Note: This post was written last year. It’s essentially my heart on matters of racial relations inside the church of America. I’ve been nervous to share, so sat on it. I hope where you disagree, it would be prayerfully or, at least, kindly. I don’t tread into these waters lightly, preferring to keep from anything remotely political, but the burden has become too heavy to stay completely out of the fray and the time, too important. So here’s me jumping in. For whatever that’s worth.
The Side of Love
We don’t have to believe a particular narrative to mourne with those who mourne. We don’t have to espouse a certain philosophy to grieve with those who grieve. We don’t have to adopt any brand of politics to hear and believe experiences of others are what they’ve described them to be. We don’t have to choose any sides in order to have compassion on those who feel compassion for them has been, or may still be, sidelined.
On the contrary, as Christ followers, our side should always be right beside Jesus – Himself – and our first allegiance should be to Him, alone, because our only true call is to love as He does. Love our Father in Heaven and our neighbor as ourself. Lay down our own life and comfort for the sake of others. Really try and see them to seek their good. Give to anyone in need when it’s in our power to do so. Act justly and walk humbly before our God.
Then, point all who grace our path back to Jesus, The Beginning and Ending of ALL matters.
But I’ve noticed none of that can happen all that much when we’re busy pointing fingers or clinging to our way as the only and best way. Likewise, it doesn’t happen when we’re too busy shouting others down or standing tall on our inalienable and individual *rights*, or while arguing why our side is the only worthy, noble, compassionate side. Neither will it happen when we live defiantly or defensively because we’re afraid some political pendulum may swing too far over to the side we believe to be dangerous or could never get behind.
So when, then?
A Call to Repentance
Following our call to love God and others well only truly happens inside an atmosphere and attitude of repentance. It happens when we humble ourselves and admit we don’t really always love that well to begin with. Or, even listen all that well, nor often really, at all. Because we’re all really only human, after all.
Real loving only happens when we seek the heart of Jesus in all things. Seek to have His humility in all things. Admit we may not have all the knowledge we think we have and ask for His in everything. Admit we may have actually ignored, overlooked, believed, been ignorant or even flat out wrong and sinful about some things
Real love happens when we listen without trying to form a reply, give a defense, or regurgitate facts, especially ones we’ve often only just heard from someone else. Real love happens when we try to truly empathize by putting ourselves in the same stories and circumstances as others whose life experiences differ from our own. Most of all, though, real love happens when we’re on our knees asking God to illumine our minds and allow us, by His grace, to see ALL people the way He does… Created by Him in His very own image to do His Kingdom Work here on earth. Just like we, ourselves, have been created to do.
Just like we love to say we already do.
And in case you’ve begun to wonder who I think I am to say any of this, allow me to say I’m right there with you, but then share my truth. I am a fairly simple minded, southern raised, white, married, relatively affluent, college educated, Christian woman, who got sold hard on the ideas of a politically conservative brand of American Evangelicalism.
About eight years ago, however, and to my utter surprise, God started moving on my heart in new ways and I began to see some things, particularly regarding certain aspects of Scripture and beliefs I’d been taught for many years, through a different prism. Not that I’m really trying to have that conversation today, but I point it out because it’s important to know that God still moves on hearts and He still changes people. He changes minds. And He changed much of my mind and how I read the Scriptures today. And if we’re in Christ, we’d better believe today that we’re always growing up in Him. And oftentimes, that growing up, requires changes on our part.
Changes in our heart.
Hearts and Racism
Now, I’ve never considered myself racist. I bristle at the label, honestly, along with notions of white privilege, fragility, or the general idea of seeing color at all. The mere thought that I would treat anyone different on the basis of their skin, much less anything else, simply doesn’t land well with me. Hearing the claim that I would always makes me want to emphatically say, “I am not a racist!” Then promptly list all the reasons why.
But, guess what? Those would basically just be words. And at this point, those particular words don’t seem needed. Nor, helpful. Like, if there was ever a time for us to collectively “read a room,” it’s gotta be right now, right? So I’ve been trying hard to read the current American Racial Relations room as best I can, especially inside The Church. Trying to listen and learn, and not speak. Not defend myself, or some position I’ve always had. Only, love by listening.
And, just to be clear, I’m trying to listen to all voices of color and respect each of them. Voices like those saying they don’t see a systemic race issue, or feel divisions are driven by larger, more nefarious narratives, and voices who wish not to be defined by the color of their skin at all. Plus any other voices falling in between. Because, all need a seat at this table. And, I can learn from them all. Neither voice discounts the other and hearing all sides brings growth, and hopefully, the much needed change we all wish to see.
