Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Map

Theology is like a map.

Some are content to study the map, learn its every nuance, and perhaps debate which elements hold the most merit, or whether one should use metric or standard measurements when charting the journey. From the safety of their study, they treasure the map above all else and pore over it together with their fellow map-enthusiasts. They issue stern warnings to all young travelers who would dare to tread the path. "Caution," they say, "the bogs and beasts are many." Never would they leave the comfort of their home, but for the map, and its correct reading, they would gladly lay down their lives (or so they say).

While others, eager for the journey, set out with haste to parts unknown. Their hearts are fearless and full of adventure. So excited to reach their destination, they have little need for maps. If they remembered to bring it, they may consult it from time to time (when it confirms the course they've chosen). But the journey is long, and the path is narrow. With the best intentions, they are likely to end up somewhere they don't want to be.

Pity the would-be adventurer who sets out without her map. But sadder still is he, with map in-hand, who never takes a single step. May we love the map, but, even more, may we love the place—the Person—to which it points.

Godspeed on the journey.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


I once saw some footage, taken shortly after World War II had ended, of a group of townspeople from Weimar, Germany who were being marched through the nearby Buchenwald concentration camp by Allied armed forces. The group of nicely dressed men and women, both young and old, began their trek with smirks on their faces as they casually strolled down the path to where unthinkable nightmares took place not months before. One by one the smiles disappeared as they were confronted with a table of human skin, harvested from the bodies of murdered Jews (horrifically used to create a grotesque lampshade and canvases for painting). They were then taken through the prisoners' “living quarters” (if we can call them that), and many of them staggered or fainted at the stench. Finally they were shown stacks of emaciated corpses, haphazardly piled up here and there, as if their murderers only took the time to shove them aside, making a path to carry on their sadistic work. When confronted with the handiwork of their complicity, many of the women screamed and looked away. How easy it is to judge them. How could they not have known? If I had lived during that time—if I saw my neighbors disappearing—I would have said something. I would have taken a stand, I tell myself. And yet I live in one of the darkest times in human history, where a finely tuned murderous machine of infanticidal industry dispassionately butchers over a million ill-timed unborn babies a year. Don't get me wrong, I am adamantly against the practice of abortion. If I am to be honest, though, I have become resigned to the permanence and the frequency of this heinous practice. Jaded, defeated, and outnumbered, I have gradually accepted things as they are.

More than 50 million babies have been killed since Roe vs. Wade—human sacrifices on the alter of the American Dream (Moloch is an amateur in comparison). As I sat at my computer watching one of the recent undercover videos starring Planned Parenthood, I couldn't help but think, “Dear God, what have we done?!” How have we let this happen for so long, to so many? Those of us in the Church may think of the recently released videos as a much needed “wake up call” for the multitude of naive abortion supporters (and that they are). But I found that I desperately needed to see them, as well. I needed to be graphically reminded of what goes on everyday all across America. I needed to repent of my slow-setting stupor of full-fledged apathy.

There are so many tragedies simultaneously occurring within our broken world (most are brought to our living rooms in real-time via 24-hour cable news) that I think we become calloused as a seemingly necessary defense mechanism. How am I to properly mourn the persecuted Church, with the frequent news of beheadings at the hands of ISIS, the injustice regularly perpetrated by global human trafficking rings, orphans and widows exploited in the world's poorest corners, and still have room in my heart to weep for the murdered unborn within my community and throughout my country, and all before breakfast? “No, I'll just let my heart become hardened,” we tell ourselves perhaps at some unconscious level. The conservative right's public shaming (via witty memes and indignant tweets) of those who mourned the recently slain lion seemed to fit into this line of thought. “We have a finite amount of empathy, and God forbid we waste it on an animal.” This approach does not sit well with me. My personal prayer is that God will enlarge my heart to look more like His. He seems to have an immense emotional spectrum that is nuanced enough to mourn the loss of a single fallen sparrow while simultaneously grieving over human genocidal massacres. Recognizing this tenderness of God, however, should not be seen as a challenge to Jesus' clear affirmation that we are “worth more” to Him than sparrows. I'm currently reading a collection of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's letters from prison in which he laments the loss of a bird that had nested near his window (if I remember correctly, or maybe it was in the prison yard). It struck me that he would have any compassion left for such a seemingly insignificant life in light of the mass-turmoil of his time, not to mention his own unfortunate predicament. I want a heart like that—a heart that feels more, not less.

