Some thoughts on the church and racial reconciliation efforts

I recently got into a twitter exchange over the issue of church’s hosting of a racial reconciliation conference, panel discussion, etc. The thrust of the argument was that it puts a focus on the reconciliation according to skin and we should do as Paul says ‘to know no one after the flesh.’ I pushed back on the notion that anytime a church calls for a racial reconciliation, it is a “false gospel.” As typical with Twitter exchanges, I start getting lost in the comments. So I thought I’d sketch out some thoughts I’ve had on this issue in a more cohesive fashion. This is not so much about that exchange but rather  examining the broader scope of racial reconciliation efforts in the church, my observations of them, and also to identify some concerns. This is not meant to be anything exhaustive but more like me dumping some thoughts on this topic into a single space.

First let me note that I do heartily endorse the idea that believers should anchor their identities first and foremost in Christ. I believe that our first consideration for dealing with other believers is based on our union in Christ. When you see another person with whom you are united in Christ, the first thought should not be a [______] Christian but a fellow heir, regardless of their race, ethnicity, physical characteristics, or place of origin. We should take serious Gal. 3:28;

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

But of course there are distinctions and we can appreciate them according to how God made us.  Are we not male and female and are we not different in that regard? We are not nondescript blobs. We can appreciate the ways in which we bring our ethnicity, heritages and experiences to the table.  We also have to recognize when those distinctions have caused and do cause dissension in the body of Christ, especially when dealing with a long-standing one like racial disparities that were not only deeply ingrained in society for hundreds of years but also in our churches. Racial reconciliation is ultimately about reconciling hearts towards one another. Continue reading

The thing about separate gatherings

For the past week or so, I’ve watched the internet ablaze over a special gathering of women of color  sponsored by Legacy at the TGCW18 conference. (see their write up about it here.) The meeting is for women to come together to discuss their shared experiences (a phrase I will definitely be coming back to) and encourage one another. Why? Well, because being a minority, where minorities are very much the minority, trying to navigate through predominantly white spaces can be tricky and trying. If you don’t understand that, try talking to some minority women in those circumstances. But the upshot is that some women feel the need to retreat and gather among themselves apart from those who don’t really understand what it is like. They have a shared experience.

Of course, I get that there are varying degrees of sensitivity. Especially in these times of heightened racial awareness, I can see how those who are quick to racialize every aspect of every environment and interaction might feel the need for separate spaces. But let’s not be too quick to make those assumptions that explains what is going on here. And let’s not be too quick to attribute this acute awareness only among racial lines. Consider those who experience being a very small minority representation of whatever is the majority group: parents of small children in a church full of older couples; singles in the midst of married people; men in the company of a majority of women and vice versa. It’s not that you’re repudiating the majority group but there is a heightened sense of awareness that you kind of stand out and open to varying degrees of misunderstandings, misperceptions and prejudices.

This special gathering has spawned a bit of an uproar with charges of gospel-denying racism. I have even heard that the noise has caused the FBI to make some inquiries. Some folks are concerned that this kind of segregation has no place in the body of Christ. I do understand and appreciate the sentiment that oneness in Christ should preclude any kind of racial or ethnic superiority or exclusivity. As I wrote about in Some Questions I’m Asking While Off to my White Evangelical Church, I too have concerns that racial animus is creating a divide in the body of Christ. After all, Christ broke down the walls of ethnic hostility so that we can hold our identity in him first and foremost, bearing with one another and learning to love each other in spite of the extensive legacy of racial hostility. We do have to be cautious of creating unnecessary divides in the body of Christ, resisting the urge to retreat into separate enclaves because working out our salvation with fear and trembling is simply too intolerable. Continue reading

Beyond Reformed: The Significance of Cross-Pollinated Dialogue

As was staying abreast of the happenings in the General Assembly of the PCA, I came across this article, PCA: Past, Present, and Future.

Bryan Chapell commented on the importance of this discussion for the future of the PCA:

My sense is that most teaching and ruling elders in the PCA are thankful and grateful for our standards, but often confused and bewildered by how ineffective we seem to be in reaching our culture with the gospel. Therefore, it’s very important to discern how we may maintain our standards while at the same time being an effective instrument of Christ in our current day.

