In my last post, “Is God Black Like Me?” I shared my personal experience reconciling the contextual history of being Black with my belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Following that post nine members of Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, affectionately known as Mother Emmanuel Church, were slain during their weekly Bible study. It was a sobering moment not only for the faith community, but also the nation as a whole. Deepening the blow are subsequent reports of arson in churches across the South.
In light of the recent events, I would like to pivot on the topic of race to humbly offer practical tips on how we—the collective church—can move from discussing how to simply create dialogue about race to being on the front lines of racial reconciliation in our country and, ultimately (optimistically), our world.
To help frame our approach with racial discord I would like to first offer a commonly overlooked reminder: Before the work of Christ we were—whether Black, White, Hispanic, or Asian—the oppressed minority. In antiquity, if people were not born of pure Jewish blood, they were cast as a Gentile, existing outside any echelon of political and theological standing in society. It was God’s grace that tore back the veil of dogma, pragmatism, and oppressive barriers through the atonement of Jesus. And because of that grace each of us can be saved from a life of spiritual death. God opened the expanse of His kingdom to welcome us in. And He calls us to the same level of benevolence.
So why then do we not hold this truth as central to our treatment of those whose complexions differ?
Perhaps we do not understand the depth of grace we have at our disposal. I came to Christ when I saw the unwavering persistence of His love for me. Jesus’ death on the cross, the promise of the Holy Spirit, the gift of eternity, the redemption of my broken life and heart buckled me to my needs in gratitude. Not only did I begin to see myself through a new lens; I saw others with fresh eyes too. God began softening my heart toward what softens His heart. At the top of that list are His people.
There is no better way to illustrate how God opened my eyes to grace than by recounting my experience with a close friend’s struggle with homosexuality. My friend, “Pam,” spent most of her young adult life ostracized by her family because of her sexual orientation. Her church community expressed their disdain of her choices and ousted her from the spiritual family. While I did not understand her personal struggle, I empathized with the unfair judgments that were passed on Pam simply because of who she was. It was through our friendship—a friendship filled with challenging, opposing views—I learned to look past our differences and see Pam as a child saved by God’s grace. I learned to see Pam as a woman, who, like me, had fears, hopes, and dreams and desperately needed God’s love.
I also learned to be like Jesus in Pam’s life by laying down my personal biases to show her unconditional love in the face of my inability to understand what made her different from me. I decided to remain a consistent friend to her, even if she was gay. We had the hard conversations about God’s intention and sexuality; and we prayed together when our human frailty could bring us no closer to mutual understanding. Our friendship has since blossomed to one where authenticity, agape love, and compassion run free.
If we are to be a living representation of a living God, we are going to have to start seeing God’s children as He does. This requires extending impeccable, glorious grace.
Here’s how we practically bring grace into communities, races, ideals, and theology that differ from our own:
Grace calls us to lead with love when it is easier to be apathetic. It means that we hold back our judgments against those who look different or whose life choices do not align with our own. Further, as the body of Christ we should not passively stand on the sidelines as our brothers and sisters of any background are marginalized. We must find courage and strength to speak out against unfairness and injustice by having honest conversations with those who are marginalizing. And as we gracefully engage in conversations, we should remember to speak life and use prudent discernment in bringing forth God’s love.
Grace allows us to uphold the mantle of righteousness and justice for those who are oppressed. One way to do this is by serving in communities that are, in any form, oppressed, even if those communities are of different backgrounds. For the past two years I have served as a volunteer in one of DC’s most depressed neighborhoods through Horton’s Kids. My time with the children and adults of this community has kept the posture of my heart empathetic and reminded me that, no matter our differences, God’s desire is to set us free from all forms of bondage. He does this by working through His body—the church. We cannot be effective disciples or bear witness to God’s love by allowing our biases to keep us from doing the work that needs to be done.
Through our tangible, faith-led labor and empathy we become lights of hope in a world hell-bent on being darkened.
Grace calls us to open the door to others no matter their background. For those of us with any level of privilege, whether that is being Caucasian, male, or heterosexual, we should reach across the lines of that privilege and hear the needs of those who, because of their differences, are not afforded privilege. For my friend Pam, she needed to know her spiritual family could accept her. For me, I needed the assurance that issues facing Black people would be as important to the church. On the other side of those doors should be men and women willing to listen, serve, and love unconditionally.
We are free because of the grace freely given by God. As President Obama emphatically expressed, we did not earn this grace and none of us deserve it. We have freedom and the promise of everlasting life simply because God has bestowed upon us His great love. In the face of such love we should be compelled to extend the same openness.
As we encounter some of the greatest racial tension we’ve seen since the turn of the century, let’s be like our Father in heaven, who delights in our differences while loving us all the same. Let us dance together, brothers and sisters, from every walk of life, in the glory of amazing grace.