Dear local churches in the Valley,
For the past two years, much of the narrative in America has centered around race. From Trayvon Martin to Sandra Bland, it's been a constant theme in our news media. With the rest of the nation talking about it, I figured we should, too.
First, please know I am with you on this. I love the church. I am passionate about Christ and His bride. I've given my life to serve her with my time, talents and treasures. I agree with pastor Art Azurdia when he says, "Any quarrel I have with the local church must be a lover's quarrel." (P.S. The entire sermon, embedded below, is worth the listen)
We've inherited a problem. Most pastors under the age of 60 more than likely attended integrated schools. Yet, our churches remain largely segregated. The message it sends to both our Savior and a watching world is unmistakable.
Our color trumps our cross.
To any person in our community who has trusted Christ alone for reconciliation to God, this should be hard to read. But here's the problem with inherited problems. It's easy to not feel the responsibility for fixing it.
We can say things like:
"It was like this when I got here."
"There's no way to undo what's done."
Here's why this is problematic. As our culture tries to figure out race relations, we can't lead the way with the gospel.
Thus, the dilemma. To Christ, this is grievous. But to us, the divide has grown comfortable. Certainly more comfortable than the thought of trying to integrate. Even for those who recognize this as a huge problem, the problem can seem so insurmountable that we just throw up our hands and don't do anything.
As a father of five, I'm pleading with my generation to begin at least taking baby steps toward reconciliation, and not put this all on the shoulders of my kids and their generation.
What steps can we take?
Here are seven thoughts.
1. We can repent. Individually and corporately, we can acknowledge that we haven't pushed against the idea of "white church" and "black church," when scripture would only support the idea of Christ's church.
2. Read scripture. Let's be honest. It would be hard to imagine Paul condoning "white church" and "black church" if he didn't give a "Jew church" and "Gentile church" option to the church in Rome.
3. Pray together. We all have our theological and doctrinal distinctives. However, one thing we should be able to do together is to call out to our God to heal our church together in this area.
4. Read books by authors with hearts for reconciliation. Oneness Embraced by Dr. Tony Evans might be a great starting place. (Watch the last two minutes of this video if you don't have time for the whole thing!)
5. Lay down our preferences at the foot of the cross. This could be a whole book in itself. The principle is don't let our pragmatics - "how would we do music?" - outweigh our theology. What does a racially divided church say about our gospel?
6. Have conversations cross culturally. If all of us today were thrown into a congregation that was 50 percent black and 50 percent white, we'd have some emotions to work through. And that's OK.
My guess is one of the greatest fears would be the idea of racially reconciled churches producing more interracial marriages, and other situations that are similar. These are real emotions that people have and need to work through. As believers, it seems like the gospel would have us engage in hard conversations and extend grace rather than to remain separated and avoid the awkwardness.
Side note: If your cross cultural friendships can only hold surface conversations, but can't discuss what happened in Ferguson and South Carolina, you have every right to question the depth of that friendship. We need friendships that can discuss and even disagree freely without having to worry about jeopardizing the friendship.
7. Plant new churches with gospel-centered racial reconciliation in mind. I am encouraged to see several churches in our community planting new churches in hopes to reach more people. Reversing course on centuries of racial division in existing churches is difficult but doable by God's grace, but churches that begin with the idea of a multicultural staff and gospel-centered reconciliation won't have anything to undo.
Two quick notes: First, if there is any way I can serve Bible-believing, gospel-proclaiming churches in our community with this topic, please reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org). I don't want to just blog about it and not roll my sleeves up.
Second, I hope this can help us all to have healthy, Christ-honoring dialogue. I'm inviting all discussion that has the end goal of more Christ-likeness for the church . I'm asking that anyone who just wants to argue race to kindly do that some place else.
Chris Lassiter is a Christ-follower, a husband to Emily (read her blog here), a father to five kids and a freelance writer for Young Life Relationships, HipHopDX.com, JamTheHype.com and other publications. His first book, You're Grounded, was published by Moody Publications last year. You can order the book here.