The Church and Race: Imagine

Raceandchurch

Background

Two open letters addressing racial injustice were recently published in the Christian Chronicle:

These were accompanied by an article including interviews with some of the authors.

The letters were, of course, inspired by the current controversy regarding the Black Lives Matter movement.

Imagine

Imagine that the members of the church were so well schooled in matters of God and race that they considered racial division within the Kingdom unthinkable – even revolting. And imagine that our revulsion at racism were to become routine teaching – because converts to Jesus have to be taught to no longer be racists just as they must be taught other Christian ethics. That is, imagine that “to be a Christian” came to mean, among other things, “to no longer tolerate racial division of any kind.”

Imagine that the church repented of its racism by making major strides in our attitudes and behaviors. Imagine that across the country, churches, elderships, and ministry staffs merged so that all churches were equally welcoming to all races. Imagine no white churches and no black churches in racially mixed communities. Imagine that the church were to be repelled at the idea that a church is most attractive to people like its present members. Imagine that every church were to adopt a growth strategy of becoming attractive by becoming a church of “all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev. 7:9 ESV).

Imagine a church so removed from racism that when a Christian reads the headline “Police officer shoots black man six times in the back,” the Christian’s first thought is “It’s a shame that officer never met Jesus.” Because Christian police officers are not racists. Because every Christian knows that racism is contrary to the gospel.

What if it were true?

Now, imagine a nation torn apart by allegations that police officers are killing black men out of bigotry – but a nation in which it is well known that Christians have no such bias. If the church were to become such a church – that is, if we were to take the log out of our own eye in fact, not just in rhetoric – then how would this change our ability to affect the treatment of blacks by the police?

Well, the black community would recognize that the church sees racism as anti-gospel and unthinkable among Christians. They’d trust the church to facilitate discussions and to suggest ways of dealing with the problem.

The non-Christian police officers, having seen many Christian police officers have distinguished careers without a hint of racial bigotry, might see in Christianity a better way to be.

The way it is

Now instead picture the real church: a church that divides over race, that can’t even have an internal conversation about race without anger and finger-pointing, that tries to grow by adopting racially selective strategies. Suppose that this – the real – church shows up, declares that it’s sorry for its past mistakes, but hasn’t actually rectified them, and begins to suggest ways to help. What does such a church have to offer that the secular powers and principalities don’t already offer? What credibility does it have? And why should non-Christians care what Christians consider true but are unwilling to actually live?

Today, the powers and principalities – the secular authorities – have far more credibility on race than the church. After all, they’ve been working to end racism for decades. They’ve been unsuccessful, because the government and other principalities and powers cannot do the work of the Spirit. But they’ve tried. We haven’t. Not really.

So should we be working toward racial reconciliation? Yes! Yes! Yes!

In our churches. And until we get that done, we have nothing to add to the conversation regarding race. We must remove the log from our own eyes before we have anything to say to others that they don’t already know.

Imagine that a community conference on racial reconciliation is held. It’s not the first one to be held, and it won’t be the last. A preacher shows up and offers some advice and wants to help in any way he can — but he’s from a church that nearly all white, has an all-white staff and all-white eldership in a town that’s 40% black.

If you’re a community leader, a leader of black protestors, or just a citizen there hoping to help, what do you care about what this preacher has to say?

But the challenge we face as Christians wishing to be heard in the public square is far worse than the log in our eye. We’ll cover the next problem in the next post — but for now, ask yourself what a Christian preacher would have to say at such a conference that the secular leaders haven’t already said? What do we have to contribute as Christians? Or do we offer the same counsel that the secular participants offer?

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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9 Responses to The Church and Race: Imagine

  1. JES says:

    Imagine that today’s church realizes that none of the founders of the church were Caucasian, including the Head.

  2. Mark says:

    I would use Galatians 3:28. We are all in this together. Besides, how many times did Jesus say that he came to bring peace? I’d add those references as well.

    However, how can you fix the racial issue when you haven’t fixed the gender issue?

  3. Bob Brandon says:

    Imagine that today’s church realizes that the earliest followers of Jesus looked more like contemporary and despised Palestinians than western Europeans. Until the vast majority of American churches walk away from nostalgia for a history long gone and with good riddance, confession and moving away from the racism in its midst is delayed. Don’t see that happening soon: American churches, like their denominations, have yet to hit rock bottom.

  4. Johnny says:

    Jay I hesitate to comment on the letter to the Christian Chronicle because when I have done so in the past I was, I thought I was unfairly attacked. I agree with 90% of that letter but it has problems.

    As a 55 year old white man with African American friends of over 40 years, with African American church members I work closely with, with African American co workers and most importantly African American family members racism is an important issue to me. I at 12 argued with church leaders over the ability for African Americans to be members of our congregation (they were not welcomed at the time). I have made the argument to current church leaders if we want a diverse church we must do more than pay lip service, we must have diverse staff members, elder, deacons and teachers. We must get past the prejudice that African Americans are good song leaders while at the same time we do not put them in places of leadership.

    However, as someone who works in the field of politics I see the issue of race used frequently, by both sides. I have been called a racist for opposing positions held by the president, for being for requiring proof who you are when registering to vote, I have had the experience of whites telling me I would do more for them if they were African American and African Americans accuse me of racism when I could not help them. The barb of racism is thrown around repeatedly during policy discussions and once you are smeared with it the discussion leaves the merits of policy as you are forced to defend yourself as “not a racist”.

