The Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change
Authors: Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil and Rev. Rick Richardson
Since completing a seminary course in racial reconciliation studies in 2012, and specifically in light of the racism and injustices against people of color that have gained national attention over the past few years, I have either been praying and reading more about the gospel as the ministry of reconciliation, or reading work by those who have committed their lives and ministry to the pursuit of reconciliation. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil is one of those such reconcilers, and I have enjoyed learning from her writing, teaching, and preaching.
Who Should Read The Heart of Racial Justice:
This book is for anyone seeking to better understand, not only the issue of racism or what it means to live in a racialized society (according to sociologists and theologians, Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith), but also the spiritual warfare the allows the sin of racism to perpetuate generation after generation. This book is for those who are intentional in standing against the sins of racism and injustice, and who are willing to take the risk to stand with God and the marginalized in our society.
What’s in Store for You:
From the beginning of the book, the authors are up front about telling the readers that “this battle [for justice and reconciliation] is personal and institutional, but it is more—it is a spiritual battle (27).” When we accept the mission of standing for justice and pursuing reconciliation, we are actually agreeing to stand with God who is constantly waging war against the evil one of this world who seeks to kill, steal from, and destroy each of our lives (John 10:10), but Christ—the all victorious one—has come so that we can all be free and live our lives to the fullest measure. He is the one who offers us a better way of living and being on this earth. It is not okay for us, especially as Christians, to accept “business as usual” when people’s lives are being destroyed all around us and we have the power to act (Prov 3:27, Phil 2:13).
Dr. McNeil and Rev. Richardson go beyond the two popular models of addressing racial divisions in our society which include: 1) the individual model and 2) the institutional model. The first model asks people not to isolate themselves from the “other,” but rather to consider the racial and ethnic diversity (or lack thereof) of their friendship circle. This “is not an adequate change strategy, because it has nothing to say about the historical impact of sin and evil and the way this history has led to structural injustice that cannot be changed by the ‘one life at a time’ approach (48).” The second model calls for the redistribution of power among people groups (48-49). “The kingdom of God is about more than [people] group competition for power…The goal is to be transformed toward God’s multi-ethnic kingdom of worship and shalom, which is the Hebrew word for God’s peace with justice. The institutional change model is inadequate to accomplish that because it does not address the transformation of the human heart (49).” This book presents a ministry of healing that includes transformation or a change of heart. It embraces both biblical principles and practical steps toward reconciliation.
This process towards reconciliation requires the consideration of the ways we approach worship; our security and confidence in our own identity in Christ; the confrontation, forgiveness, and healing of broken relationships and bad memories; and naming the powers and principalities of this world (including wrong ideologies, broken institutions, and false images).
My personal take-aways:
I love how each chapter includes probing discussion questions like, “How should we respond?” and offers a prayer to God who helps us in our times of need and uncertainty. I love that this book is focused on the kingdom and how God advances his kingdom through us, should we submit to his lordship in our lives and transformative work in our hearts. I love how it addresses the whole gospel, not simply an individualistic “come to Jesus and be saved” but rather presents the work God is doing throughout the earth to draw all people unto himself. The true call of the gospel is to become a disciple, one who follows Jesus. And when Jesus came to minister on this earth, he literally turned everything upside down.
While we do have personal responsibility, his Word is clear that we cannot have allegiances or loyalties both to his kingdom and the kingdom of this world. “When a persona converts to Jesus Christ, it is always a personal and social act—a radical switch of allegiances between kingdoms (122).” Hallelujah! I belong to God, and I know that his kingdom is steadily advancing and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it! In this I place my hope. The acknowledgement of this spiritual reality and warfare throughout this book, and knowing the ultimate victor of this battle gives me spiritual armor and encourages me on my faith journey.
The book also includes a Reconciliation Generation Commitment, definitions (which can be quite helpful when trying to craft a language for important dialog), and several other practical appendices.
“Sin seeks to trap us in a never-ending vicious cycle of self-destructive dominance, revenge, & hatred.” @RevDocBrenda #RacialJustice
“Communities that pursue justice & reconciliation proclaim the gospel w/ more credibility & power.” @RevDocBrenda #RacialJustice
“God has always had a great purpose for our ethnic and cultural diversity. He did not ‘suggest’ the cultural enterprise—he commanded it (35)!”
“To become reconcilers whom God can use to heal people and nations, we must reclaim our uniqueness as ethnic and racial people whose identity is firmly rooted in who God say we are (75).”
“Our challenge to you is to recognize that God has deposited some of his image in every people group and that he intends to use your ethnicity and culture as a vehicle to express his glory (85).”
“A commitment to grow in awareness is a primary step in the process of becoming an ambassador for racial and ethnic reconciliation who can be used to heal people and nations (136).”
Share a story of encouragement: How has soul change lead to social change in your life?
Next Up on this Topic:
Dr. McNeil’s next work, Roadmap to Reconciliation: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness, and Justice, which releases in January 2016.
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2015