It seems to me, however, that the murder of infants (with monumental indifference, no less) is of a particularly heinous variety of human depravity. It is fitting to note this. I am often frustrated by a large contingent of the Christian right that stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the importance of issues that are close to the heart of God like racial reconciliation and hospitality to immigrants (both documented and undocumented alike), but on the topic of abortion it is often the Christians on the left who remain shamefully silent. I would argue that there is no justice issue before us of greater importance. If a human being can ever be considered “innocent,” there is certainly none so innocent as an unborn baby. And of all who are vulnerable and voiceless, there are none more so than the unborn. The people of God are commanded to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” and to “ensure justice for those being crushed” (Proverbs 31:8). Throughout the pages of Holy Scripture, God consistently, explicitly, and redundantly reveals His heart for the marginalized, exploited, and oppressed of human societies (orphans, widows, the poor, immigrants, outcasts, and—undoubtedly—helpless, unborn human beings). It is truly tragic to me that I would have to spend words explaining this to a professing Christ-follower.

So I'm ready to fight again. I'm ashamed that I had pretty much given up. I admit that I don't know very much about politics, and I feel like abortion has become little more than a talking point, a dangling carrot, wielded by manipulative politicians (on both the left and the right). Those who are skilled in political and legal means of combating this great evil should, of course, pursue them to the fullest. I confess that I don't know how best to resist this darkness, but I refuse to be numbered with the silent, the indecisive, the apathetic, the passively culpable, the townspeople of Weimar.

We are commanded to not be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). Some fighters that I admire have made a point to avoid giving their money to companies that financially contribute to the murder of babies. This may be as simple as switching from Pepsi to Coke (a modest “cross to bear”). I'm usually against boycotts, and I'm pretty pessimistic about whether they can actually sway the targeted company. On this issue, however, I greatly respect the individual who says, “I will not be a passive participant to mass murder.” My wife pointed out to me that you should be sure to send a letter or email respectfully letting the company know why you are discontinuing their service (be sure to “speak up,” and make your voice heard). While you're at it, send letters and emails to local, state, and national politicians. They're supposed to work for us, right? Remind them that we find the current situation unjust and intolerable. These suggestions encompass the least of what we can do. I would propose that the Gospel ultimately requires more of us than stern letters and catchy memes plastered across our Facebook page.

Other fighters, who really inspire me to overcome evil with good, are welcoming previously unwanted or displaced children into their homes. Considering the shear number of professing Christ-followers in our country, there should never be a child left without a family. This is not something I suggest flippantly. This is definitely the long haul, put your money where your mouth is, loving out loud approach, and perhaps the purest form of a Gospel presentation I can think of. My own family has beautifully modeled this for me, and my wife and I are eagerly looking forward to the day when we can follow in their footsteps.

Most of all, we can cry out to God to shake us out of our apathy. We can align our hearts with His, and regularly beg Him to rescue and redeem (both the oppressor and the oppressed). I know a group of believers in my city that gathers daily to pray for our community and country. They faithfully confess sin and cry out to God to intervene. As American Christians, heirs to a proud legacy of rugged individualism, we have a difficult time identifying with collective guilt. The truth is, we collectively have an ocean of innocent blood on our hands. May we feel the weight of it. May the people of God lead the call to repentance. And by God's grace, may He keep our current outrage from drifting back into apathy.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Reflections on Human Brokenness

There is a rare psychological disorder called Pica in which the afflicted have a compulsion to eat inedible things. I once saw an interview of an individual suffering from this harmful abnormality who would regularly eat the contents of ashtrays. They knew their behavior was disturbing and detrimental, but they just couldn't help themselves. Humanity was created with an innate taste for Christ, the Tree of Life. God knew that once we tasted darkness we would lose our taste for everything else. So like any good father He forbade it. Believing a lie, humanity partook, and we have been craving acid, excrement, and ash ever since. The resulting toxins have poisoned our souls—always thirsty—always hungry—never satisfied. Jesus' ministry of restoration is about reviving, even resurrecting, our desire and capacity to drink deep of Him, the source of Living Water, and to feast on the Bread come down from Heaven. For this is eternal life (John 17:3).

