Racial Reconciliation

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The Racial Chasm

The racial problems that we have inherited explains an awful lot of the current tension in our society. Something happens, whether it’s a shooting, a viral video, a protest, or another inflammatory comment by another political figure, and different people look at the same events, and often come to very different conclusions.

What did you see? Who was at fault? Who’s right and who’s wrong? What do you think about                                          (fill in the blank with the latest controversy)?

The same events, seen through different eyes, can yield wildly different interpretations. These differences often lie among racial lines, because different races have had vastly different experiences in this country over our existence as a nation.

The recent events that have brought racial tension to the surface in America are nothing new. They are only the latest occurrences in a long history of racial pain, tension and strife. What the vast differences in reaction along racial lines tell us more than anything is that America is still deeply divided by race. Especially between white Americans and black Americans, because we have inherited the most baggage from a long and painful history.

Even to this day racial separation is a significant issue. We largely operate in different social circles, live in different neighborhoods, go to different schools, and even belong to different churches. Our family get-togethers not only look different from one another, they feel different, right down to the stories that are told, the shared history of our ancestors, and the extent to which race is a topic of conversation. These differences in experience and worldview seem to be lit on fire when a controversial event happens in our country.

Point to how much progress has been made on racial issues, how much better things are now than they were in recent history, and you might just get a pained look from a black American. They may nod in agreement, but then have a list of a dozen instances where all is still not equal.

Bring up the centuries of mistreatment and abuse of African Americans to a white American, and they may do a mental shrug and settle into a sense of helplessness. Yeah, all those things were terrible, they might think. But that was a long time ago, and I had nothing to do with any of that...so what am I supposed to do?

All of this sometimes leads to the feeling that there is an uncrossable chasm between our races. In every period of our history there has been pain, mistreatment and racial division. Our society, try as it might, does not seem to have the necessary tools to adequately deal with this chasm.


The Chasm Maker: Simultaneously Invisible & Obvious

How can a justice issue this large and this obvious to me be this invisible to some?

How can something that seems so invisible to me seem so large and obvious to others?

One of the biggest problems with justice issues in general is that if you haven’t experienced them, they often seem invisible to you. Meanwhile, if you have experienced them directly, their realness and detriment are so obvious as to demand immediate attention and action. This is precisely the case with racial issues in America. When we let the media fill in the gaps of our limited real interaction with people from another race, we are left with a lot of confusion, anger and misunderstanding.

If you find yourself thinking, “I really don’t see it”, that’s okay. It might be good to remind yourself that a lack of insight and experience doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist. Seek to understand. Read some books. Talk to a person who does see it. Don’t assume anything about their motives or bias. Just ask them questions and be willing to listen.

If you find yourself thinking, “Why can’t you see this?”, that’s okay. It might be good to remind yourself that there are people who have never experienced, seen or dealt with what you has been a huge piece of your life. And that doesn’t necessarily mean they hate you or don’t care.

The only chance we have at really pursuing solutions together for the racial chasm in America is for us to all faithfully work together to help each other see clearly and accurately. We will never respond appropriately while we are blind to anyone else’s perspective.


Hope for the Chasm

Racial issues can feel as hopeless as any. The divide seems to widen across a lot of painful history and settle in over time, leading to despair that any true and lasting reconciliation could ever happen. Even if we agree about all of the root issues, we can still disagree wildly about what are the best solutions moving forward.

For Christians, however, there is a thing about chasms like this one:

Jesus doesn’t do chasms.

He did not save white and black people, only for us to draw an invisible line in the sand and stand there silently thinking, “You’ll never understand.” No, He came to make us family. He came to bring the unity of the gospel, right into the midst of our centuries of racial strife. Lines in the sand are not an option when we’ll share eternity together worshipping God in a sea of diversity.

The church has an incredible opportunity in this time and place, because we have God-given resources and motivation to deal with these historic problems. We have gospel tools that the world around us doesn’t. We have the compelling truth to tell with our lives that no blood runs deeper than Jesus’ blood.

Upon visiting a recent Baptism Gathering, one guest to our church made an incredible remark. He said:

"I wish the rest of the world could see what's happening here. The media makes it seem like there is no hope that people from different backgrounds and races can live together in harmony. But whatever is happening here is proof that's not true."

This is the goal family--for us to continue to grow into the sort of reconciled community that the world needs and wants to see. Here’s how Cole Brown, African American pastor from Portland, Oregon puts it:

“In John 17 Jesus repeatedly states that the unity of his people will be a convincing apologetic for Jesus and his gospel. Jesus prays that his followers will be brought “to complete unity” and then states that when they are “then the world will know that you sent me.” The unity Jesus is speaking must be a visible unity and an abnormal unity. It has to be visible enough for non-Christians to see it and abnormal enough for non-Christians to need an explanation for it which only Jesus can satisfy. It can’t be unity of a group of people who are already alike in every way. Such unity is normal in our world and would not stand as evidence that Jesus really is who he says he is. It must be unity of people who would never otherwise be together apart from Jesus Christ. This includes unity across socio-economical, educational, generational, and cultural divides. It also includes unity across racial lines. In fact, in twenty-first century America, unity across racial lines may be the most powerful demonstration of unity that Christians can provide as evidence of Jesus’ identity.”

Let’s prayerfully seek to see Jesus put the racial chasm to death, by acknowledging our own prejudices, humbly seeking understanding and taking any steps to walk in gospel reconciliation (both inside the church family and outside) wherever possible.

A Letter From Your Pastors

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Copied from the prologue of the "Precious in His Sight" book. Grab a book at any Gathering.

