God’s vision of reconciliation for people – both to Himself and to one another – fell fresh on my heart as I recently read these words of Jesus:
“’I say to you that many will come from the east and the west and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11).
Revelation 7:9 and 2 Corinthians 5:17 are two go-to passages for an apologetic of racial reconciliation, but I am clinging as of late to this vision of a table set in heaven for those “from the east and the west,” taking their places to feast.
Once exposed to racial disparities, many (particularly white brothers and sisters) might not know what steps to take to actively work toward racial reconciliation—toward this table that will be set in Heaven—in their churches, communities, nation and world.
I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but here are some suggestions from my personal experience.
1. Confront your own sins of racism, prejudice and bias.
It is so ingrained in our society to “other-ize” those different from us. Such sins are oftentimes hidden, even from ourselves.
When tendencies to other-ize someone based on race surface inside of me, I remember David’s prayer in Psalm 19:12: “Who can discern his [own] errors? Acquit me from hidden faults.”
David’s prayer reminds me that we lack awareness of our own sins. Spend some time in prayer today asking God to reveal deep-seated prejudices and biases that might hide away in your heart.
2. Expand your knowledge of history.
It is likely you have received a whitewashed view of history from grade school and college. By “whitewashed,” I mean that you mainly learned about the history of white Americans as told through the perspectives of white Americans.
That’s a lot of whiteness.
But the beauty of the table set in heaven is that those “from the east and the west” share their own stories.
So begin to expand your knowledge of history.
First, read historical accounts and narratives through the eyes of other ethnicities.
I took a course on African American literature in college, and now I identify that experience as a turning point in my life away from apathy about racial disparities because of the reading assignments and classroom discussions.
Second, read history with a critical eye of the angle from which it’s told.
I always learned that the Civil War was fought over “states’ rights” and the economy. However, my home state of Mississippi’s “Declaration of Succession” leaves no room for nuance:
It is important to understand history from the perspectives of people of color.
3. Expand your knowledge of your context’s history.
This effort is equally important. Think about your context.
Have you ever questioned why “that’s just the way things are” when it comes to racial disparities in your community? Do “white flight” schools exist? Does the company you work for only have white leadership, yet many people of color are employees? Do children of color sit separately from white children in the cafeteria? Is your city a major city for refugee resettlement? What are the stories of indigenous people where you live?
There are great resources and extensive research for understanding the history behind “the way things are” when it comes to race. For example, if you wonder why Sunday mornings still seem so segregated, read Divided by Faith by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith.
One of my contexts is the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), a denomination founded in 1845 after splitting from Northern Baptists over the latter’s refusal to support missionaries who were slaveholders. An awareness of this history makes me more empathetic towards my black brother or sister’s hesitancy to associate with the SBC.
Once you are aware of your context’s history, you can better understand your Christian brothers and sisters’ experiences and perspectives and advocate for change where it is needed.
4. Listen and learn from people of different ethnicities.
The law of attraction states that “like attracts like.” We often follow and listen to people who look like us.
Your social media accounts likely reveal this. If you do not do so already, follow people of different ethnicities. Follow news outlets that center on the perspectives of people of color.
Think about the authors of the books you read. Evaluate what podcasts, music and media you consume.
This is especially necessary for the Christian’s spiritual formation. If we will be seated at heaven’s table with people from the east and west, we should not wait until then to learn from our brothers and sisters around the world.
Broaden the list of spiritual teachers and mentors from which you learn. Listen to different genres of worship music. As you do this, God will challenge the implications about Himself of the truth that all people are made in His image, according to Genesis 1:27.
5. Resist the urge to dismiss racial reconciliation as a “political issue” rather than a gospel issue.
Satan has hijacked and politicized racial reconciliation, which is God’s intent for His church. Racial reconciliation is first and foremost God’s idea and is woven into the fabric of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.
Yes, when you begin to love your neighbor as Scripture commands, you cannot help but consider how politics affects your neighbor. But the command to love and be reconciled to your neighbor is not political. It’s biblical. As Christians, it is not optional. Racial reconciliation is not a cause for salvation, but it’s certainly one of its effects.
6. Resist the urge to also dismiss systemic problems in favor of poor choices.
Many people believe that one’s circumstances are always determined by their choices. This is a hurdle particularly for white brothers and sisters, including myself.
When I first heard of systemic problems that cause racial disparities, I admittedly was hesitant to learn more. I was like many: I understood one’s experience in the world as solely determined by his or her choices.
Then I realized an inconsistency in my worldview. I would not say the same about children born in war-torn Mosul or orphans born in India’s caste system. So why would I not entertain the idea that factors beyond one’s individual choices affect Americans, too?
It is true that there are countless imperative commands in Scripture, lending evidence to our ability to make choices.
But this does not mean that systems are immune to sin. If creation itself is “groaning” from the effects of sin, according to Romans 8:22, how much more are systems—controlled by fallen and sinful people—groaning from the effects of sin?
If the concept of systemic injustices or institutional racism is new to you, do not dismiss it simply because it creates a tension with your view of freewill determinism.
Watch 13th to learn more about America’s history of mass incarceration. Learn about the creation of race as a social construct. Investigate racial disparities in Hollywood and how that affects your perceptions of other ethnicities.
Sit in the discomfort. Ask God for wisdom, openness and empathy when exposed to new information. God did not create you with a fear for complexities, and He will see you through them.
7. Join or start a conversation about racial reconciliation.
Talking about race with others of different races might sound terrifying if you are new to this conversation, but you cannot empathize with what you do not know.
Similarly to my college course in African American literature, starting a conversation with other Christians of color regarding racial disparities and reconciliation was pivotal for me.
Emerson writes in Divided by Faith, “For relatively non-isolated [people], the race problem is neither a creation of the media nor does it persist only because some try to make it an issue. The race problem is real.”
When I began to live in true community rather than mere proximity with people who were different from me, it became clear that racism is real. As women of color close in age to me shared their very different experiences, I also realized how important and biblical it was to acknowledge (rather than colorblindness) of our ethnic differences.
Start the conversation if you have not already. For a biblical approach to racial reconciliation, I highly recommend an organization called Be the Bridge, which offers a biblical conversation guide designed to be an “on-ramp” for racial reconciliation in the Church.
These are not the only steps to take toward racial reconciliation, but they are steps that you can take today.
If you missed previous posts from this series, you can also read them here:
Part 3: Racism and the Way of Jesus
Part 4: What’s Next: 7 Suggestions for Racial Reconciliation
I realized when she asked that I’d admittedly assumed people were just tracking with me.
So I’ve decided to address this fundamental and important question in a four-part blog series this summer. I cannot speak as a voice of authority on people of color’s experiences.
But I can testify to my own experience. Please leave comments or questions, and let’s learn together.