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13). God seems to see the rejection of Life and the pursuit of death as two separate follies.  More than just foolishly refusing to partake of necessary nutrition, we actively seek to ingest poison. “Come, all you who are thirsty,” says the Lord, “come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare” (Isaiah 55:1-2).  We're generously invited to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8a). C.S. Lewis rightly says, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” 

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus elaborates on the nature of sin. He speaks of sin as if it is something living inside of us as a desire, a craving, before it manifests as an action. He expounds on the command regarding sexual faithfulness, for example, by explaining how the poison of adultery has already entered our soul before bodies ever touch. The deed has been done in the “privacy” of our mind when we chose to feast on a lie that promised nourishment. We often address the outside of the cup or dish, but it is the inside that is like a tomb full of rotting bones. All this time humanity thought sin was a list of bad things that we ought to avoid when it is, in fact, our appetites that have gone off the tracks. Jesus is crystal clear when He says that good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit. Likewise, James asks, “can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” This once and for all puts to bed the notion that we are “good people” who sometimes do bad things. We must stop trying to merely manage our sin and allow Jesus, the Great Physician, to address and heal our spiritual Pica.

I've heard people speak of Heaven as a place where they will be able to gorge themselves on all the rich foods they want without gaining any weight or becoming sick to their stomach. This sort of juvenile idea is missing the point of paradise restored and the present nature of fallen humanity. Instead of gorging ourselves without consequences, we'll know how to be satisfied with just enough. It's not the pesky consequences that are the trouble. It's the evil craving that wants more than its share.

Broken humans are given over to proportional excess. That is to say, it's not enough for me to merely have more than my share, I must also have more than you. My share is only acceptable or intolerable as it relates to your share. I believe Jesus reveals one of the most despicable yet common traits of fallen humanity with His story about the landowner and the day-laborers. If you remember the story, the landowner goes out early to hire laborers to work in his vineyard. He finds a crew, agrees on a fair price for a day's work, and sends them out to harvest his crops. He continues to recruit workers throughout the day, and hires the last batch with only an hour left until quitting time. When the day is done, the landowner reaches for his wallet. Beginning with the Johnny-come-lately group, he hands them each a day's wage. The guys that put in a full hard day's work are almost jumping out of their skin with excitement after seeing the landowner pay so much to the laborers who only worked one hour. They are certain that a huge bonus is coming their way. When the landowner gets to them, however, he promptly hands them what they had originally agreed upon, which just so happens to be what everyone got. The murmuring begins almost immediately. The landowner asks what the problem is, and the workers explain their frustration. The landowner reminds them that he's given them a fair wage—which they had originally happily agreed to—and it's only now, after witnessing his generosity, that they have become disgruntled. Jesus shines a spotlight on the putrid death that lurks in the hearts of humanity. “is your eye evil because I am good?” Wretched creatures that we are, it is common for us to feel envy, malice, and hatred toward those who have good fortune. We regularly feel robbed or slighted by others' good looks, better paying job, abundance of friends, etc. What an indicator of the evil at our core when generosity, others' good fortune—goodness—(which does nothing to affect our personal status) incites envious hatred in us. Suddenly our lot in life is not as agreeable as we had originally thought it.  Even in our darkest hour, why can't we simply gain joy from the good fortune of others? Perhaps we are broken beyond what we would care to admit.

