As the pastor of a rural congregation in an overwhelmingly white community I face a temptation to ignore the whole topic of racial reconciliation within the church.
After all, why pick a fight you may not survive when it doesn’t seem that anything would really change even if you somehow won it.
Even if I got everyone to agree with me that racial reconciliation should be a gospel priority we are still left ministering in a context where about 99 of every one hundred neighbors are, if anything, even whiter than we are.
And yet. Maybe it’s because it’s April and there’s still snow in the forecast, maybe it’s because I have a complicated personal history with race, maybe it’s because Jesus is making me do it. Whatever the reason, here I am picking that fight.
Jesus calls us to form faith communities that more accurately reflect the beauty of the Kingdom than the ugly realities of our culture by taking to heart what Paul teaches when he says:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.- Gal 3:28
Getting our backs up
We all have blind spots. Areas in our life where our vantage point prevents us from correctly perceiving the reality about us. I have blind spots where my parenting is concerned, for example. However, I only know this because I’ve had those blind spots pointed out to me.
It’s generally no surprise to me to discover that I do have various blind spots, but it is surprising how eager I am to resist their exposure.
Having your ignorance exposed can be hard, but in most of my life I’m at least curious to know what it is I don’t know. But when it comes to race, I really bristle at the idea that my being white can significantly handicap my efforts to get race right.
It’s not having racial blind spots or resisting that awareness that comes as a surprise. It’s the ferocity of my resistance that surprises me.
It has too often been the case in my life that “getting my back up” is an indication that I am letting pride and sin determine my approach to the matter. I’m learning to pause, reflect, and invite conviction in precisely those places where I least want to.
Reconciliation on our terms
We pray for patience, but are frustrated when God then puts us in situations where we are required to be patient. We pray for ‘that person’ who is in a sin struggle, but chafe when the Holy Spirit prompts us to see them through his eyes. We want His Kingdom, we just want it on our own terms.
We do this individually, but also, tragically, as a church body. We want children in church, but expect them to behave like adults. We want millennials to attend, but experience annoyance when the ‘young people’ aren’t tithing as much, or won’t sing a hymn!
And whether we realize it or not, we can also approach the possible inclusion of people from other ethnic groups in the same way.
It’s not out of malice that churches are imposing their preferences and on others, but out of our natural state as humans. We experience life, relationships and ministry through our own perspective- and it can be a challenge to see through someone else's eyes.
Desire without knowledge is not good-- how much more will hasty feet miss the way!- Proverbs 19:2
Jesus is calling us to see his people through HIS eyes, not our own. To adjust how we approach and minister to those around us based on their needs, and preferences, and not our own.
A "white" church that never examines its "default settings," that is pleased to include minorities so long as those minorities content themselves with expressions of church that are "white," is missing the point.
I’m tired of my own assumptions and my own outcomes. I’m so eager for this to happen that I’m not going to insist that it happens on my terms.
The scales come off
When you’re part of a church full of white people in a community where almost everyone else is white, it’s easy to absolve yourself of any responsibility to pursue racial diversity at your church.
But, when you start getting excited about what racial diversity could mean for your church and its testimony to the redemptive work of Christ- you will start looking at your community with new eyes. You will begin seeing people you hadn’t really noticed before and you will see them in a new light.
On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul.- Psalm 138:3
Every Sunday I include points in my message to encourage you to think, to feel, and to do something. Today I would encourage you to pray for a fresh revelation of God’s love for his people. Pray that you would feel his love for those around you in a deeper way. Pray that the Holy Spirit would show you where he would have you reach out, or step up for your neighbors.
Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church Blog