Corporate Sin, Corporate Repentance, pt 4: “Race”

[I first published the following over two years ago.  I am reposting it as part of my current series on corporate repentance.]

A former student of mine emailed me a series of questions about race and racial reconciliation for a class she’s taking.  I thought it worth posting parts of it here.

(Is it narcissistic to interview yourself?)

How long have you been passionate about racial reconciliation?

I’ve always been passionate about the church helping people treat each other better, get past their pride, selfishness, resentment, and suspicion toward people who were different from them.  I didn’t think it was about race at first.

What led you down this road?

I started with my own convictions about what Jesus wants his church to be. He wants EVERYONE to thrive, not just people who look like me or think like me. EVERYONE.

A truce is not shalom, not biblical peace. Shalom only comes when real offenses are recorded and repented of, and forgiveness and amnesty offered.

The Trayvon Martin shooting, and the police shootings of unarmed black men over the past couple of years, led me to reflect and read more about race in America. Until the last couple of years, I’ve thought about race and racism as individual phenomena. Like most conservatives, I thought that all we (America) needed was for the law to be race-neutral, and then it was a case of winning individual hearts and minds.

But then I read about, for example, the way the GI Bill was administered after WWII. The GI Bill did more than any other government program to build American’s prosperous middle class, but its benefits went almost exclusively to white veterans. The gap between working class whites and working class blacks grew quickly and decisively after WWII. THAT’S systemic racism; it’s not the laws, or not just the laws, it’s the way they’re administered.

People are sinful and selfish, and our overwhelming tendency is to do what favors our tribe or group at the expense of other tribes or groups.

What biblical texts relate to racial reconciliation?

The one I keep going back to is Ephesians 2.14ff: “For he [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”

There are other passages, though, that apply to our understanding of justice, which applies to race:

Deuteronomy 10:17-19 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Note the juxtaposition of God’s impartiality [end of 17] and his acknowledgment of the special needs of the poor and outsiders [18].)

Isaiah 1.17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow. (Note the similarity with Deut 10.17-18; justice IS preferential treatment for the destitute.)

Isaiah 30.18 Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him! (Equates justice with compassion and grace, NOT what people deserve.)

Psalm 33.4-5 For the word of the Lord is right and true;
he is faithful in all he does.
5 The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of his unfailing love. (Faithfulness, righteousness, justice here are paired with unfailing love.)

See also: Malachi 3.5; Proverbs 31.8-9; Luke 4.18-19; James 1.27; James 2.1-13; Matthew 23.23; Amos 5.24.

My conclusion is that justice is NOT everyone getting what they deserve, or what is “fair.”  Justice is everyone getting what is RIGHT, what they need to thrive.  Like the cartoon I’ve used before on this blog:

What is the main goal in the area of racial reconciliation?

For God’s will as revealed in the Sermon on the Mount, Ephesians, Colossians, etc. (one family of all races under Jesus’ lordship) to be done on earth, in his church, as it is in heaven.

What obstacles have you overcome?

When there’s tension between groups, people tend to be afraid to talk about race. I’ve especially noticed this with Americans: American Christians UNDER the age of 40 are happy to talk about race, but people my age (52) and older think that it’s rude to talk about it. It’s easier to ignore it and hope it will go away.

A few months ago, I tweeted something along the lines of, “Telling a black friend you don’t think of them as black is the same thing as telling your wife that you don’t think of her as a woman.”

I got strong positive AND strong negative reactions to that tweet.  What I found telling is that EVERY person under the age of 40 or so agreed strongly, as did every black person who responded.  And EVERY white person over the age of 45 disagreed strongly.

Our tendency as human beings is to maintain a truce by being polite to each other, and ignoring the differences and past offenses as much as possible. But a truce is not shalom, not biblical peace. Shalom only comes through something like Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where the offenses are recorded and repented of, and forgiveness and amnesty offered.  And when it comes to race and ethnicity, there are offenses to be repented of, and forgiveness needed, in both American and Central Europe.

What victories are special to you?

My school (Biblijski Institut, Zagreb) is training ministers and church planters who are working with refugees of all religions and ethnic groups. And one of our most talented graduates has planted a church in Vukovar, a Croatian city with a history of trouble between Serbians and Croatians.  His ministry provides English classes that are attended by Serbs and Croats, where they sit in the same room with each other.

Explain how Mission, Vision, and Strategy of your church relate to this passion.
BI’s mission is to help strengthen the leadership of the churches in Croatia. The ministers must be prepared to meet the needs of their communities. Racial reconciliation is one of those pressing needs.

What does discipleship look like in relation to racial reconciliation?

I define “discipleship” as shaping my character and priorities to be more like Jesus. Jesus was about compassion and justice.

What does evangelism look like in relation to racial reconciliation?

People know that hate is wrong, but they think “That’s just the way it is.” It doesn’t have to be that way. This is one of the most exciting things that biblical Christianity can achieve in Europe, by breaking out of the hardened categories of state-sponsored churches, which have often contributed to ethnic tension and anger.

Describe your passion in five words.

“Here as it is in heaven.” (six words)

What is the single most important aspect of racial reconciliation?

As one of the privileged, the most important thing for me is remembering that the gospel gives preferential treatment to the poor.  (And its corollary: I am one of the poor before God.  I have nothing God needs, or that impresses him.)

What book would you recommend?

Two books and a CD: Chuck Colson’s Justice that Restores; Michael Sandel’s Justice; Drive-By Truckers’ American Band.

What do you attribute reconciliation to?

Reconciliation will happen as you become the kind of person Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount: poor in spirit, a peacemaker, someone who hungers and thirst for justice.

How has racial reconciliation evolved?

I don’t know that it has. Maybe it’s DE-volved?

It seems to me that both sides spend a lot of time othering the people they disagree with, being self-righteous, patting themselves and the others of their tribe on the back about how “woke” or right they are.

How many people are actually building relationships with people from the tribes they disagree with?

How many Trump supporters are trying to love Black Lives Matter people?  (You don’t come across as loving if the first words out of your mouth are, “You’re wrong about everything.”)

How many progressives are trying to love and understand (instead of judging, insulting, and mocking) Trump supporters?  (You don’t come across as loving if the first words out of your mouth are, “You’re a racist and you hate women.  Or at least, you are okay voting for someone who is a racist and hates women.”)

C’mon folks: Blessed are the poor in spirit.  Blessed are the peacemakers.  Blessed are the merciful.  Blessed are the meek.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.

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