This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the third annual “Engage our Culture” forum at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Charlotte campus. The topic for this year’s forum was “Bridging the Great Divide: The Church’s Call to Racial Reconciliation” featuring Margaret Yu, National Executive Director of Epic Movement, the Asian American ministry of Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ); Mark DeYmaz, founding pastor of Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, leader of the Mosaix Global Network and author of several books related to multi-ethnic church ministry; Soong-Chan Rah, Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago and the author of the recently released Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times; and Bishop (Dr.) Claude Alexander, Jr., Senior Pastor of The Park Church in Charlotte, NC.
The panel began with a question about the basic theological or biblical foundation for having a discussion about the social construct of race. This cultural and community dynamics concerning diverse people groups is prevalent throughout scripture.
Soong-Chan began his response with a look at biblical anthropology by asking the question, “What does it mean to be human?” The Bible is clear that humanism is defined by all people begin created in the image of God (Gen 1:26), nothing else in God’s created order has this characteristic. When we don’t value or respond to every human being with this understanding, we are actually sinning by robbing God of his authority, and his desire to be glorified in a through the life of each individual.
Mark continued the theological dialog with the understanding that the Bible is an eastern book written to a collective. It is a story of God’s redemptive work in and through his chosen Jewish people that culminates in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of the Jewish Jesus, who thereby draws all people groups (both Jew and Gentile) unto himself as the fulfillment of the covenantal promise God made to Abraham. Mark reminded us that the Bible needs corporate processing—for our preaching and Bible studies to go beyond asking the question, “What does the Word mean for me?” to “What does it mean for us?” As members of the body of the Christ, we need to constantly ask the question, “What does corporate sanctification look like?”
Margaret reminded us of the painful reality that the church, like every other structure and system, has been negatively impacted by race and racism. In their book, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, this is what sociologist and theologians Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith refer to as living in a “racialized society.” Margaret stated that intentionally addressing the negative impact of race and intentionally pursuing racial reconciliation is “family business.” This is what we do individually and collectively by stewarding our identity as part of the body of Christ. I love that! She encourages us to do this by asking the questions, “What aspects of my culture needs redemption? What part of my culture glorifies God?” When I was growing up, we would sing the song lyrics, “Get your house in order. Do it today.” Regarding the issue of race, it’s past time to get our house in order church!
Bishop Alexander wrapped this portion of the discussion by returning to the image of God which gives us personhood and the right to belong. I remember when Sandra Bland was arrested this summer, and certain commentators were saying how disrespectful she was towards the police. Then I saw an interview where African American male journalist and scholar, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill (Distinguished Professors of African American Studies at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA) discussed the case, and presented the picture of Sandra Bland as an American citizen who knew her legal rights and then stated, “She had a right to assert her dignity in public.” My heart cried out, “Yes, she most certainly does!” In the same manner, Bishop Alexander asked the jarring question, “How do we either frustrate or facilitate this process?”…of image bearing, valuing someone’s personhood, their right to belong, or assert their dignity in public?
Jesus has a Word for us concerning all of this. Through his “Good Samaritan Parable” (Luke 10:25-37), he is asking his followers to consider not only “Who is the neighbor?” but also “What does it mean to be a neighbor?” When we are confronted (or choose to ignore) the injustices and oppression of those who are different than us either by a separation of socio-economic class or racial or ethnic diversity, “Are we modeling the life and teaching of Jesus, the merciful servant?”
Through this and many other biblical references, Soong-Chan championed the need for theological work, Mark presented the pastoral assignments and need for total transformation in the church, Margaret got to the heart of the matter by sharing the relational components of what racial reconciliation looks like in community, and Bishop Alexander presented the practical application or relevancy for today. Collectively their passions, contributions, and themes overlapped providing a humble or sobering response, and planted a beautiful picture letting us know that God is indeed at work.
We all need healing. Ultimately, God wants to bring peace or shalom on earth. Jesus himself is the prince of peace. A false sense or desire for peace is not what we need. When Christ stepped on the scene to minister, it called people out and set things straight. He was about fulfilling the spirit of the law, after many years of the Jews injustices and sins against God. They had compromised their “religion” and the integrity of their faith, and Jesus came to restore them back into proper relationship with God and others. It is in this way, that all nations would be blessed through them. When we read the Old Testament we get the depth of this history and their sin. We also see God’s grace and mercy at work. In this same way, Bishop Alexander reminded us that, “For healing to occur, you have to know how deep the wound is.” The racial wounds in this country go deep. In light of this history from the African American perspective specifically, Bishop stated, “The spirituality of the Black Church is what has kept black rage intact.” Thank God for the Black Church! Soong-Chan did not mince his words when discussing the pride of our nation where generations have benefited from a system built on free land and free labor. But God is greater than this empire, and ultimately he will get what he wants. Now is the time for his people to turn to him, and lead in the area of racial reconciliation and racial justice.
There are many scriptures, themes, and questions to consider here. It is my hope and prayer that you gather with a diverse group of friends to discuss them over dinner.
We are all beneficiaries of a broken system built on free land and free labor. @profrah
“What aspects of my culture needs redemption? What part of my culture glorifies God?” @CCCEPICMargaret
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Using the hashtags #engageourculture #weexpectmore and #SpringValleyHigh.
Video introduction to what we can learn from Soong-Chan Rah’s Prophetic Lament: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhjxTWOJjkI
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2015