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Gospel-driven Racial Reconciliation


What Does Gospel-driven Reconciliation Look Like?

This is a hot topic in our day that does not sidestep the Church. You would think that Christians, those who love and follow Christ, would be at the forefront in the battle for reconciliation. Many are. Yet history has shown us the Church is not immune from society’s ills and sometimes finds herself even inflaming these ills. The PCA, our denomination, in her early years was complicit in defending and even furthering segregation and systemic racism. Even now many of our well intentioned efforts to bring unity among ethnic groups do as much harm as good. 

The problem is that the issue is highly complicated. It is not simply a matter of not hating those of other ethnic groups. It involves economics, cultural values, social and governmental systems, and more. It is an issue of which ethnic group has the dominant position and can determine society’s values. It involves many things most of us in white, middle-class, suburban, evangelical America just do not understand, because we are a part of the dominant culture. We have little idea of what life is like in the minority. So, how does a predominantly white, middle-class, suburban church like Southwood further healing in our community? This is such an important and challenging question that the Southwood Session has formed a committee to lead us in considering our role. As we have begun to read, listen, and pray, we have realized how much we have to learn, and we’ve also recognized a vital first step.

This first step might sound simple, but it might also be the most difficult—build relationships. To do this we must think like missionaries. When we moved to Hungary in 2001, our first challenge was getting to know Hungarians. That involved crossing a lot of barriers, language being one of the biggest.  You could be easily fooled that you had adequate knowledge of what these people were like and what made them tick.  They generally looked like you. They listened to some of the same music and watched some of the same movies.  But underneath they were radically different, even from other Europeans. They lived for centuries under authoritarian rulers from outside Hungary. Throughout their history they were beaten down and oppressed, which greatly affected their psyche. At the same time, they highly valued family and close friends.  They were warmly hospitable once they knew you well enough.  To get down to these differences in life experience, you had to spend time with them, talk to them by telling them your story and listening to theirs.  You, the foreigner, had to take the initiative in gaining this depth of understanding by being in their world and in their lives.

This is the way we also must attack racial reconciliation.  If you’re like me, you live in a community of like-minded and like-faced people.  We don’t consciously harbor ill will towards others who are different, but we also don’t know them or understand their life experience. How can the Church begin to bring the Gospel to bear effectively on this societal challenge if we don’t fully understand the issue? We have to take the initiative and build bridges of understanding and compassion. I spoke to a black pastor recently about all this, and his answer to what we could do was simple and straightforward: build relationships.  Get into the lives of people in other ethnic groups to the point that you begin to taste their experience, their values, and their world outlook. This is the ruling principle with ministry to any people group. I cannot bring the Gospel to bear on a life I do not know. 

Of course, Jesus was the great example. He crossed eternal barriers to enter humanity, taking upon Himself our experience. In that personal identification, He can effectively help us in our need. He knows us.  He knows our pain.  He knows our situation. He feels the weight we carry. He speaks our language. This is how we demonstrate the Gospel to our fractured society.  We build bridges of knowledge and understanding by crossing barriers that divide, in order to enter into the world of another that they might understand how the Savior has done that for us.