Challenge and Sharpen

In the post last week, I stated that we need to engage in helpful conversations with others offering thoughtful contributions to the dialogue. We need to think well about race and racial reconciliation. I hope the following will challenge some assumptions and sharpen our thinking on this important issue.

Andy Crouch in his book, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, wrote:

In their important book about race and religion in America, Divided by Faith, sociologists Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith observe that what most distinguishes white evangelical Protestants from black Protestants is not their theology or even their desire for racial reconciliation, but evangelicals’ lack of institutional thinking. When evangelicals think about solving social problems like the legacy of slavery and racism in the United States, they think almost exclusively in terms of personal, one-on-one relationships—which is why so many white evangelicals can imagine the problem of racism is solved if they simply have a handful of friends of other races. To think of race this way is to miss the fact that race and racism are institutional realities built on a complex set of artifacts, arenas, rules and roles. A few friendships that happen outside of those arenas and temporarily suspend a few of those rules and roles do little to change the multigenerational patterns of distorted image bearing and god playing based on skin color. Black Christians instinctively know that for the gospel to keep transforming America’s sorry racial story, it will have to keep challenging these deeply ingrained patterns and the structures that even now perpetuate them—while white evangelicals, who identify racism with a handful of dismantled artifacts like twentieth-century Jim Crow laws and legally segregated schools, cannot imagine that racism has a continuing institutional reality. (pgs. 200-201, emphasis original. HT: Jon Tyson)

In a recent article (posted last week), Russell Moore shows that it is inconsistent for Evangelicals to think of racism only on a personal level when we don’t think of abortion that manner. Moore writes:

Some white evangelicals dismiss the structural. They assume that if they do not harbor personal animus against those of other ethnicities then there is no “race problem.” We do not take the same view (and rightly so) when it comes to abortion. That’s why we rightly object to the pro-choice bumper sticker that reads, “Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one.”

Recognizing that we have responsibility for structures and systems that can be unjust doesn’t give us an immediate blueprint of what to do…The path ahead will be difficult, but it will require the Body of Christ—the whole Body of Christ—to call one another to moral awareness and action. That starts with acknowledging that we have a problem.

Professor Matthew Hall and Pastor D.A. Horton, in their contribution to The Gospel & Racial Reconciliation, stated:

…reconciliation requires truth telling, especially about the past…we fear that many white evangelicals want to arrive at the destination of diversity without walking the necessary path of reconciliation. And that path—one laid out for us in the message of the gospel—is one that requires telling the truth about sin. It requires intentionality, since true reconciliation never happens by accident.

Americans are especially susceptible to the naïve and damaging assumption that we can remove ourselves from our own history. When we talk about racial reconciliation, it is not uncommon to hear someone reply, “What in the world do I have to apologize for? I never owned slaves, never operated a segregationist lunch counter, never protested against desegregation…If I haven’t done anything wrong, how can you say I need to be reconciled?”

It is not an entirely stupid question. But it betrays just how significant our challenge is. Embedded within a hyper-individualistic culture, we often lose sight of the ancient—and biblical—truth that we inhabit space and time and are deeply connected to one another, connected to history, and tied to all kinds of virtues and evils. We thus fail to account for the fact that sin has toxic implications not only for individuals, but for cultures, societal structures, and worldviews. Our own way of thinking, loving, hating, and feeling are shaped—often in ways of which we are even unware—by this reality. (pgs. 76-77, emphasis original)

As Christians, we’ve been given the message of reconciliation in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Christ, we have been reconciled to God and one another. I pray the fruit of this reconciliation is seen in our church and in our interactions with our neighbors as we seek their welfare.

About Pastor Matt

Matt Baker is the Pastor of Redeemer Fellowship Church.
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