Racial tension has been a topic that is extremely prevalent in our current society. Scroll down any “trending” section on social media and you will often find pages covered with stories of unfortunate events that are rooted from discrimination. It seems that no matter how many laws are in place to protect against prejudice, there are still negative events that continue to occur. And not just “negative”, Horrifying.
Although most evangelical Christians would agree that the concept of prejudice would not be Scriptural, it seems to somehow creep it’s way into the Church, or worse everyone stays silent. In today’s post I want to address the Church specifically in regards to the issue of racism.
Our “Churchy” culture doesn’t like to talk about racism, until it explodes in acts of terror or violence and ends up on the news.
What if I’m not “In my lane”?
What if I offend someone?
What can I do? I’m just one person.
I understand exactly what you’re thinking. In fact before I decided to write this post, I was afraid of the exact same things. Thankfully I’ve learned that there is nothing I can do that will not offend someone somewhere even if I am doing the right thing. What matters most is that I keep the two commandments that Jesus gave in Mark 12. Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.
In today’s “thinks” I’m going to share with you my personal experience with racism in the church and some key points from Scripture that talk about how we are to respond to this issue. I understand that not everyone may agree with my viewpoints. My purpose for this post is to equip you with a better understanding of this topic while empowering you to make positive moves toward unifying the body of Christ.
If you’ve read my post Why I stopped pretending to be a Christian, you will know that I grew up in a very religious home. Even though my home was labeled as “Christian”, the “Jesus” that I knew as a kid was nowhere near the Jesus I came to know after developing a personal relationship with Him. The “Jesus” I was told about was: condescending, controlling, manipulative, and also a racist. While God is absolutely none of these things, it is crazy how the Bible can be twisted to justify some of the worst things that humans have ever done.
I remember hearing from the pulpit as a child that, “Black people and White people can’t get married! That’s a Sin!”, with an echoing crowd of, “Amens” following the absolutely appalling statement.
I heard this “preached” at a church that my family visited while my parents were on deputation in America. I myself am bi-racial. My mother is Caucasian and my father is Asian.
When my family and I moved back to Japan, we lived near an Air Force base. Because of the close proximity with the base, I had many American friends. We also attended an English-speaking church that was catered to the US Military about once a week. Regardless of how multicultural our community was, my parents had often told me that I was not to play with the “Black kids” that lived in my apartment complex, some of my many memories of our “dinner time tales” were of my father talking about how much he disliked Koreans, and the thing that confused me the most was when my mother informed me that I was not going to go to a normal school because I would end up like “Those Japanese kids” (I myself am half Japanese). Of course there were always “Bible verses” to back this theory up. The most famous ones being to not, “Unequally yoke” in II Corinthians chapter 6. Obviously that’s not what that passage is talking about, and as you can imagine, for most of my early childhood I was extremely confused on the topic of racism. It was not until a particular event that happened in my life that I was able to understand that this type of behavior was wrong.
Vacation Bible School
If you’re not familiar with VBS, it’s usually a week of games, snacks, Bible stories, and hyper kids that had too many of those vanilla cookies with the yellow filling. The town was small. So, parents from various churches would often send their kids to the VBS at the military church to join in on the fun.
Game time was always a favorite. And the most requested game was usually dodge ball. I was always the smallest kid in the class, so… I usually got knocked out first.
When our team lost because of me, one of my team mates got really mad. He called me a few names and… I cried. I was upset that we lost, and mad at the boy in my class.
I was later told this was something his “type” were known to do. I held a grudge against this kid all week and determined to let him know he was not my friend.
The following year, the same boy was in my Vacation Bible School class, and we were on the same dodgeball team. Unfortunately my hight didn’t change much since the year before and I was knocked “out”, again. I saw the same little guy running toward me that had been mean to me the year before.
I cringed for a second.
“Great, what’s he going to say to me this time?”
I was expecting him to push me or call me names again, but to my surprise he did something much different. He helped me up and asked if I was ok. We ended up eating together during snack time and I had made a new friend. Although the boy didn’t go to the same church that I went to, I learned a valuable lesson.
We are all capable of good and evil, actions are made by choices, not skin colors, and I was no longer afraid to talk to people that didn’t look like me.
You might be thinking, “That’s a really nice story Joy, but life is not as simple as it was when we were in elementary school.” You’re absolutely right. Especially if you are in a position to lead a congregation where you know there is racial tension. How do you handle that?
I’m not even going to pretend like I have all the answers to this topic. The talks about Racism can be extremely complicated, and the majority of the church hasn’t been particularly known for being vocal on these issues either. There are hundreds of years of pain that sit at the core of many racial divides. “Forgetting” about them or not talking about them has only created chasms between its brothers and sisters.
The same way ignoring cancer doesn’t cure it, silence doesn’t cure pain and heartbreak, it only spreads.
I’ve been able to personally be a part of churches who have embraced what they are called to do as God’s people and create unity. Of course this has been a lot of hard work on their parts that hasn’t always been easy. In today’s “thinks” I want to share with you a few things I’ve learned that might help.
