The Church and the Issue of Race

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Over the past couple of weeks, I have written down many thoughts on what is happening in our country and even in our entire world when it comes to race, and I have kept them to myself to make sure I was not speaking out in frustration or in the heat of the moment. I pray that these thoughts and reflections are fruitful and ultimately begin a discussion for others on these issues.

A few weeks ago as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed one night, the graphic video of the shooting of Alton Sterling popped up. Before I could even process what I just watched, another horrific video was posted of a man being shot by police, this time Philando Castile. Then just days later during a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, TX, 5 police officers were ambushed and killed while 7 more were injured in retaliation to the previous murders.

While all of this was unfolding, I kept stumbling upon the typical Christian response that is tweeted out in this type of situation:

“Come, Lord Jesus.”

In the moment, this was my prayer too. For Jesus to come back. For Satan to be defeated. For the madness to end. Maranatha. Why must we suffer through the hate and the hurt day after day?

Then it hit me.

Christians, myself included, were typing this phrase and praying this prayer simply as a cop out. These three words were our way of saying something is messed up, but we can’t do anything about it. It was our way of showing remorse without taking any responsibility. In this way, people could know where would stood, but we didn’t have to make any steps towards real action.

The cop out of “Come Lord Jesus” lies in this truth: Jesus already has come. And when he came, he established his church. In Matthew 16:18, he said this, “Upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” Jesus has already been here, and he launched a movement that would bring hope to the world that could never be conquered.

The calling and responsibility of the church is to shine the light of Christ in the midst of the darkness and share hope where hope looks bleak.

As Matt Chandler puts it,

We’re called to give everything we have to this mission so that individuals God has put into our lives and in our communities and in the world will encounter the good news and be forever changed. Like candles positioned throughout a dark room, we’ve been strategically placed-by God’s sovereign design-as light pushing back darkness.

So yes, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

But even more so, “Come On Church.

Church, it is time to start showing how the gospel can unify even in the midst of times of racial tension.

If there was ever a time for the church to step up and make a change, now is the time. Truthfully, the church is the only hope we’ve got. And it’s the only hope we’ve got because the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only message that leads to true unity.

Admit It. We Have a Problem

The first step we have to take is to admit we have a problem, and that this problem goes deeper than just race. The truth is, that when we are left to our own devices, there will always be frustration and dissension between men and women of different backgrounds, different stories, different languages, and as we have seen these past few weeks, different colored skin.

And maybe you look at your church on a Sunday morning, and you are one of the lucky ones who is in a community that is multi racial. But I want you to take note of something, what happens when that final song is sung and everyone goes their separate ways?

I know what has happened everywhere I have been. We all instantly clique up into our little groups. These groups are full of people who share our interests, who understand us, who look like us, and who share our worldview.

When we get into this group, we begin to say this is “us.” Or these are “my people.” And then we look across the room and see those who are different than us, and we start talking about “them.” Or “those people.” In our human nature, we will inevitably clique up into these “us” vs. “them” crowds.

Why?

Because we don’t drift toward diversity. We drift away from it. If we make no effort at all to fight against our natural tendencies, we will end up feeling a type of frustration towards another group.

These groups can be based upon so many different things. They can be based on race, political party, income level, sports team, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and I could go on and on and on. This is because we gravitate towards people who are like us, and those who are different, we avoid and push away from. And in the most extreme cases, we hate and kill those who are different. This is true all around the globe, not just America. Take a look at the world news.

Now many of us in the church would say we don’t have this problem. That this is not a problem of the church. Well I would beg to differ.

If you disagree with me, think about a normal weekend in the Fall. I grew up in Knoxville, TN, and the most diverse scene in the city is a Saturday afternoon in Neyland Stadium. Men and women from every background come together for one cause, and that is to cheer on the Tennessee Volunteers. Then, not 12 hours later, comes the most segregated time in America: Sunday service.

Church, we have a problem. But, by God’s grace, we also have the answer.

The Hope of the Gospel

So what do we do to make a change? Surely we can’t make a difference with all the craziness that is taking place.

Well Jesus in his last hours on earth actually gave us the answer. He was actually praying specifically for us today when he prayed these words, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21).

All we have to do to make a change is to be one with one another. To put our differences aside, and come together under the banner of the gospel. To take Ephesians 2:16 to heart and believe that Jesus can “reconcile us [all] to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

The greatest thing the church can do to kill the hostility that is ever present in our country is to show unity in the midst of our diversity. To put our differences aside for the sake of one another and for the sake of our world.

It is often in the darkest hour that the light of Christ shines the brightest.

Humility that Leads to Empathy

So yes the gospel brings hope, and that hope will be seen when we come together in unity, but how in the world do we do that?

Unity begins is in our humility. The root of all racial tension and disunity is our pride.

C.S. Lewis would say this about pride in his book Mere Christianity, “Pride is the complete anti-God state of mind. For pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.

I would add to that unity. Pride eats up the very possibility of unity.

In order to fix this problem, we must take a humble posture towards one another and realize we are in this thing together.

It’s like a football team where you have different personalities, different backgrounds, and different skill sets coming together for the common purpose of winning the game.

We’re all created in God’s image. We’re the same team. We’re the home team. We should be rooting for each other.

In our humility, we must take steps into what is uncomfortable. See another reason we love to be in our circle and clique is that it is comfortable. We can be our self, and we don’t have to change the way we act and never have to change the way we think.

But when we take steps of humility and enter into circles and groups that are not like us, we get to see this world and our faith from a whole new vantage point. We will see a whole new world view.

And when we do this, we will begin to see what it is like to walk in our brother’s shoes. We will begin to have the hard conversations that lead to real change and real unity.

The beginning of all change and understanding begins with empathy. Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Have conversations with others who are different than you. Hear how they feel. Be someone who asks good questions. And truly listen to what they are saying rather than thinking ahead to what point you want to make. The only way to understand someone’s experience is to let them tell you about it.

So church, let us begin to shine the light of the gospel on this racial tension and push back the darkness that is filling our world.

Let us start by stepping out of our comfort zones and stepping into hard conversations.

Let us start by killing our pride and living in humility.

And let us start praying the same prayer that Jesus prayed which was “that we may all be one, just as He and the Father are one.

Come On Church.

Chandler Vannoy
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Chandler Vannoy

Director of Students at Rock Point Church
Chandler Vannoy is the Director of Students at Rock Point Church in Chattanooga, TN. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and is now pursuing his Masters of Divinity at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He loves the NBA, C.S Lewis, and good coffee. Simply put, Chandler is just a nobody trying to tell everybody all about Somebody who can save anybody.
Chandler Vannoy
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