About a month ago, I heard whispers of a conference that the ERLC and TGC (Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission and The Gospel Coalition) would be putting on in remembrance of Martin Luther King Junior’s passing half a century ago this month.
The conference would address our continuing problem of disunity in the church among various races in America. Though I have a lot of faith in the ERLC and TGC to address issues of race, my heart and head wondered what kinds of things would be said.
Last year, Lecrae made a statement that he was divorcing white evangelicalism. It was jarring to hear. The word “evangelicalism” has been thrown around so much in relation to 2016’s election that it has become a word to describe Christians who dismiss the wrong-doings of our current president in the name of conservatism.
In the name of Christ, “evangelicals” have been dismissing the hearts of their African American brothers and sisters. They have been telling Lecrae and other black men in positions of fame to stop using their platform to share their experience and “get back to their jobs”. So when we are working with that definition of evangelicalism, can you blame him?
The word “evangelical” means of according to the teaching of the Gospel. The Gospel. The Gospel for which Jesus came off of His throne to teach the loving of the oppressed. The Gospel for which Jesus died a bloody death so that people from every tribe, tongue, and nation could stand before the King and sing, “Worthy is the Lamb!” The Gospel is the good news of Jesus.
Not the good news of America.
And the Gospel does not preach that white-anglos are His chosen people. The Gospel is headed up by a homeless middle eastern man. Not the pulpit of the early United States.
We know that. We preach that, but we do not live that. We are more concerned with someone disrespecting our country than we are defacing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So to hear that Evangelical Christians would be putting on a conference seeking racial unity was encouraging to hear. It was also scary.
Right now, I am sitting on my living room couch one-thousand times thankful that that conference happened. My husband is in the room beside of me, and He is thankful. Mark my word that I believe the MLK50 Conference is the beginning of a different, more Gospel, Evangelical movement. It might not be as big. It might not be as popular. It might rattle the clingings of the church.
Mark my word that I believe that there will be pastors who preach this new kind of racial unity that are kicked from their pulpits. They will be seen as too political. Yet when they deny some of the politics of the right, they will be scolded for their lack of political knowledge.
This conference called for racial unity. But not racial unity that comes in as a white savior to save the wicked from their ways. This racial unity recognized the horrific actions that have been taken by this country. This racial unity recognizes that there are whole communities of people who are disenfranchised because of slavery to this day. This racial unity says, “I’m sorry that I benefit from the sins of my ancestors while you have to fight tooth and nail to be seen as trustworthy. I’m sorry that I can walk down the street in whatever I want, but when you throw up your hood to keep warm, you are scoffed as a thug. I’m sorry that I have been so remiss in your continual awareness of your skin color while I go through life not even considering mine. I’m sorry that I have not asked. I’m sorry that I have not listened.”
This racial unity will be hated and spat upon. But my, will it be encouraging to eyes and ears like mine. My heart is one who has had to say those words. My heart is one who still has to say those words. And the MLK50 conference reminded me that I am not alone in that.
I am encouraged that we have been challenged to repent–not rebrand.
In the first hour of the conference, Russell Moore made a statement that shook my entire idea of the church’s unity culture. He challenged us that the key to racial unity is repentance–not rebranding.
I can hear you say, “But I didn’t do anything! I didn’t own slaves, and I don’t treat people who don’t look like me any differently.”
I can hear you say it because I once said it.
You’re right. None of us lived at the time when slavery ravaged the shores of Africa that the coast of America might be built strong. None of us sang worship songs in the morning and came home to assert ourselves as God over another at night.
And yet, we have been so quick to dismiss those actions. We have spent one week on slavery in American History when it went on for over half this country’s history then continued to see the African American brother and sister as legally less than until deep into the twentieth century.
We have stood by, mouth shut, indifferent. And until we recognize that, no amount of Gospel music or jean-wearing culture will diversify our churches. Maybe in generations, not in races. They won’t feel welcome because we won’t weep with them. We won’t mourn with them. And they would be absolutely correct in that feeling.
I am encouraged that my community was called to start listening.
There came a time in my early dating relationship where the Holy Spirit shut my mouth. I liked to play “devil’s advocate” when my now husband would explain issues of systematic racism and discrimination to me; all the while, I didn’t realize I was truly being the devil’s advocate.
I remember a moment during a heated discussion about police brutality that I could no longer hear the arguments swirling around in my head. I could only hear the tears that flowed from the other side of the phone line.
It was not until that moment that I understood where I had been standing. I had been standing on the side that challenged my love for this brother in Christ. His heart was aching. Yet I was only willing to challenge him. I was only willing to dispute him. I was only willing to loudly shout, “Not all of them!” when he was never saying “all of them”. He was just asking to be heard.
The MLK50 conference put many white people in a position where we literally could not speak back. We could turn off the screen, yes. But if we were to watch, we were forced to listen. Can I challenge you to do the same? Listen. And not only to the voices of African American’s you agree with! These are a people who are independent in thought and heart. Listen to those who challenge you. Listen to those you don’t agree with automatically. Then go home and reflect. The thumbnail beside this paragraph will lead you to an MLK50 conference video. Go watch and listen.
I am encouraged by the amount of learning I still have to do.
The MLK50 conference also challenged me to stop thinking that I have all my ducks in a row when it comes to issues of race.
Can I let you in on a sinful side of my heart? I am very quick to think that because I have a black husband, that I am “aware enough”. Because I am willing to listen, that I have learned it all.
Watching this conference brought me right out of that mindset and put me on my face before the Lord. I learned about my wrong tendencies to see unity as bringing people to us rather than going out of our way to learn from them. I learned about our corrupt education system. I learned more about how I had been part of building these lies within others.
I learned how silent I tend to be when I am afraid to speak up.
And I have much more to learn than I could even know now.
I am encouraged that my children might grow up in a different kind of Church.
I am not yet a mother, but I plan on being one day soon. I am also aware that I will be a white woman raising a child that will struggle to find identity. I will be raising a child that the world looks at as black. They will have to fight past the stereotypes. They will have to work harder to be given credit. They will have to watch what they wear.
I am encouraged, I am hopeful that they will have to think a little less about this in their church. I am hopeful that they might not be dismissed when they bring up how they have been hurt by racism. I am encouraged that the church might mourn with them. I am encouraged that they might stand alongside me.
I am encouraged that I might not be the only white person in their life willing to listen to them.
I know that they will be hurt by people who think their intentions are pure. I also know that when that happens, we will have a resource in the MLK50 conference to turn them to.
Christian, I beg of you, watch this conference. Take notes. Email me with questions afterward. My husband and I would love to answer them. Christian, hear the hearts of your brother and sister who cry.
You can say, “I didn’t realize,” once. But do not allow it to be any more than that. Let us mourn our sin of turning away from this reality right before we run into the arms of Jesus who, by His Holy Spirit, will give us the strength to turn around and help make justice on this earth.
I am encouraged by the MLK50 conference. I am encouraged that the Evangelical movement will take on a new face. That we will proclaim the Gospel, and we will do it as we celebrate the colors God placed across His church rather than turning a blind eye to them.
I am encouraged that we’ve still got a lot of work to do. I am encouraged that God is using His church to do it.