By John Lussier
Photo credit: All Nite Images
“…the concept of reconciliation is empty of content unless it is built upon the firm foundation of justice.”
— David P. Gushee
As evangelical groups like the Southern Baptist Convention start to address issues of race and reconciliation I’d like to remind us all that we can’t talk about racial reconciliation without first talking about issues of justice in and outside the church.
We can’t talk about racial reconciliation without first talking about justice in and outside the Church.
The injustices that have happened in Ferguson, New York, and elsewhere are finally coming to the attention of evangelicalism. Race has become a hot topic for conferences, meetings, lectures, sermons, chapels, and discussions. Books are being written. Blogs are being posted. We’re standing up and taking notice as an evangelical church culture.
But what I’m afraid of, as we talk about race, is that we will have a lot of discussions, say how sorry we are, and then never change/organize. I’m scared we’ll show up, have an expert come in, pray, end with a rocking worship song, feel better, and then leave the topic.
I think our hearts are in the right place (reconciliation of people) but I wonder if our feet will follow by addressing what splits us (by dismantling our systems of control and injustice).
Our hearts are there, but will our feet follow?
I heard it said today by someone, “I’m trying to deal with my own stuff on race but that’s all I can do.” That’s the American evangelical problem, isn’t it? We think we’re only as big as our hearts. It’s only our motives and thoughts that need to change. Race is an individual sin problem and the solution is conversion or repentance.
We think we’re only as big as our hearts.
Racism is bigger than our hearts. It’s ingrained in the systems we live in. It’s our politics. Our police force. Justice system. It’s the way we build cities, give out loans, educate. It’s wealth we’ve accrued as white people. Racism starts in our hearts and then leaks out into the world from there. Even when we have a change of heart we’re still living in a world built for white people and contaminated by white supremacy.
When I hear evangelicals say, “We have to change the individual” my response is “No. Everything has to change.” There are things bigger than the individual. There are rules, authorities, principalities, dominions — the powers that be, and the material reality they embody.
Everything has to change.
If we’re going to fight racism we have to fight injustice. Racial reconciliation demands justice. The powers that be, individually, collectively, systematically must be transformed or discarded. Policies must be changed. Accountability systems must be added. Systems will be torn down and reparative measures will have to be taken. Yes, that happens individually, but it also happens corporately. The body of the Christ, the Church, especially has a calling towards protesting the injustices of the Powers that be.
We, as the Church, have to call out, confront, and dismantle white supremacy wherever it exists: in our hearts, in our communities, in our churches, in corporations, in government, everywhere. That must happen individually and collectively in our communities. Evangelicals have to let our heart for God and neighbor move our feet.
We have to let our heart for God and neighbor move our feet.
I’ve been reading recently about the history of the Civil Rights movement in Portland, Oregon. During the 1950s and 60s Christians there were a part of the movement. Clergy members and lay people of many colors opened up their churches, listened, organized, educated, spoke out, advocated, and marched for Civil Rights.
We need to be reclaimed by that Spirit.
The Spirit that leads to a conversion away from ignorance and hatred of others and towards the just kingdom of God.
The Spirit that prays when we cannot, and inspires us to imagine and work for another world.
The Spirit that inspired the Scriptures we read and brought together a “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb”.
The Spirit that fell upon Jews and Gentiles, breaking down hostility, and forming a people set apart and graced for reconciliation, justice, and love of all.
The Spirit that brought Christ to life after death on the cross and makes reconciliation and justice possible.
May the Spirit bring us to reconciliation and justice by inspiring us to organize. Listen. Learn. Educate. Advocate. Agitate. Pray.
The powers that be, the systems we live in, and our hearts must be changed by the Spirit. Let the wind blow.
John Lussier is a theology student in Portland, Oregon working on his Master of Divinity at Multnomah Biblical Seminary. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnLuce. You can email him at john m lussier at gmail dot com.
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