It was Martin Luther King, Jr. who said that, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Those words, written half a century ago in the midst of the Civil Rights movement seem even farther away in their application. Recent events have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are a nation still divided by race. Tensions still run high when approaching the topic of race and strong opinions abide on every side. Bring up Michael Brown, Darren Wilson, Eric Garner or Treyvon Martin in a conversation and you will have no shortage of takes on who was right, who was wrong, and how race was or was not a factor.
Rest assured, I do not wish to attempt to tread those murky waters with this article. Instead, my desire is to see the opportunity the church has to enter into a “ministry of reconciliation” and point to Jesus as the sole source of unity in a world in desperate need of it. I know, it may sound like a pipe dream, but it’s one that the Apostle Paul shared with a group of diverse churches in the first century. They too had race issues. There were hard feelings. Jews sought to impose their culture on the Greeks, and the Greeks resented them for it. Yet twice, once to the Colossians and once to the Galatians, Paul penned the words that in Christ there is “no Jew, no Greek…” but “all are one in Christ Jesus.”
1. Admit We’re Different
The problem we have in America is that we have confused “equality” with “sameness.” We assume that if we are created equal that must also mean that we are the same. This has brought about a plethora of misunderstanding and conflict when it comes to gender roles and race. It is no longer acceptable to say that men and women are different, even though physiologically and emotionally we are very different. In the same vein we make the mistake of assuming that races are identical because we are “created equal.”
The fact is we are different. Very different. I will never know what it is to be black. My children will never know what it feels like to be pulled over for driving a nice car in a nice neighborhood, even though they own the car and live in that neighborhood. And a black person will never know what it’s like to be white.
We are different. Our cultures are different. Our music is different. Our fashion is different. Our pasts are different.
If we are ever to achieve unity we must be honest enough to admit our differences and acknowledge injustices as well as mature enough to admit when we don’t understand one another and our respective cultures. Only then can we begin to comprehend why we react the way we do.
2. Be Willing to Be Uncomfortable
I remember my first experience preaching in a “black church.” I was the lone white person there. When I walked in the door multiple sets of eyes turned to look at me, questioning just how lost this scrawny white kid was. If it wasn’t for the smiling deacon at the door I might have bolted.
Then the worship service started. I grew up in uber-conservative-white-people-church. When we sang, we did so “reverently.” When the preacher delivered his sermon, it was listened to in respectful silence. If there was a really powerful truth spoken it was met with a nod. Hands raised in worship? No, too touchy-feely. Shouting “Amen”? You must be kidding. Sunday services were always conducted with reasonable reserve. Not so in the black church. Songs were belted loudly. Hands were raised in the air. Emotions were expressed freely. Needless to say, this introverted white boy was uncomfortable.
Then came the sermon.
I was not used to people speaking to me as I preached. Silent nods were replaced by shouts of “Amen!” Instead of respectful silence, I was met with words of encouragement and cries of affirmation. Rhetorical questions were answered, sometimes loudly. At first, I was caught off guard, but eventually I found my rhythm and by the end I was exhilarated.
Differences make us uncomfortable. But they also teach us about ourselves. I remember thinking, not for the last time, that our “white churches” could learn how to celebrate from our “black churches.”
But I think God wants us to do more than merely learn from each other. His Church is called to preach the news to all people, therefore she should reflect the demographics of her locale. This won’t be easy. It requires putting up with our differences, and it requires enduring some discomfort. A friend of mine who leads a racially diverse congregation says that we should never be happy with more than 75% of the worship service. Why? Because if we love the entire thing, then it’s only reaching us and those just like us. God is calling His Church into diversity, which will lead us into some awkward discomfort at times, but the result is a beautiful picture of what God can do through the power of His Son.
3. Be a Peacemaker
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” -Jesus
Keeping the peace is easy. Making peace is hard. Getting two sides who want nothing to do with the other to listen to one another is hard. But in doing so we reflect the God who sent His Son to make peace between sinful man and Himself.
How did Jesus do this?
- He genuinely cared about people
- He disregarded social barriers
- He risked being an outcast to help those in need
- He sacrificed His comfort for the good of others
- He stood on the side of truth, even when it was unpopular
- He remained resolutely focused on the “big picture” of God’s redemptive plan
- Ultimately, He gave up His “rights” in order to bring peace
Being a peacemaker is costly. It costs time, effort, and popularity. It requires a lot of turning the other cheek. It also requires stepping in between two warring factions and putting yourself at risk. And there is no guarantee of success. But that does not negate the Church’s call to make peace in the world.
4. Point to Jesus
If there is anything to be learned from current events in Ferguson and New York City it is that we cannot depend on man-made systems of government to promote unity. No amount of legislation, protests, or political saber rattling is ever going result in unity. Peace can only come from the Prince of Peace. Love can only come from the God who is love. Unity can only come when we are united with Christ.
Jesus is the world’s only hope for racial harmony. The God who became a Jew, ate with whores, befriended tax-collectors, talked to Samaritans and died between a couple of outlaws calls us to love, understand, and reach out to our fellow man, regardless of race, gender, or political views. Only by pointing others to Him can we ever dream to achieve the harmony we so desperately crave. Only by lifting Jesus up can we begin to heal. Only through Jesus, who suffered the greatest miscarriage of justice in human history, can we truly know peace.
I’m not so naive as to think that this will happen overnight. There’s a long way to go. There will be missteps and mistakes made. But if grace prevails, and we practice forgiveness more than we cast judgment, we can make progress in erasing the lines that have divided us for so long. Then the world can see what God intended all along: His people co-existing in love.
“The world will know you are my disciples by your love for one another.” – Jesus