. Hurricane Sandy was not a hurricane proper, it was a "Super Storm", meaning that many different fronts converged to create a massive thunderhead and that there were many contributing factors. Well, its the same when we look at issues like race, injustice, systemic racism, division in the church, police and political responses, historical narratives that come into play and various other contributing factors all converging and then being discussed in the most politically divisive time of at least my life time- where everything is politicized and put into a "for us or against us mentality" that does not help the situation. If we treated the conversation like it truly is- multiple nuanced conversations- it might help reduce the "shouting past one another" aspect.
- There are some super basic Scriptures that we should be trusting on as foundational. Truths such as "wisdom from above is first peaceable...(James 3:17-18). We certainly need some wisdom from above, but I see very little that I would call "peaceable" in many conversations that I have observed. And while we're on basic scriptural foundations for discussion...
- "The fruit of the flesh is evident" (Galatians 5:19-25). This is something that I wish the folks spewing agendas on Facebook and Twitter would take a moment to take stock of. Sometimes I am tempted to disengage because of it. There is A LOT OF FLESH HANGIN OUT. But, the beautiful 'other side of the coin' is that the fruit of the Spirit should also be evident. As we engage these charged conversations, we should REGULARLY be doing a fruit assessment. Speaking of super-charged conversations...
If possible, we should attempt to unplug the conversations of race and justice from political rhetoric. This point is THE STICKING POINT for many, so let me nuance it carefully since it is guaranteed to tick someone off. I am not one of those folks who believe that Christians should disengage from politics. I can also see that politics, both local and national, have a lot of overlap with most of the issues that we will be discussing. Sadly though, many put their politics first, and it becomes the prism through which all things are viewed. This is not a Dems vs Repubs issue. This is not a Lib vs Con issue or a Right vs Left issue. It's not even a black vs. white issue. It's a humanity issue. All of us are called, no REQUIRED, to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). This is a human calling, not a matter of political affiliation.
- Can we agree that the pejorative internet slang is not helping? Calling someone a SJW or telling someone who sincerely wants to understand, that they are "white knighting" is just not helpful. It is intended to tear down rather than build up...
- Speaking of, one thing that the 2010's are MASTERFUL in is "deconstructionalism". If you are not familiar with the term, it basically means that people can tear down and deconstruct just about anything with great mastery and precision. Deconstructionalism in and of itself is not a bad thing. There are false constructs that could use some deconstructing. But somewhere along the like we need some "re-constructionalism" (I find it tragic that reconstruction is not even a word though deconstructionalism is a dominant ideology of the day, kind of shows the propensity to tear down while leaving rubble rather than rebuilding).
- Shouting over one another and shouting past each other is not leading to lasting fruit. I'd give two tips on this- 1). Stop polemicizing and start asking more questions 2). Stop being offended so easily and give grace to those who want to contribute but maybe use some different terminology.
- Lastly, what would it look like if we stayed off of the peripheral issues that our media is pushing in order to create "click bait" and defined the true issues biblically and graciously and kept our eye on the prize, refusing to be diverted. In saying this, I am not trying to mock issues such as kneeling for the anthem or Confederate Statues. The reason they are polarizing is because they bring up a deeper, more systemic conversation. It is worthy to be informed because people are hurting, and as Christians, we should care about things that bring hurt to people who were created in the Imago Dei. But lets not allow the media to make the diversion(s) "the issue". When Jesus came, he did not just come to deal with our sin(s), He came to eradicate the systemic problem of SIN. Dealing with "sins" but not dealing with the engine of "sin" driving the motor would have left us in just as dyer of a situation as we started with. But Jesus kept His eye on the prize and dealt with the systemic issues. Is it possible for us to do the same, push the periphery to the periphery and both locate and hit the heart?
Just to let you know what we are doing as a church, aside from addressing these issues through writing, is: we want to be consistent with our Mission and Vision. Our mission is "to love God, make disciples and plant churches" and our vision is to be involved with seeing that reproduced on a wider scale. So, we are currently in conversation with some churches that are planting Reformed churches, reaching the culture without selling out, standing on the Gospel while fighting for justice in inner city contexts. Our contribution may be meager, but we pray that it comes from the right heart and might be used as "the widows mite".