Even in our rebirth, after God has poured His Spirit into us, accompanied by new desires and new cravings, we find that the old cravings linger. A war between the new life within us and the corrupted flesh that seeks to snuff it out rages daily. The Spirit of God and a rancid zombie-like corpse cannot peacefully coexist, and so we must daily put our flesh to death in order for the new cravings to take. Even the Apostle Paul finds that though he has been given a desire for filet mignon, he regularly finds his hand in the ashtray. In a moment of frustration and agony he exclaims, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” There's no way to sugarcoat it. The damage is extensive, worse than we may have feared or could have even imagined. But fortunately, the Rescuer is also far greater than we could have hoped or dreamed.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Why I (Now) Believe the Gospel Compels the Church to Seek Racial Reconciliation


If you ever want to make White people become edgy, defensive, and maybe a little bit indignant just bring up the topic of race in America or better yet mention “White privilege” and watch the ensuing fireworks. Believe me, I get it. I grew up a poor White kid. The last thing I felt was “privileged.” My dad was a minister, and, being one of eight kids, I knew from an early age that I was on my own when it came to buying my first car, paying for college, etc. I've had to work two jobs, seven days a week, at various times in my life just to make ends meet. The suggestion that I was somehow benefiting from my pale complexion seemed absurd. What's more, the implication that I was a “racist” or that I contribute to a racist system that favored me and harmed others was personally offensive. I subscribed fully to the “colorblind” mentality. If you asked me about race, I'd probably proudly assert that I “don't really notice skin color,” and that I “treat everyone the same.” I would of course agree that there are a few vile White racists living in our society (of the KKK and Swastika wielding variety), but they have long since been marginalized by the majority culture and currently posses very little influence. As a result, If you tried to convince me of the need for widespread racial reconciliation within our churches, communities, and culture, I would be left thoroughly unconvinced. I'd probably argue that “race isn't much of an issue anymore.” Flash forward to today—I now believe strongly that there are presently deep, festering, unacknowledged and unattended, racial wounds within our culture, our communities, and, most tragically, within Jesus' church. I also firmly believe that this unfortunate reality breaks the heart of God, and His Gospel, in no uncertain terms, compels His people to seek repentance, reconciliation and healing. Why the change of heart? I'm glad you asked.

Before I continue sharing my ideological journey, however, I'd like to offer up some preliminary clarifications. First off (if it's not already clear), I'm primarily writing to the people of God, those who are captivated by His Gospel and are passionately invested in living it out (with all of its wonderful and terrifying implications). All are free to read on, but—fair warning—there are many things I will say that will only make sense and/or be of interest to those who have already succumbed to the power of the Gospel. Second, I'm not at all interested in promoting a generic so called “White guilt.” You know what I mean—the kind that calls for trudging around with head hung low as you dutifully carry the weight of the knowledge that you are the product of and heir to an irredeemable ethnic heritage of imperialism and oppression. Simply knowing and proclaiming that you, as a White person, are the scum of the earth is your penance. It's the least you can do (quite literally). I find it narcissistic and ultimately unhelpful. The Bible describes a self-centered form of sorrow over wrong doing that does not lead to godly repentance. We would do well to steer clear of that sort of nonsense. Third, I would encourage that you hear what I have to say without immediately becoming intellectually defensive or dismissive (after which, you are of course free to disagree with me). When we feel threatened, we tend to dig our heels in and become hardened to the foreign idea that challenges our preconception. I find this natural, guarded stance to be antithetical to earnest learning. The Bible also warns us against an unwillingness to receive a rebuke or to hear counsel. He or she who will not listen has denied themselves any opportunity to grow in wisdom and understanding. Fourth (and understanding/accepting this point seems to be an insurmountable hurdle for most of the majority culture), systems that favor one group and/or punish another can be created and maintained by participants who harbor no particular malice toward the punished and have no awareness of the system at work. Finally (and this point is important), the suggestion that there may be unjust systems at work within our society that favor Whites and punish non-Whites is not to say that non-Whites are fatalistically incapable of succeeding within said system(s). Likewise, White individuals' accomplishments within this same unjust system are in no way negated or achieved without heroism or hardship. Said another way, a runner can still come in first even if they've unfairly been set back ten yards behind the other contestants, and another runner's course is not without difficulty in the event that they unknowingly had a ten yard head start. Setting out to discuss the initial fairness of the contest in no way expresses knowledge of the runners' final placement, and pointing to anecdotal evidences of individual achievements in no way refutes the claim that there was an injustice at work that should be addressed (to offer up your White grandpa's personal hardships or President Barack Obama's election to the highest political office as definitive evidences that White privilege or systemic racism no longer exist is to miss this point).