    Racism exists, I have heard the stories from my friends of being followed in stores, of being threatened and told “no one will believe you because you are just a n…….”. I have heard the stories from my friends of being stopped by security and police for no apparent reason than the color of their skin. I believe them. I trust them. It happens. We should not shrink from that issue, both in society and in our churches.

    However when I see comments in the letter that are directly from the DNC play book used, the letter diverts from addressing the sin of racism to moving into the area of politics, something they claimed to want to avoid. When the claim is made that attacks on the president went up 400% after Obama was made it is used for a purpose. The fact that the head of the Secret Service has denied that claim in testimony before Congress seems to not matter. When claims that elected officials have used the N word to describe the president in social media no documentation is provided. I have searched and cannot find it. If it happened surely it would could be found with a google search. IT MAY EXIST BUT I CANNOT FIND IT.

    When the BLMs movement is held up and I look at the leaders of the movement and their official statements I see areas that do not match up with my views on Christianity. The opposition to the nuclear family, the celebration of the LBGTQ movement. I have problems with it. When I see those on the ground claiming to be part of BLM calling for violence against whites and police I am appalled. I can oppose those things and not be a racist.

    The letter went farther than attacking racism it stepped squarely into the arena of politics. It turned off many of those who would champion the call to face racism head on in society and the church. We must purposely step away from using race as a weapon and face the facts that exist. We can disagree on solutions and one not be a racist.

    We must prayerfully engage each other and listen to others stories and life experiences. We all have prejudices, and we must fight that carnal side of ourselves. My beautiful niece deserves that, my friends deserve to be treated equally, We owe it to ourselves and our Lord.

  5. Dwight says:

    One of the problems with the piece is relating the coC of the 60’s to the coC today. I really doubt that any of the death threats against the president came from those in the coC or any other of today’s denomination that truly hold to Jesus’ teaching on love. And I don’t know of any today coC that would turn away another based on skin color, but then again I haven’t been to all congregations, but I have been to many that are mixed. Now are they equally mixed, no, but then again society is not equally mixed and the areas of the congregations are not equally mixed. I went to a “black” coC congregation in the 80’s and admittedly I thought it strange that there were white and black congregations in the same city, but as I sat through the singing I realized that the singing was dramatically different and the preaching also and many who were used to that type of singing/preaching wouldn’t feel comfortable in the other congregation due to that.
    Does racism exist? Yes,
    But not all people that have racial issues are racist, meaning that they don’t desire separation or believe one race is superior or inferior to another. I know people that dislike certain things within the black American culture, that when they look at those from Africa and don’t see that, they have no issue, despite them being the same color of skin. Often those from other cultures that are black don’t see themselves as American black.
    I went to school with a fellow who remarked he “wasn’t black, he was Jamaican”. I therefore didn’t see him as black, but Jamaican and he was very dark in skin tone.
    He himself saw himself up beyond a skin color. He was highly successful because he didn’t believe his skin color limited him, because he didn’t let it limit him.
    I work for two doctors who are both black in skin color and they obviously have succeeded despite their skin color, because they had the freedom to do so and they used this freedom.

    This paper makes a statement “If King were here today, he would stand in complete solidarity with Black Lives Matter in their desire to talk about the ways in which black lives are deprived of basic human rights and dignity.” and yet Martin Luther King spoke of unity among all of the people and probably wouldn’t have separated BLM from the rest of humanity as if only Black Lives Mattered.

    And then it plays the race card by saying, “Those who doubt that truth only reveal the extent to which so much of white culture in this country has trivialized the legacy of Dr. King.”
    Really? So if we think MLK wouldn’t be for BLM, because MLK believed all lives matter, then this is trivializing his legacy. I don’t think so. They obviously haven’t read his stuff.

    From “I have a dream” –
    “The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”
    And
    “When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
    Great words from a great man who believed all lives matter in the eyes of God.

  6. Gary says:

    Just a side point- the Jewish leaders of the early church were Caucasians. Most people whose origin is in the Middle East and North Africa are classified still by the US Census as white although that will change in 2020. The Census will be adding a new category: MENA or Middle Eastern or North African. I grew up in the Mississippi Delta where there was a significant Lebanese and Syrian community. They were practically all Roman Catholic. Many were as light skinned as whites of northern European ancestry while others had a Mediterranean complexion but no moreso than many in the Italian community. There was even a young Syrian woman in my home congregation. Her Syrian father married her CoC mother of northern European ancestry.

  7. John Strickland says:

    Gary, that’s interesting. In my nearly 70 years I have always heard and understood that the first members of the church were Middle Eastern with olive to dark complexion, not white. It was always pointed out that Westerners were the ones who came up with the white Jesus! I’ll have to do some research on this. Thanks

  8. Dwight says:

    I had a friend who was second generation Turkish and whiter than me…second generation German and Scotch/Irish/English.
    In the book of stranger things…Aryan, which was adapted by the Germans to be a pure European race, actually designates an Indo-Iranian speaking people. hence Iran or Aryan, although the language and people predate the forming of Iran in Old Persian (part of the Sanskrit language), but is the basis for its lineage.
    “The word was used by Herodotus in reference to the Iranian Medes whom he describes as the people who “were once universally known as Aryans”
    German scholar Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel published in 1819 the first theory linking the Indo-Iranian and the German languages under the Aryan group due to some linguistic similarities of the word Aryan to other European words forming an Indo-European connection.

  9. Racism in the church will continue as long as we keep scrabbling for a place that only God gives us.

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