We try to remind you regularly that pastoring you and our church family is a privilege and a joy. You guys are awesome. It’s hard to explain how much we love you. So even as we are launching this series on a heated conversation like race, we do so with a lot of joy and confidence. And as we do, we wanted to give you some disclaimers.

1.) You can let your guard down.

We are not coming after you. You are already faithfully walking in many of the applications we plan to talk about in this series. Because of your love for Jesus, you do a great job welcoming people in regardless of racial or cultural background. All of our churches have members of various ethnicities who are sharing life as a family. We see you seeking to be sensitive to this issue. You express an uncommon eagerness to listen and learn. People often note how much fun our city-wide Gatherings are, where the diversity of styles and skin colors across our family is on full display. 

The overall tone of this series will not be one of rebuke. Our hope is to simply continue growing together when it comes to racial issues.

Now culturally speaking, stepping into the current conversation about race is somewhat dicey. People have vehement, passionate and often polarized perspectives on all kinds of racial issues. Many of these are fueled by political agendas and clickbait that get attention by intentionally being rude and overstated. 

Nuance isn’t celebrated (or even considered) nearly enough in this conversation. 

And that’s exactly why we have to continue engaging in this conversation. It’s both necessary and a beautiful missional opportunity. As Christians, we have tools and a perspective that the world needs to move toward the peaceful hope and unity that most desire (though the American church has frequently and painfully neglected these tools). There are real people in our society who are hurting and need gracious Christians armed with gospel mercy and biblical clarity to proclaim and embody the redeemed life formed only by the blood of Jesus. 

Sure it will be risky, awkward and uncomfortable at times, but that’s never stopped us before. Part of our blood-bought identity is entering into the mess of our broken world with gospel hope and helpfulness. 

2.) Don’t assume political agendas.

Conservative or liberal political leanings are not a prerequisite for this conversation. You can agree with everything we say in this series and everything the Bible has to say about race issues and still lean toward or hold conservative or liberal political values. We intend to look into what the Word of God has to say about race, oppression, justice, love and compassion and draw out applications for our current time and place. In fact, that’s exactly what we always seek to do as a church family. Nothing we are doing here is a veiled attempt to get you to align with a political platform.

3.) Race issues can be obvious to some while invisible to others. 

One of the biggest problems with injustice issues in general, and specifically racial issues in America, is that if you haven’t experienced them, they often seem invisible to you. Meanwhile, if you have experienced them or observed them directly, their realness and detriment are so obvious as to demand urgent attention and immediate action. 

If you find yourself thinking, “I really don’t see it”, that’s okay. It might be good to remind yourself that a lack of insight and experience doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist.

If you find yourself thinking, “Why can’t you see this?”, that’s okay. It might be good to remind yourself that there are people who have never experienced, seen or dealt with what you are dealing with. And that doesn’t necessarily mean they hate you or don’t care. The best solution is for us to all faithfully work together to see them accurately and respond appropriately.

In light of this paradox… 

4.) This book, series and conversation could be difficult at times. 

There’s a decent chance that there will be ideas in this series that will be tough to swallow. We are going to try our best, but there’s a chance one of our pastors may misspeak in a sermon. There’s a chance someone in your LifeGroup might say something that makes you shift in your chair 

We’re becoming more and more convinced that there’s almost no way to venture into this conversation without some of these uncomfortable and awkward moments happening. And each of these moments will provide another opportunity to give each other the grace that we have all received from Jesus. 

5.) We invite you to a no yelling policy (and no mocking, insulting, hating or any other kind of self-righteousness either).

James 1:19-21 “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;  for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

Just to be clear, this goes for everyone. Sometimes it feels like the call to listen is really just a call for me to listen while you tell me I’m wrong. The Biblical call to listen is not a bully tactic to silence others and win arguments. All of us need a heavy dose of listening marked by mercy, meekness and understanding. Especially for people who think differently than us. And all of us need to be corrected at times. 

6.) The book you are holding is supplemental and primarily historical.

The book you are holding is a supplement to the sermon series. It details parts of the story of race relations in America and includes space for sermon notes and LifeGroup discussion guides. The sermons will primarily work through the story of God as it relates to race, whereas this book is meant to serve as an overview of the persistent race problems our country has experienced. 

Without the story of God, we won’t be theologically prepared to see the deepest issues and hold out the truest solutions. 

Without the story of America, we will lack necessary perspective and understanding as to where our culture’s current race issues came from and why they are often so hard to move past.

Just like your personal history had massive effects on shaping who you are now, our country’s history has shaped our present situation in the same way. We’ve attempted to present historical facts with as little commentary as possible. 

The goal in all of this is to help us see the historical connections that led to many of the problems we have inherited. We are not starting from a blank slate. Even a cursory knowledge of these issues can bring about understanding and help us make connections to the current problems we are experiencing.

The Bible calls all of God's children to stand with and speak for the oppressed, which means we must be aware of oppression’s history and presence in order to start. Our request is that you read the historical content we've provided here while looking for ways these historical events might still be affecting lives to this day.

In Conclusion,

Someday there will be no more mourning, nor pain, nor death nor tears in our eyes. (Revelation 21:4) Someday there will be no more racism, or hatred, or oppression and injustice that have caused untold amounts of pain, mourning, death and tears.

And until that day, as God’s people we are called to do justice; to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8)

So let us do it armed with Jesus’ hope and love. 

Let us scorn the discomfort of hard solutions as we pursue peace at any cost. Let us persevere in whatever good deeds Jesus calls us to with every comfort that God is responsible for the coming redemption of all things. 

Grace and peace,

Your pastors at Midtown