My first serious introduction to systemic racism and the pressing need for racial reconciliation was through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I volunteered with the dynamic college and university campus ministry for a year (an extremely rewarding experience). My staff leader during my time with IV was Amos Mbong, an African-American man from Cameroon. He had his team read A Transforming Vision: Multiethnic Fellowship in College and in the Church our first semester together, and we would gather weekly to discuss each chapter. I'm gonna be honest, I remember feeling like it was kind of a waste of time. I had a sense that there were more pressing issues to address. As a result, It was not uncommon for me to debate the merits and validity of the book's content at our meetings. Amos was patient with me (probably even more than I know). He and his wife, Emily, would regularly welcome us into their home. They would initiate and encourage frank discussions about race in a safe environment. Sometimes we would talk about foods and traditions that our families enjoyed (I was regularly surprised at how many things I had assumed were universal, or “normal,” yet were never a part of Amos' or other non-White student's experience). I find that White culture usually discourages this kind of discussion outside of one's own racial group. I guess the danger that one may misstep is considered too risky, so questions go unanswered. It became apparent that members of the majority culture have the luxury of determining whether or not they will engage in a discussion of race (hence the ability to declare race “no longer an issue” and therefore no longer worth discussing), while non-Whites, on the other hand, are unable to avoid the reality of race as a powerful cultural construct with vast real-world implications.

I learned that many non-Whites (especially Black Americans) have much they would like to share with their White friends, co-workers, and brothers/sisters in Christ. They often hold back, though, feeling that their stories will be once again dismissed, “explained,” or completely ignored. Perhaps they will be labeled another “angry Black person,” a “reverse racist,” or someone who is just impossible to please. When I inquired of the various Black people in my life, asking them to speak frankly, the stories flowed freely as if they had been penned up and were eager to be released. Common themes wove them together. It quickly became clear that their experiences with law enforcement, restaurant servers, educators, etc. were not typical of my experiences. The accounts came from non-White teachers, government employees—a diverse sampling of professionals that White culture would consider credible sources. The stories were too numerous to ignore. Am I saying that the White people in the stories were all racists? Not exactly. If only it were that simple.


Anatomy of an Unjust System

Systemic racism, a system or series of interacting systems that favors one racial group and/or punishes another, is undoubtedly the most widespread and damaging form of racism at work in our culture today. It is insidious because it goes unnoticed by the majority culture that both creates and maintains it. It often exists as a shared collection of presuppositions—arbitrary preferences and proclivities that are silently, even subconsciously, agreed upon and imposed as societal orthodoxy by the majority culture. The majority culture by shear numbers will always be the gatekeepers of society. It's no wonder that our preferences and predispositions are canonized as the norm, the standard by which all will be measured. When you stop to think about it, systemic racism is a natural, expected, perhaps inevitable byproduct of typical human selfishness. From a naturalist's perspective, one would be right to say, “so what?” “Of course the majority culture's preferences will become the standard.” “And why shouldn't they?” “If not ours than whose?” “Imagine you have ten people in a room with one television, where nine of them prefer American football as their sport of choice and only one is an ardent soccer fan—guess what they'll be watching.” The Christ-follower, however, is not permitted to think like this. We are commanded to set our preferences aside and to consider others as more important than ourselves. He or she who would be great in God's kingdom must become the servant of all. This is the Gospel way. More on this later.

