This is one of a series of posts (intended to be read in the order above) focused on exploring the issue of race and how The Gospel shapes our beliefs and response. Racial reconciliation is a common name for this topic, and although it “is not the gospel or the central focus of it, it is a qualitative application of the gospel in function and practice” (Eric Mason).
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
Mourn with those who mourn. Let’s start with a hypothetical situation.
A family leans in for one last look as their loved one takes his final breaths in a battle with cancer. Then, it happens. Joe’s spirit leaves him, and tears abound in the room. Death is brutal, and it rips at the hearts of the family.
A few days pass, and they welcome someone over for dinner. The person begins to ask questions.
“You know Joe should’ve quit smoking right? What were some of his other lifestyle choices? Was he a healthy eater? I bet he’d still be alive right now if he just would’ve made better choices.”
The family is shocked and infuriated, but the person keeps going.
“Why are you so caught up with this anyway? What about other people out there who’ve died from different diseases? Shouldn’t we be talking about them too? People are dying every day. Why are you making a big deal out of this?”
Thankfully, that’s just a hypothetical situation. Can you imagine what it would be like for the family if that did happen though? Sure, it’s important to make the best choices we can in life, and facts are important when the time is right. However, bringing them up after someone lost a loved one would be extremely difficult to understand and deal with.
Unfortunately, in 2015, I became aware that I was carrying this same sentiment in a non-hypothetical situation.
On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown was shot and killed by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Nationwide media coverage ensued, and as I tuned in, I began to ask questions and make statements.
“What’s his rap sheet? He was probably a thug. If he wasn’t doing something illegal, then this would’ve been different. Why are so many people rioting?”
As I sit here now, I’m completely ashamed. How could I possibly have thought like that when family and friends were mourning the loss of a loved one, and many other people were mourning the loss of someone they identified with? And why did I assume that Michael was a criminal?
This is something I really wish I didn’t have to admit to, but I hope that sharing will help others to see as well.
A few months later, in January 2015, God opened my eyes while listening to a sermon. The pastor gave a similar hypothetical example, and I was cut straight to the heart. Since that day, God has been peeling back layer after layer of things in me that I had no idea were there.
I Couldn’t See
Before 2015, I never would have thought that I had anything to work on when it comes to racial bias or harmful racial beliefs. I thought I was completely on the opposite end of the spectrum. I had never knowingly treated anyone differently because of their race. I was always friendly to people no matter what they looked like. I had friends and acquaintances that were not white. I taught in inner-city schools and loved my students. I shared many common interests with the people of color that I knew. How could I have any racial bias or dangerous beliefs? It wasn’t possible in my mind.
My problem was that I couldn’t see. After the sermon, however, I could see for the first time that there was something going on under the surface. Although I outwardly felt and looked fine, inwardly my heart had and still has sin that needs to be revealed.
“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”…
Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Although this passage is talking about salvation, it also can represent a key aspect of the Christian life. We all must have moments of blindness to sight in our lives. To be saved, we need God to cause us to be born again in order to see the kingdom of God. In order to grow more into the image of Jesus, The Holy Spirit has to open our eyes to sin and give us the grace to repent.
Maybe you’ve been cut to the heart today just like I was in 2015. If you’re like me, one of your first responses will be, “what do I need to do?” I see something is wrong, so what do I need to do? Action is definitely necessary in the racial reconciliation process. In fact, lack of action and indifference in racial relations has been one of the biggest failures of white people for generations. However, before we can jump into practical applications (we will get there), we first must ask, “can I see?” If we can’t see, our actions won’t accomplish true reconciliation.
Let’s start pleading with God to help us see what we can’t see. “Lord, search our hearts and reveal the harmful racial tensions and biases we have. When you do, Lord, give us the grace to truly repent and reconcile.”
There’s at least three temptations that I’ve seen in my own life that may surface in yours as well when approaching the issue of race.
First, we may be tempted to get angry and say this either isn’t true or doesn’t apply to us. If this is you, consider praying and asking God to show you if this really is true. Pray Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” It’s a scary prayer, no doubt!
Second, we may be tempted to feel guilty and pull away. Maybe we already are or will feel convicted and ashamed. Please, please do not pull away. This is not meant to drive you into shame. Shame leads to withdrawal, and withdrawal doesn’t lead to unity and reconciliation. Instead, we need to courageously engage. Remember that God’s grace is sufficient for you (2 Corinthians 12:9), and He has forgiven you of all past, present, and future sin. All of it!
Push forward knowing that we are forgiven by God and are free to fall in pursuit of His will. Step forward and let God’s grace and forgiveness cover us while we seek to repent and reconcile. Be encouraged and assured knowing that conviction is likely evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in you. This means you are a legitimate son or daughter of God because He disciplines those whom he loves (Hebrews 12:4-12)!
Third, and similarly, some of us will feel guilty and because of this, momentarily take positive action only to fade back to our original comfort zone. This may be one of the tougher hurts and frustrations for our minority brothers and sisters. Know that this will be difficult. We will be misunderstood and at the same time, we will need correction and rebuke. It’s going to hurt sometimes, but it will lead to glory for God and sanctification for those involved if we keep eagerly and genuinely pursuing unity. Ask for God’s help to persevere and run the race like a marathon instead of a sprint.