Two open letters addressing racial injustice were recently published in the Christian Chronicle:
- An open letter to members of the Churches of Christ -ministers, scholars and thought leaders within the fellowship
- Speaking Up on the Issue of Race in America – from Harold Shank and Robert Solomon
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 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?