As I prepared to attend the ERLC Summit on Racial Reconciliation and the Gospel, I had little idea what to expect. In light of the events in Ferguson, New York City, and beyond, I’ve been unable to speak. Instead, I’ve attempted to listen.
I watched the live video from Ferguson and was confused and unclear about what I thought. All I knew truly was that another young black man was tragically dead. As I watched the reactions from my African American brothers and sisters, I realized we weren’t speaking the same language or feeling the same way about this event. And so I listened.
In Nashville, I prepared to do the same, and now I think I’m ready to express just a few of the thoughts I’ve had by talking about a few things I’ve learned, particularly from the incredible speakers at the ERLC Summit.
Christians Should Not Be Colorblind
For my whole life I truly sought to be “colorblind.” Racism, to me, was dead. It was something from a bygone era that had been dealt with. I was so convicted this week as I realized that the idea of being “colorblind” was not the message of the Kingdom of God. Instead, the Kingdom of God is a Kingdom made up of all nations, tribes, and tongues worshipping the same God and all saved by the same grace of Jesus.
Although we’re all equally sinners, our ethnicity is a part of who we are, and isn’t something to look past. Of course it’s not the central thing in our lives as Christians — the Gospel is — but the reality of being red, yellow, black or white does not disappear. Revelation 7 is clear as it proclaims that in the Kingdom of God there will be “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes.”
Christians Should Listen More
I’ve had some unique insight into the events of Ferguson and New York City that has made the tumultuous events difficult to decipher. My own Dad has served as a police officer for years. From the beginning, I had the privilege to hear from his perspective on the issues. It didn’t make things easier, especially knowing how he and other officers are giving their lives to serve and protect, not to take lives unjustly.
Initially I came at the recent events in our nation’s history with only one perspective. At the Summit, Dr. Moore’s words rang true:
“Even when we understand that there is a problem, those of us who are white, born again Christians, tend to assume the body of Christ is white with room for everybody else.” Dr. Russell Moore
“Even when we understand that there is a problem, those of us who are white, born again Christians, tend to assume the body of Christ is white with room for everybody else.”
That has been me for too long. It’s not that I have purposely sought out to think this way, but I realized it’s just the way I’ve been and it’s not right. And so I’ve learned to listen. To see that there is more to this story, and that my crooked heart is as crooked as ever. My inability to listen had formed in me the subtle sin of racial superiority.
And so I must admit today that there are grave injustices against my brothers and sisters in Christ that I just don’t experience and somehow believed didn’t exist. When Trip Lee talked about being followed around in Walgreens, and others at the conference spoke of the need to have “the talk” with their young black sons I was blindsided. I had no idea about this reality.
Trip Lee said, “If we are going to love one another we have to know one another.” The only way we can know one another is to speak with one another and listen to one another. And that speaking and listening has to happen beyond the four walls of the church building. It has to happen at the dinner table as we break bread with one another.
Brothers and sisters, please forgive me for my sin of racial superiority. I am sorry that instead of listening, I based things solely on my personal reality. That changes today.
There is More That Unites Us Than Separates Us
The Gospel was the theme at the leadership summit, and I was so glad. Even as I found the Lord convicting my heart, the reality of the Gospel of Jesus was preached again and again and again. John Perkins, in one of the most moving and powerful moments at the conference, told the audience: “I think that we are putting reconciliation where it belongs, which is in the Gospel itself.” I couldn’t agree more. Jesus has broken down the dividing wall of hostility — we who were once separated from God are now called Sons of God.
“Racial reconciliation flows necessarily from the saving work of the cross,” said Thabiti Anyabwile. “Racial reconciliation rests upon this basis: you have never seen a mere mortal.”
Those around us are more than just mortals that we will never see again. Because of the Gospel, the saving work of Christ, we will all one day be united as one in heaven. For now, we are to live as examples to the world of the power of that gospel. What message does it send that the most segregated time in America is Sunday morning?
It’s telling us that we’ve placed our focus on the things that separate us. Yet the reality is that the reconciliation that has happened between us and God must necessarily affect how we are reconciled to each other.
“Racism and racial superiority is an affront to God because it strikes at the very heart of the gospel,” said Afshin Ziafat. He’s right. “The greatest divide isn’t even a racial divide, it’s a divide between holy God and sinful man,” he said.
The Gospel Calls Us to Love Those Who Expect Hate
Both Afshin Ziafat and John Perkins delivered some of the difficult messages of the week. Speaking about his past as a muslim, Afshin reminded us all that their expectation is that we should hate them.
“The Gospel calls me to step out of my comfort zone to go out to people who don’t look like me, especially those who are my enemies, who I am expected to hate,” he said.
John M. Perkins, who in 1970 was arrested and tortured by white police officers, spoke about how in those horrific moments of laying in his own blood he realized his response was anything but love. Yet that was the very thing God was calling him to do. “I began to see that my reaction was more deadly than their action,” he admitted.
“I want to preach a gospel that is stronger than my black interest,” he told us. “I want to preach a gospel that will burn through these racial barriers.”
I couldn’t agree more — I want to preach a gospel that’s not calling for all of us to be like each other. I want to preach a gospel that is calling for all of us to be like Christ.
There is a lot of work yet to be done. A lot of prayer, a lot of talking, and a whole lot of listening. Although tragic and difficult, I’m thankful that God has used the recent events in our nation’s history to give us a chance to talk openly and freely about reconciliation.
Our history as Southern Baptists is one where men and women who loved God’s word got something so big and so clear absolutely wrong. My prayer is that I’ll be humble enough to listen and see and hear the Truth — and that it will lead to the kind of gospel reconciliation our world needs.