Acknowledge the issues
I’ve been to a lot of well-meaning churches that don’t talk about racism only to have the rest of its congregation in a complete divide. We’ve already established this topic is messy. But why is it important to talk about? The church should be a place of refuge. A place where all can find hope by accepting Christ’s love. It should also be a place where the world can know to look for hope. A bright light in a dark world.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
We already know our society is falling apart, there is no doubt about that. The church should be a place where people should be able to find the answers. But how can they find the solutions if we don’t acknowledge the issues? Now more than ever, the church must be more vocal about their stance on the issues of prejudice to ensure that they are doing everything possible to not allow it to creep into their congregations. The Church must also be proactive in seeking social justice for those who have been mistreated by racial discrimination.
“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” – Isaiah 1:17
Make an Effort to Understand
It may be hard to wrap our brains around the complexity that often comes with racial prejudice. Why do people treat others the way they do, why is there unseen tension, etc. Pastor Jimmy Rollins gives some important insight on this topic in his message Dynamically Diverse.
No seriously, go watch it. His message is extremely powerful and eye-opening.
Identify With, Not Against, Each Other
It’s psychologically proven that when people choose to only identify with a specific group, they form a mentality known as “ingroup” and “outgroup”. This is the “us vs them” mentality.
(Bare with me for just a second, we’ll get through this psychology nerd stuff, I promise.)
All outsiders are not relatable and people have been known to subconsciously delay in helping hurt strangers because they did not recognize the injured person as “one of theirs”. In a study that a church did on community and racial division they used the psychology of “intergroup” theory to test to see if this would affect their congregation. Intergroup friendships are encouraged to “walk in each others shoes” so that individuals can understand and come together on various social topics. This means talking and having open conversation. These types of ideas allowed the church community to break down their barriers, create a true family atmosphere, and further the gospel.
As mentioned above, churches that encourage intergroup friendships have positive effects on uniting their communities. This goes completely against the “God is colorblind” theory as well. Instead, it embraces racial differences as God’s purposeful design.
I love what my connect pastor said about diversity. He said, “Look outside and see all the different trees out there. God decided that he wanted cedar trees, palm trees, and apple trees because he thought they were beautiful. Why shouldn’t we celebrate our differences? God made us all different, on purpose. Because if everyone looked like me, well, that would just be boring!”
Pray Like You’ve Never Prayed Before
I personally saw wonderful examples of a unified church when I attended the Vision Nights at United Church in Delaware, the Rally for Peace and Justice at Cornerstone Church in Atlanta, and the Together event hosted in Washington DC by the Jesus is the Reset movement.
At Reset it was absolutely beautiful to see thousands of people from all walks of life and racial backgrounds coming together to worship God. We spent hours on our faces praying over our country and for its divided state to be healed. By recognizing the issues instead of covering them up, we were able to pray specifically for God to move. This type of prayer personally impacted me as it opened my eyes to reach out to my community the way that God loves us, unconditionally.
You’re Going to Need Some Holy Ghost Power
It is amazing to see how far we have advanced in modern society. We have cars that will drive themselves and robots that can care for the disabled and elderly. Yet, we often forget how to treat those around us. Jesus talks about the two greatest commandments that His people are to follow. The first commandment is to love God with all of our hearts and the second is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:28-34). It may seem that following two commandments couldn’t possibly be that hard. I mean its just two right? yet we often fall short of Jesus’ example. The reason behind our short comings is the really cringy thing called Sin. While we all want to see ourselves as a bunch of nice people who would never discriminate against anyone, if we are honest with ourselves, we are often quick to judge others. It takes daily surrender to the Holy Spirit to guide us in the love that Christ commands us to have. And not just any kind of love either, unconditional love. It’s not a, “I love you if you love me”, it’s supernatural and 100% dependent on God Himself.
Your Kingdom Come Your Will Be Done
One of my favorite passages of scripture is found in Revelation. After I surrendered my life to Christ, I realized that many of the things that I had been taught in my “religious” upbringing did not align with God’s word. Although I already knew that racism was wrong, I wanted to know if the Bible specifically talked about this issue.
As I was meditating on my devotions one day, a specific verse jumped off the page and grabbed my attention. The verse describes the throne room of God in heaven and the many believers who will be together worshiping.
“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, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” – Revelation 7 9-10
If the Apostle John was able to identify the people in heaven as tribes, peoples, and languages, this leads me to believe that we will not all look or act the same way in eternity. No one is identified as beneath or above one another, but together. And in their diversity these believers find unity before the throne of God. I can’t think of anything more beautiful. Finally the world at peace! Diversity is in harmony and no longer at war. Mankind together before the Lamb of God Himself as God had always intended for us to be. No more prejudices, no more racism, only the solidarity that Christ can give us through His love in Jesus.
“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” – Albert Einstein
No the issue of racism is not a simple topic. And definitely not one that can be summed up in a blog post. It’s not a light and fluffy subject either, it is one rooted in pain, a lot of pain. There is much more work that needs to be done to heal and mend broken hearts.
But we will never see healing if we continue to hide the subject. We’ve already tried that, for too long, and we know this doesn’t work. It’s time for our church generation to step up, speak out, and address the issue. We must fight hate with the love that only Jesus can give.
It’s time to get busy church!
Thanks for reading this weeks “thinks”. I know today I covered a rather heavy subject and only scratched the surface. I pray that this has in someway opened your eyes and inspired you to love more. I also wanted to share with you about a phenomenal organization called The & Campaign, that seeks redemptive justice while following Biblical faith. You should definitely check out their website for more resources.
Thanks again! See you next week!