When it comes to racial issues, we the Church have often been on both sides of the aisle. We have been on the side championing the cause for equality and we have also been on the side of silence and championing racial inequality.
When it comes to racial reconciliation, the best place for us to start is the Gospel itself. This gospel is where we receive both the love and forgiveness of God through Jesus.
“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling[b] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
- 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
What does this mean for us? Everything! Jesus has reconciled us to himself.
Reconciliation is God’s idea. He places us in a family with people who don’t look like us, think like us or even act like us. But that is the beauty of it all. I’m a soul food eating, Martin Luther King loving, Tupac listening brotha but I get to be in a family with a white dude named Ernest Jo Fipps who is from Greenville, Indiana. I am in a family with a half Japanese and half Costa Rican brotha who got me out here eating pollo con arroz.
Jesus placed me in this family. And I believe that our reconciliation to God must be played out in our reconciliation with each other as family. We no longer look at each other based on the world’s definition but we look at each other as brothers and sisters because of the Gospel.
Loving each other well in racial reconciliation requires intentional action on everyone’s part. The Apostle John has some helpful words to us on how we can relate to another in Christ:
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
- 1 John 3:16-18
Let’s unpack what this means for us on this topic of racial reconciliation:
1. Love Listens
As family when we talk about racial things, we need to listen. We listen not so we can give our opinion or become offended, but we listen from our heart. We seek to listen to each other’s stories and we seek through our listening to feel the pain of those stories. We need to hear each other’s thoughts with our hearts.
2. Love Leans
When we talk about racial reconciliation, we lean into relationships with each other. When something is said or done that we don’t like, we don’t cut ties with our family but we lean into each other and confront the issue. Confronting those we love helps us better love one another.
Leaning into our relationships takes away the façade of shallowness and allows us to jump into the deep end with each other.
3. Love Learns
Our leaning will eventually lead to learning. Because the Body of Christ is so diverse, we can love each other by learning about our cultures. We can eat different dishes from each other’s cultures, listen to each other’s music, and learn about how we celebrate differently. Hanging out with my African friends showed me what it really means to celebrate life. Learning gives us a robust view of who Jesus is: King of all people.
4. Love Leads
Learning should bring us to leading. Reconciliation does not stop with us. It should also lead us to action. Our reconciliation should be shared with other people from diverse backgrounds. We experience this reconciliation with each other so that we can bring this reconciliation to the world around us.
Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Our greatest witness to the world is shown when they see us loving each other well. Even though we are different from each other, we show the world we love each other.
The Story of George Brown
In closing, I want to share a story with you that brings these points of love and forgiveness together. This is the story of George Brown.
George Brown was a Methodist minister and missionary. He was the first African American minister to receive a license to preach with the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1836 he was sent to Liberia to be a school teacher but overtime he felt a call to preach the gospel to the Liberian people. It was said of him that he was “the missionary who was more devoted to African evangelization than anyone else.”
Unfortunately in 1840 the white superintendent of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Liberia, John Seys had a falling out with the Liberian government over goods brought into Liberia from the United States. Because of this, Reverend Seys tried to muster support from other pastors to stand with him. But George Brown did not stand with him. Brown firmly believed his only calling was to preach the gospel to the people of Liberia. Because of his stand, he was expelled from the Methodist Episcopal Church in Liberia. He tried to go back to the United States and get reinstated but unfortunately he was not able to leave his wife behind in Liberia. Brown went on to continue ministry in the United States and he eventually died falling through ice on a lake. But in his journal this is what he had to say about his relationship to the Methodist Episcopal church:
“I call heaven to witness that I truly love the M.E. Church with all my soul. I love her nonetheless for what a few individuals have mangled me.” He himself stayed apart of this organization forgiving and loving his brothers even when it was hard.
In my own personal life I see my own story in George Brown. I may not have endured the hardships he had, but I know the same feelings he may have had.
Many now I am the first African American Nationally Appointed Missionary in the state of Indiana. Even though Chi Alpha may be diverse among students, it’s leadership is not. There have been times when I have felt the burden of why am I the only one. I thought these people just don’t get, that I’m out.
I could have allowed those thoughts cloud my judgment. But I knew that Jesus called me to be a part of Chi Alpha. And because I felt the call to be a part we have worked hard to see minorities be a part of leadership in Chi Alpha. We worked hard as a family to listen, learn and lead. Because of this work, the numbers for XA leadership has risen. It is not where we want it but it is increasing. Things are changing. Jesus has called me to be part of this family and as long as I’m here I’m going to walk in love with those around me.
In the same, you have been placed in a body of people. They are your family. What I am asking you is that we practice loving each other well. That we be a reconciled people.
To practice these ideas of loving each other well through listening, leaning, learning and leading, I have some reflection questions for you to go through and consider for yourself and your community.