Is Your Church Talking About Race?
Leading courageous conversations
We live at a critical intersection regarding race relations. The topic is impossible to ignore. Racial issues are headlining our news reports. Accounts of police brutality fill our newsfeeds. Hidden injustices are coming into the light. I find myself asking, how did I not see all this before? What role am I supposed to play now that the blinders are removed? How can Scripture help me, and us all, live into a more just reality?
Last week a group of faith leaders in Philadelphia—representing different ethnic backgrounds, church denominations, and ministries—gathered to grapple with similar questions. All of us came with a desire to learn from people outside our regular circles. We came ready to talk openly, to name the realities—and hopefully to move towards healing.
“Under My Skin,” hosted by American Bible Society and Biblical Theological Seminary, brought together a panel of speakers to spark conversations about race and the Church. The topics included “Black & White: Racial Identity at a Crossroads,” “Latino & Asian: Broadening the Conversation” and “Flesh & Spirit: Refocusing the Lens.” The theme of the evening led us to look at our core identities and grow into a more unified image of the Body of Christ. We heard from scholars, authors, pastors and civic leaders.
Together we jumped into the topics. We spent time talking about systemic injustice—intertwined in the foundations of our country. We identified our brokenness—individually and corporately, stemming from the beginning pages of Scripture. We listened to the stories of our brothers and sisters. At points we cried, at others we cheered.
I entered the conversation hopeful, but halfway through the evening I found myself, well, heartbroken. Does the power of sin have such a hold on us? Is anything actually changing?
But then panelist Greg Thompson, Executive Director of New City Commons, refreshed our memories. God is before all things and will come after all things (Revelation 1:8). Jesus died and was brought to life. He holds the keys to death and hell (Revelation 1:18). We may be laboring under the weight of our sin, but this is not the end of our story. Christ has the victory. God has created before and will create again. We can build something new.
I left the evening inspired that we can join in God’s work of restoration right where we are, starting in our churches. As panelist Kyle Canty, pastor at Great Commission Church said, “Our theology is shaped by whatever we see out the window.” We understand Scripture within the context of our lives. We learn biblical truths within the walls of our churches and on the streets of our neighborhoods. We live these teachings out in the raw material of our lives—where Scripture is living and breathing all around us.
As we turn to Scripture, how can we lead people in engaging with issues of race? And how can racial issues draw us deeper into God’s Word? We need Scripture to speak to us, in this place, in this time. We need God’s Word to bring us into fuller unity. How can that happen?
These are questions we should all be asking—and growing into. They are not answered or resolved overnight. And we will never carry out the task perfectly. But in God’s grace, the places we fall short become areas to identify and learn from. We are on a journey. And like the faithful believers who precede us, we keep looking to God. We ask God’s Spirit to heal us and lead us forward.
Scripture helps us do this. It helps us move on from only seeing the speck in our neighbor’s eye to seeing the plank in our own (Matthew 7:3–5). It teaches us how to recognize God’s truth and embody it as a whole people of faith.
Two resources offered through this event can help us get started in a biblical response to racial issues. Try incorporating the “Under My Skin” 21-day Scripture Journey into your church programming. Let it facilitate healing conversations about race. You can also share the booklet, “The Prophetic Voice: What Can the Bible Teach Us About Race Relations?” to frame the topic biblically.
But don’t stop there. Broaden the conversation. What are black theologians saying? What are the stories of other minority groups? Keep finding reliable sources that point people to biblical perspectives on race, so they aren’t relying on social media or the news to inform them. Be bold as leaders in naming the realities we live in so people don’t have to grapple through these issues on their own. Jump into the dialogue. Together we can create something new.
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