During the recent Day of Service at the Virginia Annual Conference of United Methodism, some clergy and laity took part in an in-service on racial reconciliation sponsored by a commission of the larger Church. My good friend Rev. Drew Colby shared these thoughts there and for the blog. What Drew says about race specifically I think could be extended to the category ‘social justice’ more broadly, particularly in a culture such as ours that is increasingly polarized into Christian flavored political tribes.
“I am a proud associate pastor. A group at our church has been meeting for about nine months. Inspired by the protest and tragedies in Charlottesville they started meeting to discuss racial reconciliation. They’ve used resources that the General Commission on Racial Reconciliation has offered and they have learned a lot. I want to offer something else that may help continue to move the conversation forward; and that is the Gospel.
GCORR does good work charting the nature of systemic racism. Fortunately (or unfortunately as the case may be) such resources addressing the nature of systemic racism are not hard to find in our culture. Many other outlets are examining the reality of systemic racism in our culture and many do so better than the Church. If someone is looking for a thorough and thoughtful analysis of systemic racism and how it impacts all of us unawares, I’m not sure the Church is the institution to which they should turn. I don’t mean this apologetically. I mean only to suggest that this isn’t the particular gift God has given the Church to offer our culture when it comes to race and racism.
I think the GCORR’s work could have even broader impact if it helped Christians use more theological language in our conversations about race.
That is, I wish our conversations on racial reconciliation (and social justice) could more often begin with the acknowledgment that Jesus Christ has already begun and guaranteed our reconciliation. Indeed, I suspect it would change the tenor of our debate about race (in the Church, at least) if it was couched in terms of scripture’s gospel promise that reconciliation- including racial reconciliation- is already an accomplished fact to celebrate and not an aspiration to exhort. The Gospel given to us by St. Paul isn’t that the dividing walls between races should be torn down but that in the cross of Christ they have been brought down. The difference between those two tenses, between the indicative and the imperative, changes the entire tone of our discussion from exhortation to invitation. Contrary to what one of the preachers at Annual Conference said, it’s NOT our job to redeem the world but to celebrate that in Christ the world has already been redeemed and to invite people to live into this, the true story of the world.
To frame our discussion of race more theologically would help us see clearly that as the Church, we are coming at this broad and insidious societal problem from a unique Chistological perspective. We start with an eternal hope—Wesley might even say an assurance—about what it is that is possible in the Power of the Gospel. And this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ: that racism is a sin, for which demon possession is the best NT correlative, which means it is something Christ has born in his body and from which the Risen Christ is working to heal us.
When white people like me are afraid of seeming racist, I think it shows our lack of faith that our sins are forgivable. No, that our sins are forgiven.
Forgiven people are unafraid to confess our need for forgiveness and sanctification. GCORR works to deconstruct our denial or avoidance of racism. The help I think I really need, and I don’t think I’m alone, is help articulating and remembering how, as a disciple of Christ, racism is something I may confess, unafraid, trusting that Christ has broken down the dividing wall, and in his Name grace abounded and still abounds sufficient to reconcile what was divided.