30 Steps Toward Racial Reconciliation

CVC’s Founding Pastor Rick Duncan wrote a blog that we wanted to share as a follow up to Pastor Chad’s message on Racial Unity this past Sunday.

I wish I had said more. I wish I had done more. I wish I had been more. 

I had a chance. I was aware of the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s. As a 9th grader, I was coming of age when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. But I was a white, self-absorbed teen who, frankly, didn’t think enough or care enough about social justice issues. 

I had relational connections where I could have learned how to make a difference. For 3 years, I played high school basketball on a team with a majority of black athletes. In college, I roomed one summer semester with Steve Chandler, the first black baseball player at Vanderbilt. I played in the outfield in pro baseball with future big league players who were black: Gene Richards, Dave Edwards, Gary Ward, Gary Redus, and Eddie Milner. 

After we planted Cuyahoga Valley Church near Cleveland, Ohio, the first church that CVC planted was a church to reach a predominantly black community in Warrensville Heights, Ohio. That church, Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, is still going strong in nearby Bedford, Ohio under the leadership of Pastor Steve Owens. Next, we called Sam Jackson, a black West Point appointee and a graduate of Columbia Biblical Seminary, to plant an urban church plant in Cleveland. We also supported him when he left us to go to Detroit to plant a church. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of serving on a wide variety of ministry teams with black leaders. 

So, I had opportunity after opportunity to be better friends with and more supportive of my African American brothers. I could have stood with them against various kinds of discrimination. But I didn’t know enough. I didn’t drill deep enough into the issues. I didn’t say enough. I didn’t do enough. That ultimately means that I didn’t care enough. And I now repent. 

I don’t know how many more years God is going to give me in ministry leadership. But with whatever time I have left, I want to do better and be better. So, lately I’ve been talking to my black friends. I’ve been watching films about racial justice issues. I’ve been reading books like The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby and Advocates by Dhati Lewis.

I’ve been asking, “What does repentance look like for me? What does it look like for predominantly white churches?” As I’ve participated on Facebook Live panel discussions with black pastors, as I’ve conversed with black friends, as I’ve read books and watched podcasts, I’ve been making notes. Dhati Lewis, in his section “How Do We Get There?” tells us how to represent (or REP) Christ well: Reflect personally, Empathize corporately, and Pursue reconciliation (p. 88). Jamar Tisby, in his chapter “The Fierce Urgency of Now,” uses ARC to challenge us toward Awareness, Relationships, and Commitment (p. 195). 

To help me remember what steps I should take next, I’m personally using the acronym PEACE, a word repeated in an important passage about racial reconciliation. [Jesus] 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 expressed in 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. And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near (Ephesians 2:14-17, EVS).

30 Steps to Take Toward a Greater PEACE…

Personhood

  • Build friendships with people of color. 
  • Have friends of another color in your home for a meal.
  • Hang out in new places where you will meet people of color.
  • Call your friends of another color regularly. 
  • Listen to your black and brown friends tell their personal stories of being discriminated against. 
  • Refuse to dehumanize anyone who shares a different view than you. 

Education

  • Watch documentaries and films about racial injustice. 
  • Read books written by black and brown authors. 
  • Diversify your social media input.
  • Visit websites maintained by people of color. 
  • Visit museums dedicated to issues surrounding racial justice. 
  • Read black theologians and commentators. 
  • Sing and explain worship songs written by people of color. 
  • As you read the Bible, look for scripture that promotes racial harmony.
  • Identify how your heart, history, and heritage plays a role in your own cultural bias. 

Action

  • Join an organization that advocates for racial and social justice. 
  • Speak to candidates and elected officials about their political positions.
  • Create something – like a picture, a song, a blog post, a video, a poem, an article, a letter to the editor – that addresses the issue.
  • Vote for proactive candidates who have a track record of pursuing justice. 
  • Confront others when disparaging remarks are made about black and brown people. 
  • Be careful how you share the words of leaders who practiced slavery. 
  • Remember to use your privileges well. 

Contributions

  • Fund black-led church plants
  • Support bi-vocational black pastors
  • Help black pastoral students with their tuition

Empowerment

  • Encourage seminaries and colleges to hire people of color. 
  • Encourage churches to hire people of color. 
  • Work toward having black and brown people on committees, in conferences, and on panels.
  • Quote black leaders and pastors. 
  • Quote black theologians and commentators. 

What would you add to this list? 

God’s people have been called to walk on the “highway of holiness.” On one side of that highway is a ditch where the gospel message is maximized and social justice is minimized. On the other side of that highway is a ditch where social justice is maximized and the gospel message is minimized. We must avoid the ditches. Isn’t it glorious that the holistic gospel actually includes racial reconciliation (II Corinthians 5:18)? We don’t have to promote racial reconciliation at the expense of the gospel. And we don’t have to promote the gospel at the expense of racial reconciliation. 

In a review of Tisby’s book on The Gospel Coalition’s website, Daniel K. Williams writes, “A simple proclamation of a narrowly defined version of the gospel, without application of God’s moral law, is unlikely to correct spiritual blindness and sins. Biblical teaching on God’s call for justice in social relationships and on specific ways in which whites can love their neighbors of another race is required. And when white Christians see ways in which their own church traditions’ records on race are laced with sin, they should admit the wrong and seek justice and racial reconciliation.”

In one of my first calls to a black friend who is a pastor I asked, “What can I do?” He gave me four words that resoundingly are echoing in my soul: “Use your privilege well.” 

I have big-time regrets that I have not leveraged my blessings as well as I should have. I should have been a louder voice. I should worked more toward racial reconciliation with the influence God entrusted to me. That’s why I’m now telling the younger leaders around me, “Don’t end up with the same regrets that I’m experiencing. Take the years you have left and use them well.” 

Tisby’s book ends with a Christiological call to courageous leadership. “Jesus crossed every barrier between people, including the greatest barrier of all – the division between God and humankind. He is our peace, and because of His life, death, resurrection and coming return, those who believe in Jesus not only have God’s presence with us but in us through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we have the power, through God, to leave behind the compromised Christianity that makes its peace with racism and to live out Christ’s call to a courageous faith.” 

So, what steps could you take to use your privilege better? What steps will you take? Who will help you? And when will you start? 

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