“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” – 2 Corinthians 5:18
Talking about race can be a very sensitive and emotional topic. It is likely to stir up wounds from the past or remind us of how ignorant we are about our nation’s history or other people’s experiences and life stories. This discomfort is why I believe many often prefer not to have these conversations, especially in a church as diverse as ours where you are not sure how other people are initially approaching this topic.
And yet we heard the vision in Revelation 7 that in Heaven every tribe, nation, people and tongue are gathered before the throne worshiping Christ. This is where we are heading, and if we are praying as Jesus taught us to pray, for more of Heaven on earth, then we need to be willing to have these tough conversations so that we can allow Christ to break down the dividing walls that separate us. We want our local church to be a foretaste of the coming Kingdom.
This requires a sense of supernatural trust that Christ will be with us and will shape us more into his likeness as we push through our fears and enter into the unknown.
This also requires that we commit to having these conversations in a few specific ways:
1) First, we must commit to being Gracists. Dr. David Anderson who is a pastor of Bridgeway Community Church in Maryland defines as Gracist as “a person who extends positive favor to other people regardless of and sometimes because of color, class, and culture.”
The best marriage advice I have ever received to this date is “seek to understand before being understood.” I think that applies here as well.
We want to make sure the church as safe of a place as possible to have these conversations. That means not judging people or their stories or their intentions prematurely. It means not listening with the intent of waiting for someone to mess up and say the wrong thing and then going and talking about that one thing all week to others. This is the way our culture works today, and God is calling us to stand in contrast to the ways of our city and world.
2) Second, we must be committed to telling the truth. We need to tell the truth about our own feelings, our own experiences, and our history as painful as this may be. If we don’t tell the truth than we do not have a hope to work toward healing and reconciliation. If something is true but not acknowledged it makes it impossible to move forward.
Yet in order for the truth to bear fruit in our lives, it must be spoken in love. And thankfully we have a pretty good example of that in Jesus. The Gospel of John says he came full of grace and truth!
3) Finally, as you commit to entering into a conversation around race and the gospel make a mutual commitment to one another to remain at the table. This means if things get hard to not bail prematurely but stay committed to the process for that one conversation or a group of conversations if that is what you have committed to. This takes God’s strength to continue seeking to understand others as well as seeking to help others understand your story and experience.
As we enter into this work of racial reconciliation and racial justice let’s remember why we do this. Our purpose is to continue pointing people to the Christ and to the transforming gospel in every encounter we have. This work is not easy, but let’s remember that we are called to freely give grace in the same ways we have freely received grace from our Father in Heaven.
Let’s be gracists, who tell the truth, and stay at the table and let’s watch God transform us and our community as a result!