Ministry of Reconciliation, Part 3: Three Commitments to Move Us Further
As we close out this series, I am deeply cognizant of the impossibility of the task before us. What we have tried to offer through this series is an open and honest conversation between two brothers in Christ who are deeply committed to seeing God’s kingdom thrive in our midst. This third installment will not provide any clear program for achieving racial reconciliation in your congregational context, nor can we hold up a brilliant success story as an example to follow. Instead, we offer three crucial commitments that are essential to any attempt to move closer toward the goal of racial reconciliation in the church.
Commitment #1: Courage
Even talking about the issues around race can evoke feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. It is much safer to talk about the weather, sports, or some other inane topic than to risk uncovering painful truths about our past, our present, and our own hearts. It takes courage to intentionally walk into unfamiliar territory. On the one hand, it is predictable and comfortable to gather with people who look like you, worship like you, and well … like you. On the other hand, entering an unfamiliar context can leave you feeling incredibly insecure.
How will I know what to do and say?
What if I say something offensive?
What are they thinking about me?
What if I am not accepted?
These questions arise from fear, not love. Notice how each of these questions is self-focused. When gripped by fear, we compulsively become self-interested. It takes great courage—a holy vulnerability—to “look to the interests of others” when in unfamiliar territory.
Commitment #2: Conversation
“We need to talk.” That sentence might well be the most anxiety-inducing sentence in the average American home. Experience has taught us that whatever follows that sentence is not likely to be pleasant. In retrospect, however, most of us can admit that those conversations did indeed need to happen. The same is true when it comes to conversations about race.
We need to talk. As uncomfortable as it may be at times, we need to talk about race. I (Drew) feel the need to unpack that statement for my fellow white, middle-class, men with this bit of wisdom handed down to me when I was a child: “God gave you one mouth and two ears. Got it?” When it comes to conversations between black and white, we must assume the position of the student and do far more listening than speaking. Ask sincere questions then listen wholeheartedly to your sisters and brothers—assuming that their stories are true and that their concerns are valid. This should go without saying, but it is tragically necessary for us to be reminded of this very basic courtesy. Racial reconciliation can never get off the ground when one group consistently invalidates the perspective of the other.
Commitment #3: An Unwavering Dependence upon God
As we have explored the ministry of reconciliation in regard to race, we have become more convinced that we are treading on holy ground. This is not a human endeavor that can be pursued through exclusively human means—a point that should be obvious when reading 2 Cor. 5:17-18:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. (emphasis added)
We are human participants in a divine work. It is God who makes all things new. It is God who reconciles us to himself. We are his ambassadors and participants in his mission, but it is and has always been his mission. Paul speaks here of God’s reconciling us to himself in Christ. The intrinsic correlative of this divine reconciliation is that we be reconciled to each other as Eph. 4:1-6 so beautifully articulates:
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (emphasis added)
True unity, we believe, is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a supernatural mission and can only be accomplished through supernatural means. Just as an 80-year-old Moses parted the Red Sea by holding out his glorified cane, and just as Ezekiel resurrected a valley of dry bones with a few words, so too must we stand in the face of overwhelming odds and employ whatever tools and words God gives us. It will then be our honor and privilege to experience the Holy Spirit’s supernatural power as it accomplishes more than we could ask or imagine.
We hope this conversation has been beneficial to someone. We pray that the Holy Spirit will lead you into unfamiliar territory and that you will have the courage to follow. We pray that God will give you the humility to listen respectfully and lovingly to those who are not like you. And we pray for God’s kingdom to come more fully, and God’s will to be done more completely, as together we strive for racial reconciliation in the church and throughout the world.