Slavery and The Church
Now, I won’t dare attempt to posit a reason for the turmoil this country finds itself in at this moment, other than say everything in life is only really spiritual and God always remains sovereign over it all. However, I would like to touch on some rather obvious issues that have grabbed my heart and attention these last many years.
The institution of slavery was and is an absolute abomination. It’s completely unfathomable to most humans living today how owning another human being ever even seemed acceptable, much less encouraged. Yet, here we are with all this history proving exactly that. From America and beyond, people throughout time, have advanced and propagated this form of wicked evil… making excuses for and legitimizing the dehumanization of entire races of people. Forms of which are still happening to this day.
Yet, what’s even more unbelievable, and what has completely become the galvanizing issue for me in all this, is the complicit nature of many in the church throughout our history. Or more specifically, the role The Church played in perpetuating, and even advocating for, this evil. And I’m not talking about the lunatics in the KKK or other fringe groups here either (who are only plain evil and in no way line up with any teachings of Jesus). I’m talking about the actual Christian Church in America.
Honestly, it becomes hard to fathom any church’s excuse for such completely sinful behavior, much less any participation in or free passes given, likely based solely on connections, power, fear, ignorance, or just old fashioned greed, pride, and hate.
And, while I realize we are all sinners saved by the grace of God, alone, and that no one is perfect even after finding faith in Jesus, this fact must not lead us to believe we still shouldn’t listen, love, and advocate for justice, reconciliation, and forgiveness every time sinfulness is found. We personally seek to do that in our own lives, plus expect others to as well, so we shouldn’t overlook this need on a larger scale. Especially in this case, when pain is so undeniable. And we also should recognize we don’t have the right to pick and choose which bad behavior others ought to forgive or demand we all move on from.
Because victims really do still exist. And moving on hasn’t always been easy.
Moving Forward in Love
And, I don’t think I’m overreaching at all here. Here’s why… it’s only been one hundred and fifty-five years ago that slavery was abolished in this country. For context, as of this writing, the oldest person alive in the world is 117 years old. Now, I’m bad at math (and not known for impressive analogies), but slavery was actually still legal in America a mere 40ish years before this woman was born. Point is, 155 years isn’t all that much older than a human lifetime! Just a lifetime and a half, basically, which seems an absurdly short time ago, frankly, for a *Christian* nation to legally own humans.
What was this Christian nation even thinking?! (And I’m sorry, but it’s a legitimate question and one we should consider seriously, as Christians.)
I currently have in my possession a family Bible that is 200 years old. A Bible that was printed in 1816 when slavery was alive and well. A Bible filled with the words of and – The Word – God, Himself. Words that likely were used to justify the sinfulness of slavery by taking verses out of context. A Bible with words printed in this country that couldn’t even be owned, much less read, by many of God’s own image bearers living in this country.
Though again, keeping things really real, I’m not sharing any of this because I think I would’ve somehow thought/acted/believed any differently. I know myself better. I know what my heart is capable of. Though unfortunately, we have to keep at this now, because it took another one hundred and eleven years – a whole other lifetime(!) – to end the absurd appeasement for southern states known as segregation. Which, if you don’t know, happened in the year 1964. Also the year my own beautiful sister came into this world.
Which means, if she’d been born with black skin, she would’ve finally been able to go to school with white skinned children. And she could finally drink from the same fountain. Use the same facilities. Sit beside them on the bus or at a restaurant! Yes, if God had created in His own image my sister to be a beautiful black skinned daughter, then 1964 was sure the year to be born!
And yep, for the record, 1964 was well under a lifetime ago. 57 years ago, to be exact.
And yep, I also hope you *heard* the sarcasm and disgust dripping off those words. But more so, I hope you feel them in the same way. I truly do. Though, again, my sincere aim is not to judge nor preach. How can I? I’ve already told you my pedigree and any potential complicity, plus feel I’m way later than I oughta be to this conversation. And, while I’d really rather believe I would’ve stood up and called evil, evil, and even have the knowledge of how I was taught to love and feel about race issues my whole life working in my favor, I also know that was never against much pressure nor any opposition. So, who knows what I would’ve done or believed under similar circumstances. Yet, these feelings are no less sincere now, leaving me sincerely wrecked and remorseful and finally listening or speaking up about it.
So, What Now?
Loving While Listening
Well, the bottom line for me is, I’m trying to love as best I can by listening to all sides. Without excuse. It’s not too groundbreaking, sure, but it’s a start. And while I so get the arguments about lack of education and poverty as contributing factors or how we’ve all experienced many negative circumstance in life… ways we were mistreated and maligned… looked down upon, abused, discounted, made to feel less than, struggled through, or got dealt our share of trauma, tragedies, and personal troubles. These probably should all remain at the periphery of the racial relations room. At this time. At the very least…
Simply because these facts seem not to matter one hill of beans right now to many of our brothers and sisters, friends, family, or otherwise that have had countless negative experiences based not on any of the above, but solely on the color of their skin. Because, for so many of these same families – for so many generations – they lived through things so horrific in this country, I often struggle to watch movies or programs depicting their lives.
