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Race and Reconciliation-A New Chapter

Why racial justice and reconciliation must now be core to our beliefs

 

Last updated 9/9/2016 at 11:47am



Evangelicals or those we like to refer to as “followers of Jesus” are sensitive to what we call “God moments”—when circumstances fall together in a way that suggests God is at work in our lives in a fresh way. These believers who are part of North America’s dominant society have experienced collective “God moments.”

In the 1970s, few churches concerned themselves with the relief of world hunger. Then Ron Sider wrote Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, and before long, we just assumed that Jesus followers should be concerned about hunger.

Before the U.S. Supreme Court decision that’s become known as Roe v. Wade, abortion was sidelined as a Roman Catholic concern. But after the advocacy of Dr. Francis Schaeffer and others, we quickly saw the great evil that abortion is. These were God moments—times when our Creator God graciously gave us moral clarity about an issue He was calling us to engage.

We are currently experiencing a new “God moment,” when Creator is shining His burning light on how North America and our spiritual groups are fractured by racial division and injustice. In the past two years, we’ve seen image after image of injustice perpetrated against African Americans. We’ve studied the statistics. And most important, we’ve heard the anguished cry of a suffering community that is understandably hurting, angry, and demanding progress.

At the same time, the North American Indigenous community has suffered incredible racial and social injustices for centuries, brought on by our governments at the federal, state and provincial levels, and yes, even through our churches. Yet it’s almost as if the injustice against First Nations and Métis peoples doesn’t rate the same attention or even matter. (Example: Standing Rock article on page 1. Mainstream media has basically ignored this story.)

Moderate white evangelicals, who make up the bulk of this movement, see more clearly than ever how racism is embedded in many aspects of our North American society, from business to law enforcement to education to church life. We have been slow to hear what the black and indigenous believers have been telling us for a long time. And in all that, we hear God call His people to seek justice and reconciliation in concrete ways.

To be a follower of Jesus now means to be no longer deaf to these cries or to God’s call. In 2012, only 13 percent of white evangelicals said they thought about race daily (41% of black evangelicals did so). Today, we’re thinking about race more than daily—due partly to the news cycle, and partly to our rediscovering Jesus’ teaching.

We’ve started to see afresh the vision of nations united at Pentecost (Acts 2), of all the peoples worshiping the Lamb before the throne of Creator God (Rev. 4), of all parts of the body saying to each other, “I have need of you” (First Corinthians 12). We’ve seen again the relevance of Paul’s teaching that Christ has broken down the dividing wall between peoples (Ephesians 2-3). We’ve been convicted for neglecting these teachings in ways that have led to subtle and overt acts of racism. We are now struggling to find ways to model what a redeemed, multiethnic and multiracial community looks like before the return of Jesus.

Yes, we know about the “white evangelicals” talked about in the media—many of whom are unchurched conservatives weary of being politically and socially marginalized. They long to make America great again, which unfortunately seems to involve marginalizing those who are not white. They may affirm with us the core beliefs of those who follow Jesus but to the extent that they remain deaf about racial injustice and reconciliation as God’s priorities, they do not represent the best of our spiritual tradition.

The evangelical tradition’s record on race has been checkered at best. At the same time, since the Great Awakening, there has been a witness for racial justice and reconciliation. In the last century, Dr. Billy Graham started refusing to segregate his crusades in the 1950s. And he made a prophetic statement about Native Americans as being a “sleeping giant” that one day would rise and become a major spiritual force in our land.

In the 1980s, Promise Keepers made racial reconciliation among men a priority both among black Americans and Canadians and Native Americans and First Nations. But in the past two years, evangelicals have begun to unite on this issue on a massive scale. It’s difficult to find a mainstream white evangelical leader or historically white evangelical organization that doesn’t believe that racial justice is now a core concern, alongside abortion, human sexuality, and religious freedom.

This hardly means that the kingdom of heaven has arrived. Far from it. We have a lot to learn about the texture of the racism embedded in our cultures and our religious bodies. To say that we are united or “coming together” doesn’t mean that every single evangelical group is fully on board or knows the next steps to take in their context. That said, we thank God for pulling the scales from our eyes and prodding us to more fully love Him and our neighbors—all of them—as ourselves.

© August 2016 Christianity Today. Adapted for Indian Life from an editorial with the kind permission of Mark Galli, Editor

 
 

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