All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; (ESV)2 Corinthians 5:18
Last week, the National Leadership Team of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church issued a call to lament. In that call, they provided us with several resources for lament, including articles on lament in the Christian life and prayers of lament to be prayed together. This article is written as a companion to that call, adding to the call to lament a call to listening as well.
Reconciliation is the heartbeat of the gospel. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God not only reconciles us, but the whole world to Himself. Therefore, if we have been reconciled to God, then reconciliation becomes the drumbeat to which we march. As we look at the divisions in our country right now, I don’t think I even need to begin to make a case that we have a desperate need for reconciliation. And yet, how do we get there?
This Sunday, I issued a call to us to set aside argument for a season and listen. While listening isn’t the sum whole of reconciliation, true reconciliation never happens without some degree of listening. In Exodus, we read that God “hears the cries” of His people. Despite their sin and their idolatry, He listens with compassion to their plight and delivers them from it. Likewise, God works salvation in us by our own hearing from Him in the gospel. We listen to the great love God has shown us in the death of His son, and our hearts are turned back towards Him.
I believe that we are being faced with a very dangerous opportunity in our time. The democratization of information and reporting by the internet has resulted in a reality where every single person in America can retreat from any event, fact, or controversy into a well-crafted and almost hermetically sealed echo-chamber where every argument only serves to reinforce what we already believed to be true anyway. And we’ve seen this play out in every national controversy of recent memory.
This means that as a white evangelical in a city that is %90 white, I simply will not hear the voice of my African American brothers and sisters in Christ unless I turn the volume down on some of these other voices for a season. Of course, there are many who are exploiting America’s racial tensions for political gain, and even some for the purpose of causing chaos. This is no excuse, however, to shut out the voices of those that God has made our brothers and sisters through faith in Christ.
I have composed this list simply so that you can turn down the volume on some other voices for a season and listen to the voices of some brothers and sisters in Christ we otherwise wouldn’t hear. The voices I’ve included in this list are primarily evangelical and reformed voices. These are the voices not of the political or ideological left, but of those who, like me, are committed not only to the absolute truthfulness of the bible, but also to the good news of Jesus as the cause of the church and the hope of the world.
“Oh what mercy sadness brings, if God be willing,”Johnny Cash
This doesn’t mean that you will agree with everything every one of them says. Nor does it mean that those of us who are white can neither have a voice or opinion ourselves or that we have to walk around in perpetual guilt. The gospel is meant to take away guilt. But as Johnny Cash says, “Oh what mercy sadness brings, if God be willing.” Listening to my African American brothers and sisters in Christ has meant for me some serious soul searching and facing difficult realities, but it has expanded my view of God’s kingdom and increased my hope for the day when I get to stand in that “multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.”(Revelation 7:9) It’s my prayer that through this we might have our hearts challenged and, where we need to be, that we might be called to repentance.
Is racism dead in America? Just how prevalent is it really? How much discrimination do African Americans really experience? David French, an evangelical Christian, formerly a writer for National Review (a conservative online publication), and a lawyer who has served as senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice and the Alliance Defending Freedom, both organizations devoted to safeguarding religious rights, writes here about how about how his perspective on race in America was changed through the experience of raising their daughter who they adopted from Ethiopia.
Just Mercy is the story of Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative. It’s an eye-opening look at how systemic racism looks different than the overtly racist attitudes of Jim Crow. The film is available to stream for free now, and I highly recommend it.
The one critique I have of the movie is that it only alluded to the deep and overtly influence his faith has had over his work. You can see it much more clearly here at Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church: https://www.redeemer.com/redeemer-report/article/doing_justice_and_loving_mercy.
The Gospel Coalition is “a fellowship of evangelical churches in the Reformed tradition deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures.” Last year, they hosted MLK50 as an event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s death. The panel for this conference was extensive and you could spend plenty of time just listening to the different voices presented here.
Thabiti Anyabwile: Thabiti Anyabwile is the author of What is a Healthy Church Member. He’s also an incredibly kind man. Some years ago, my boss, a 26 year old pastor, without any introduction, sent Anyabwile our recently developed church vision in an email. He not only responded, but continued to dialogue with us for some months afterwards. His sermon on evangelism at the T4G conference in 2014 is to date one of the most impactful sermons I’ve ever listened to. I had found him to be thoroughly biblical and evangelical and orthodox before I encountered anything he’d written on race. His writing continues to challenge my views on the issues of race and America. Although Thabiti was raised in a Christian home in North Carolina, when he got to college he converted first to black nationalism and as a result to Islam. It wasn’t until he was well into his career that he encountered Jesus in the Gospel and gave his life to Christ. When I first read https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabiti-anyabwile/the-one-thing-my-mother-would-not-let-me-become/, it opened my eyes to just how different my experiences in life have been.
“Shouldn’t we just be color blind?” “What did he do to get arrested in the first place?” “How hard is it to just be respectful to the police?” These are the sorts of things that it is easy for me to say when I see some of the examples we’ve seen of police brutality towards African Americans in the last 5 years. Phillip Holmes challenges us with how differently those statements ring in his ears here. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/uncomfortable-hope-race-relations-america/
Philip Pinckney is the Lead Pastor at Radiant Church in Charleston, SC, a Southern Baptist Church he planted. He is also a veteran of the Marine Corps, and a graduate from The Citadel (although long after my time). Right after George Floyd’s death, a friend sent me this sermon. It’s biblical, thoughtful, and gracious, and it’s also not a message that I would naturally draw from the scriptures. https://radiantcharleston.com/media/what-we-must-do
I chose the above resources because I could verify that these were all coming from biblically faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. Aside from biblical exposition, Christians should be moved by compassion for there neighbors. I want to recommend three resources to help give us an empathetic view of what’s going on the world from the perspective of some of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
What sort of a man was George Floyd? Was he a criminal? A saint? Mayber it’s enough just to say that he was a person. This piece by Christianity Today shows what he, as a person, meant to the church community in Houston. https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/may/george-floyd-ministry-houston-third-ward-church.html
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/31/us/george-floyd-investigation.html. If you have lingering questions about whether George Floyd’s death was really an act of injustice, this video from the New York Times entitled 8 Minutes and 46 Seconds, how George Floyd was killed in police custody.
I know Lamar Sales. Lamar and I weren’t close friends, I’m sure we had some classes together, and we both graduated from The Citadel in 2003. In our community, he is well known as a cheerful man of integrity. He is both an Air Force and Army veteran with two bronze stars. I wept when I read the experience he and three other Citadel graduates shared in this piece. https://www.postandcourier.com/sports/you-feel-like-you-cant-breathe-former-citadel-athletes-on-being-black-in-america/article_f198cbc2-a514-11ea-affd-0b39a70c894f.html?fbclid=IwAR0mubBNpnz-3vyd5myq9QfFBW693FWRVe4e7v6qKZFTmaQxCWaR_uGYDhc