Five Racial Reconciliation Conversations that Must Take Place in the Church
Updated: Jan 27, 2022
The First Conversation: The "It's a Problem" Conversation
The first step to solving a problem is admitting there is one, and there’s a problem--a big one. The Black church and the White church need to talk about racial reconciliation precisely because there exist such things as Black churches and White churches!
There’s seems to be no end to the political and social issues regarding the divisions between White people and Black people in our culture, but the one issue that should most concern followers of Jesus is the undeniable segregation within our congregations. We can’t solve the world’s racial problems. They’ve always existed, and they will always exist. But we can work to fellowship together in unity within the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. The church should be leading the way rather than being dragged along by the culture.
Of course, many churches simply cannot be multicultural congregations because they are located far from any potential multicultural congregants. The only legitimate reason, however, for churches to be divided as churches that could accurately be described as either “Black” or “White” is the inability or impracticality, despite the desire to do so, for Black and White Christians to fellowship together in one congregation. In other words, the gospel demands that all followers of Jesus be united in Christ in spite of any cultural, social, stylistic, etc. differences. Frankly, we all know that geography is not the reason many churches remain segregated.
The Most Important Conversation: The Theological Conversation
The most important conversation the church needs to have is the theological conversation. We all need to get our noses in our Bibles, and we need local pastors, denominational leaders, and the great theological minds of conservative evangelicalism to lead the way in developing a robust theology of racial reconciliation. Does Ephesians 2:11-22 continue Paul’s discussion of the essence of the gospel or does he shift gears to talk about an implication of the gospel? In many ways, whether horizontal reconciliation with our brothers and sisters in Christ is the essence of the gospel or an implication of the gospel matters little to the practical outworking of racial reconciliation—it is still a gospel issue whether by implication or essence. God’s people, however, must be a robustly theological and biblical people. We must do the hard work of clarifying where the gospel ends and where the implications of the gospel begin.
Beyond the gospel essence/implication issue, we need to get our knees to the ground in prayer and our faces into God’s Word to address theological issues such as poverty, justice, multiculturalism, and many more. If you’re theologically and politically conservative, like I am, you might recoil at even the mention of those terms. That’s what “woke” people talk about! Well, it's also what the Bible talks about! That is exactly why we need to develop robust biblical understandings of these concepts and apply them to the issues of our day.
The Bible has so much to say about these issues, and only the church, clinging tightly to God's Word, has any hope of speaking the full and whole truth about them. In addition to the work of local pastors and denominational leaders, I envision something akin to the racial reconciliation version of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Some efforts have been made, but the development of biblically robust theology requires an intentionally particular, long-term, and methodical process. More work needs to be done.
The Overdue Conversation: The Conversation Where White Christians Listen
Ontologically, no conversation is more important than the theological conversation. Relationally, no conversation is more important than the one where Black Christians speak and White Christians listen. For White Christians, issues of race are mostly theoretical and slightly experiential. The opposite is true for Black Christians. Their thoughts about racial issues are formed in the fire of experience. And many Black Christians think that White Christians don't care about their experiences and opinions.
I don’t always have to agree with my brother’s point of view, but I at least owe him the honor of listening to his experiences. I refuse to let social media, mainstream media, or some talking head I’ve never met influence me more than a brother in Christ. “But,” some would rebut, “I don’t agree with some of the theology I see in the Black church.” Neither do I. Even more so, I don’t agree with much of the theology of Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Jordan Peterson, and Ben Shapiro.
Furthermore, there are dear brothers in Christ with whom I agree almost completely in theology and even church praxis. Some of them are White. Some of them are Black. Those are the voices I want to listen to the most. Those brothers deepen my understanding of and love for God’s Word, the gospel, Christ, and the church.
The Most Awkward Conversation: The Conversation Where Black Christians Listen
This is perhaps the most controversial conversation, but it must happen. Black people in general and Black Christians specifically often feel like their voice is not heard. It might be hard to believe, but White Christians often feel the same way. In fact, many White Christians don’t express what they really think about specific racial issues because they are afraid of being labeled as racists. That’s not helpful.
Furthermore, White Christians feel like their experiences are discounted because they aren’t Black. Yes, that is a real perception among White Christians. Much like our Black brothers and sisters, White Christians sometimes feel like they are caricatured, stereotyped, oversimplified, and vilified.
I’ve been blessed to have Black friends who were close enough for me to have frank and otherwise impossible conversations about racial issues. Sometimes those conversations have changed my perspective on an issue. Other times, I’ve become more convinced of my original position. In all cases, I’ve walked away from the conversation with a stronger relationship with my Black brothers and sisters in Christ, and I’m thankful for those friendships and conversations.
The Most Powerful Conversation: The Conversation Around the Dinner Table
How can a church diversify its leadership? I was often asked that question when I pastored a multicultural church in Miami, Florida. My answer was always the same. We have diverse leaders because we develop leaders among diverse people. We develop leaders among diverse people because we are regularly discipling diverse people. We regularly disciple diverse people because we regularly reach diverse people. We regularly reach diverse people because we have real-world relationships with diverse people. The pathway to diverse leadership in our church was relationship--> membership --> discipleship --> leadership. Similarly, the pathway to racial reconciliation in the church starts with friendship.
You can't control what happens across our nation, but you can control who sits around your dinner table. If we have any hope of seeing real movement on racial reconciliation in the church, it must start with real friendships between Black and White Christians. Have coffee, have lunch, have dinner, and have conversations. Talk about Jesus and Scripture and church and your kids and sports and anything else important in your lives. Be real friends. I’m not talking about the “I’ve got a Black friend” kind of friend. I’m talking about the kind of friend you vacation with.
Dinner table conversations will do more to address the racial tension in our churches than all the other conversations combined. So, who’s coming to dinner?