Ron Taylor says, “I hope all will see that we can have cooperative ministry and we want to be able to work better together across generational lines, ethnic lines, sociological lines….In the last 40 years, our cultural context has changed considerably with significant transfer of the population from small, rural areas, to large, urban ones…We have to consider how we can better penetrate urban areas.”

church_hand shakingI have only been in the PCA for 2 years, though my formation of Reformed theology started way before then. I continue to be impressed by the tension of maintaining commitment to Reformed roots and adapting to a changing environment. Of course the commitment is to Scripture but there is also recognition that Presbyterianism is not the only game in town. It seems to me that what these speakers are pressing is the need be in dialogue with other Christian denominations and affiliations. Though I unapologetically classify myself as Reformed, my eclectic doctrinal journey cautions me against making Reformed the dogmatic standard of Christianity to which everyone else must bow. My theological convictions impress upon me Reformed doctrine as a result of wrestling with the biblical texts and arguments past and present. But if I lose sight that Christ’s body encompasses other members who hold the core beliefs but deviate on some secondary issues then, I lose sight of the beauty of what it means to be in Christ’s body. It’s why I try not to push Reformed doctrine in the sense of some kind of superiority kick, as I wrote here. Admittedly, sometimes I fail. But it helps to remember that the true body of Christ is pretty big and transcends denominational lines. Continue reading

On a Bright Note…When the Church Steps Up

FrustratedBlackWoman1Shortly after publishing my last post What’s a Single Mom to Do?, I thought about editing it to downplay the emotions that so clearly came through. But I decided not to because I intentionally wrote the piece from a place of raw emotion and did not want to wordsmith or otherwise water it down with a clinical application of the tensions single parents feel, and in many cases, are made to feel, in the church.  Nonetheless, I probably came off a bit harsh on the church, which is a bit unfair. There are some congregations that do demonstrate care for the realities of single parents and avoid the careless cliche-ish ways that singles, and particularly, single parents are sometimes treated.

I came across this post by Ed Cyzewski, The Church was Super Lucky to Have Me as an On-line Consultant.   I confess that was somewhat convicted having just posted a criticism of how the church handles single parent, fatherless households. Ed rightly notes that there is a substantial amount of on-line energy devoted to rebuking the church for her woes, as if she is beholden to our virtual criticism. Instead he exhorts,

I’m just wondering if we could spent a bit more time writing about what’s working, what’s good, what’s out of the ordinary and unexpectedly good and authentic.

These aren’t always the most controversial or clickable topics. Frankly, they’re often hard to find, and unbearably ordinary without the flash and flare of big personalities. Perhaps that’s why it’s hard to write about all of the things that make church wonderful. It looks like a friend who offers to bail you out of a hard time, families who bring over meals when you’re struggling, single moms who support your wife through the tumult of a newborn, pastors who share openly about the burdens on their minds, elders who listen to the congregation, and leaders who are wholly invested in making church the best experience possible for the children who show up.

There are stories of hope out there, and I’ll be honest, I need them. I need to know that some good things are happening. It’s not all celebrity preachers building mansions out there.

On that vein, I thought it would be good and encouraging to talk about some positive experiences that I’ve had, where people have reached out and cared about our situation. Continue reading

Food is Fellowship

friends-eating-chocolateIn the Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren provided a section on fellowship and noted that food is not fellowship. I recall when I first read that years ago, I thought it made sense. Since that time, I’ve come to appreciate the value of gathering around our most basic need and see it as symbolic of something so much more.

So when I came across this quote in a book I’m reading for one my classes, it really resonated with my thoughts on feasting. Moreover, how incredibly fitting to come across this on Thanksgiving eve.

It is amazing how much of the biblical story involves eating. It starts with the creation of a hungry man and woman and ends with a messianic banquet. In the Old Testament, covenants are sealed with meals. Good and bad choices are made over food, whether it be a bowl of porridge or a great banquet. And it is by eating the Passover Seder that the Hebrews remember God’s deliverance. In the New Testament, Jesus performs his first miracle at a wedding reception, feeds thousands of people, establishes his sacrament of grace at the Last Supper, and is revealed to travelers with the breaking of bread. Even the first church squabble is over the Gentile widows being left out of the distribution of bread. Clearly, the biblical depiction of humanity is that we are created hungry, but eating is so much more than mere fuel for our material bodies…

God gave us food, the most basic material need of life. That means it’s a blessing. To call it a blessing is to claim that it is a means for knowing God. This is why we teach our children to bow their heads and say a prayer of thanks before the family eats. In those little prayers before the meal, we are reminding ourselves that even eating is a means of having communion with God. We do that because our real hunger is for the giver of the blessed food, and we can know this God even in the most ordinary material act of sitting down to a dish of overcooked lasagna.[1]

babettes feast_table gatheringYes, isn’t it amazing how communal food can be? Not only that, but there’s something about feasting on our most basic of needs that points to the supplier of those needs. It’s why I believe beautiful tasting food evokes worship (or should). The movie Babette’s Feast provides a poignant story of the power of food to bring people together and the sacrifice of one who caused it to happen. A great reminder of the communion that Christ’s church receives because of his sacrifice.

This also should raise our sensitivity to those who struggle with having food or lack opportunities to gather around the table with others. If you are fortunate enough to have that on Thanksgiving, enjoy your feast and let it serve as a reminder of our greatest hunger and need for Christ.

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)

[1] M. Craig Barnes, Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2009), 32-33