It's a Sin Problem Not a Skin Problem

The other day I had the great privilege to explore the word, talk, pray, and fellowship with my friends who are pastors and church planters from around the Detroit area in our network of churches. We aim to gather about once a month. I love these brothers. They are a true life-line for me. Two of the pastors present at this months meeting are black, the rest of us are various shades of caucasian. The topic of discussion? Ferguson. But not just Ferguson. We didn't hash through all the details of the testimonies or the decision of the grand jury or the aftermath. The topic of Ferguson really was a launch-pad to talk about the gospel and race and the church's (our) responsibility to lead the way in practicing racial healing in our communities. As we listened to our black brothers' stories of their own experiences of being treated unjustly by law enforcement (as well as stories of being shown mercy by white officers) I realized that the question, "How should we respond to Ferguson?" is itself a "white" question. It means white pastors like me haven't been paying attention all along. It means, sadly, that it takes a nation-wide reaction to events like those in Ferguson (and New York, and, and, and) to get our attention where we finally say, "Hey what's all the fuss about?" Wrong question. The right question is "How do we respond to the 'sin problem not the skin problem'?" as one of our brothers put it. As a white pastor in the greater Detroit area, I have much to learn. I need to take a posture of intentional listening. I will never truly understand what it is like to be a black man in this country. But I can listen and care and be part of the solution by proclaiming and living out the Gospel which says of Jesus, "For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility." (Ephesians 2:14-16).

My friend, Pastor Tyler P. St.Clair, has blogged on some practical steps to make this residual benefit of the Gospel our aim as we, the Church of Jesus Christ, lead the way in "Building bridges with broken pieces" and has given me permission to repost them here.... (you can read the original at  http://tmblr.co/ZtWhQw1X6LFDp)

Moving Forward: Building bridges with broken pieces

By now, you know story of the death of Mike Brown and the grand jury’s ruling in Ferguson, MO.  Now, Mike Brown’s family is left to mourn.  Officer Wilson’s life will never be the same.  Multitudes have grieved.  Many have marched.  Many have protested.  Some have looted and destroyed property. (I believe they are an isolated minoritycontrary to the media’s coverage of the backlash).

The whole country lost. No one won. 

Now that the literal flames in Ferguson, MO are out, it is time to quench the figurative flames across America.  It is time for true, tangible racial harmony in America.   

I am fully persuaded that if racial harmony (not just equal rights or tolerance) will ever be prominent and pervasive in America it must start in the churches of America.  Despite serving a God who delights in diversity, and a King who is weaving together a multicultural tapestry (Ephesians 2:11-22, Galatians 3:28, Revelation 7:9), historically the church of America has not aligned itself with The Lord’s agenda.  Instead of the eclectic melting pot of gumbo we see in the New Testament, the vast majority of American churches are sharply divided by race and economic class.  Frankly, we have just handled race and diversity badly. 

For example, in 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was met with harsh criticism and was later denounced for peacefully protesting Jim Crow laws by his fellow ministers of The Gospel in the state of Alabama.  Even world renowned Evangelist, Billy Graham (yes, that Billy Graham!) PUBLICALLY discouraged King’s efforts. (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9501E4D81339E43BBC4052DFB2668388679EDE#) After marching and being arrested, Dr. King penned his now famous, “Letter From Birmingham Jail” (a must read) addressing his opposition from white clergy.  Many denominations like the A.M.E. and C.O.G.I.C. were founded because black persons were not allowed to worship in white churches.  

Black Christians are just as culpable for this gaping chasm in the church in America.  Although many black denominations were spawned out discrimination, we must model the forgiveness and grace of The Lord Jesus Christ.  Many preach a gospel of liberation, but are bound by resentment and prejudice toward whites.  Many preach a gospel of forgiveness, but have not forgiven their former oppressors.

So where do we go from here?  How do we began healing?  How can we better coexist racially?  How can our local churches look more like Revelation 7:9  “…every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…” and Sunday at 11:00 a.m. not be the most segregated time of the week?

This is NOT a magic bullet or secret solution, but here are some things I think we could do to see progress:

Open your heart

  • Be sympathetic and gracious towards those who are different from you racially, gender wise and socioeconomically.

  • Acknowledge your ignorance about other’s culture and ask for grace to learn.

Open your minds

  • Don’t make assumptions.  If you are not a part of the culture, you don’t know about it.

  • Ask questions before you give solutions/judgments.

  • Read and learn about others’ history that is not your own, i.e. black Americans, Native Americans, Latin Americans, etc.

Open your eyes

  • Look for possible injustice or oppression and address it.

  • Find opportunities to serve, bless and make your presence known in communities other than your own.

  • Look for opportunities to connect and serve with other believers/churches to edify and show Christ to your city/region.

Open your hands

  • Be intentional about establishing relationships with people of different cultures.

  • Experience their culture via worshiping in their context, going through where they live and meeting people who are totally different from you.

  • Allocate resources to those who are disenfranchised, under-resourced.

Unfortunately, when racial tensions begin to boil over in America, the ignored and unresolved issues in the American church rise as well.  We can’t wait for the next tragedy.  Let  us get out of our comfort zones, have those hard conversations and reach out and work toward substantial progress.  As the The Lord Jesus Christ’s Church, let racial harmony begin with us as we model it for our country.

Peace,

TPS