There are still those living today, in fact, who suffered through the fight to be seen as human, in constant fear for their lives, or whose families have had to pass down their real and painful stories. And many are alive today who still live in some level of fear and frustration with certain societal structures in place or lack of understanding in the struggle. A struggle that’s gone on for far too long, all over something that should’ve never taken place to begin with! And I believe it’s so important we take the time to listen and remember these things. We must choose love and believe that experiences can’t be discounted just because we personally haven’t had them, seen them, or lived them.
And, my other bottom line is this: I care about this country. I really do. I see the sacrifices made by so many Americans to maintain freedom of religion and harmful rule and to help others in the world. I am truly grateful for every hero who has laid down their life for mine and my family’s sake. Who sacrificed parts and even the whole of themselves for their country. We are in debt to them, for sure. And I also care about the Kingdom of God and The Church of Jesus Christ. I care that Jesus died for ALL and that all of humanity will be represented in Heaven. I care that God created us all in His image. I care that we each, of every beautiful skin shade, bear a resemblance to our Creator.
I care that we, as The Church of Jesus Christ, have been called to go to the ends of the earth to share the good news and message of salvation. I care that America, as wonderful as its intentions may have been, fell woefully short of the goal, “…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” at the expense of many fellow image bearers. I care that The Church in America often seems to value some lives and certain freedoms in America more than the true life and freedom to be found only in Jesus Christ. I care that we here in America often elevate our way as the only way to save souls and spread the gospel. I care that the experiment of America, if it is to continue, may honestly need to repent (if there really is such a thing as national repentance, though not getting into that here, either) of many things, including abortion and wandering away from God, but also with the inexplicable harm done to those made in God’s image for so long. Because, again, we don’t get to pick and choose *bigger* sins. And it’s time the church gets a hold of this truth. And finally, I care that the names of God The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, are not unintentionally, or otherwise, confused, conflated, or commingled with ideas of America, exceptionalism, democracy, freedom, nationalism, or any other thing remotely political at all. [Please consider the dangers of this, if you haven’t already.]
Loving as We’ve Been Loved
And yeah, maybe it all just boils down to apologies, repenting, reconciliation, and sincere remorse, instead of curt, trite replies like, “We’re all sinners… What other country has ever done better?… Why do so many want to move here?… What other country has been this blessed by God?… Let’s just move on and forget that past… Look, we’ve come so far.”
While there may be some truth in those things, our call is to love our neighbor as ourself, so we must ask what we would want if times were reversed. And so, maybe it’s simply more about listening and loving or grieving with those who do, than anything else. Kinda like what you do when sitting with someone who’s sick, hurting, or lost a loved one… Your presence in the pain without critique, conversation, or callous words, goes a long way.
Because, and trying to wrap all this up here, real love doesn’t discount any story merely because we have a similar one of our own with a different outcome. Real love doesn’t push back because of fear that some political or earthly systems will move too far in an uncomfortable or unwelcome direction. (Think New Testament Jesus, here). Real love remembers we aren’t in charge of outcomes, because that’s solely God’s domain! And this absolute truth, by the way, should calm all Christians and keep anger, fear, and defensiveness at bay, while we seek new ways to learn and love and grow in unity.
Because, remember, we’ve been given one task only, which has nothing at all to do with any origins, country, or political leanings, and everything to do with humans of every origin and country and political bent: Love God and love others as we love ourselves. And true love, well, like Jesus, it sees, has compassion on, then moves towards others, at all times, but especially in times of need, just because that’s what Jesus does.
Now, it’s true that moving forward in this kind of love will require looking back with an honest assessment of where we’ve been. This is always the case with sin. Yet, that shouldn’t scare us one bit as Christ followers, because there will always be grace and mercy meeting us there. And truth. In fact, we should be the first in line, leading the way, while learning from, listening to, and loving others, so we can heal any wayward ways and move forward in the most loving way.
And with all that said, my sincere hope is that we, The Church of Jesus Christ, will take these moments and months moving forward to humble ourselves and ask to see this time and place only as Jesus sees it, not man and this world. Through much prayer, by listening and loving in the best ways we can, while remembering answers aren’t always necessary and that all outcomes belong only to the Lord.
But mostly, and for the love of all involved, I hope we can leave the times of divisions, choosing sides, factions, parties, and platforms far, far behind. Because, much like the institution of slavery itself, none of that should have ever existed in the church to begin with… and it is long overdue!
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.1 Corinthians 13