The majority culture's unspoken preferences manifest on a spectrum that ranges from arguably benign to severely oppressive. They might be expressed as an arbitrary volume expectation for public spaces or a hairstyle or clothing type that's deemed “unprofessional.” In these instances, one might argue that the offending party could simply conform to the “rules” that the majority culture has agreed upon (changing one's dreadlocks, for example, to an approved hairstyle would be rewarded within such a system). Uncharitable as this expectation may be, it would at least present the minority member with a choice. But what of the instances where conformity is not even an option? What if one's complexion means “dangerous” or one's name says “uneducated” and “unemployable” in the majority cultures' arbitrary language? This could result in having one's application unconsciously passed over or even the loss of one's life in a split second decision where a heightened assumption of danger would make all the difference. Many of these presuppositions become self-fulfilling-prophecies. White property owners' investments can increase, for example, while non-White property owners' values inversely plummet all with the unspoken market perception that purchasing property in a White neighborhood is a safer investment. “But my neighborhood is diverse,” one might say. A measure of diversity is acceptable to the majority culture. There is a tipping point, however, that once reached the neighborhood starts to be seen as unfavorable by the market. That is when the White property owners are outnumbered by their non-White neighbors (so called “White flight” ensues). I would encourage further exploration into the shameful history of systemic racism in the real estate market (from loan procurement to market perceptions regarding racial demographics, partly perpetrated by benign data collection from government agencies that is then wielded by a majority culture's preconceptions and ultimately shapes the market and largely determines the geographic distribution of racial groups within a city). In short, the shared arbitrary perceptions of the majority culture can and do become concrete realities, sometimes with devastating results.

Human societies are like complex ecosystems. Most people are familiar with the peppered moth and how it's adaptation is used as an example of the mechanics of natural selection. The environment changed due to the Industrial Revolution, if I remember correctly, and the darker version of the peppered moth, which was previously rare, thrived among the newly soot-covered trees. Societal systems work in much the same way, favoring one trait over another. In some cases, as in nature, there is an objective relationship between the trait and its reward. Showing up to work on time, for example, may be rewarded with positive performance reviews, raises, and promotions (punctuality is highly valued by White culture as it lends itself nicely to another core value: efficient productivity). Human societies tend to reward traits with arguably objective value. The majority culture likes to think that our societal structures are comprised entirely of these sort of “correct,” “objective,” “normal,” and “true” guidelines. This assumption is based on blissful ignorance. Much if not most of our social ecosystem (in which we work, play, live and die) is comprised of arbitrary rules which are subconsciously generated by the majority culture. Those who do not, and in many cases cannot, observe the rules are punished. It's a vast system (made up of various intersecting systems) that was effortlessly designed for us and by us, and it's no surprise that we fit comfortably into its inner workings. This is the essence of “White privilege.” Its about power—the power of the majority culture to collectively tailor society to our preferences, proclivities, and preconceptions—the power to have say in the system's creation (whether we are aware of our individual contributions to the collective narrative or not) –the power to have a voice—the power to be heard. It should be noted, sinful human beings, left to their own devices, do not willingly give up power.

This is a lot to take in—a lot to process. In the words of William Wilberforce, the British abolitionist, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” I briefly mentioned how systemic racism can affect property values. This is a significant example due to the role home ownership plays in American culture. In most cases, a family's home is their most valuable asset and the foundation of all other wealth building endeavors necessary for future investments in the next generation's education, retirement, etc. As a property appraiser for a county Assessor, I am very aware of how shared perceptions create value within the market. My job is largely predicated on my ability to track market trends and note any and all value indicators. I don't claim to be able to produce a comprehensive list of all occurrences of systemic racism within the various realms of our society. I would imagine only God could produce such a list. The common, and often confidently stated, majority culture response, however, that “systemic racism simply does not exist” implies an absurdly vast level of personal knowledge. It would be reasonable to state that one is “currently unaware of any such system(s).” Obstinate ignorance maintained in the face of countless testimonies and numerous observable examples, however, quickly loses its innocence.

Christians tend to be culturally and politically conservative. I know many Christian brothers and sisters who will have difficulty with what I am saying for no other reason than I am using what's seen as “liberal language” in my argument (“systemic racism,” “White privilege,” “natural selection” etc.). If that's you as you're reading this, I would urge you to not let your heart become calloused. You may need to wrestle with some of these concepts for awhile, as I did. Hang in there. Keep in mind, this is ultimately not about “Left” or “Right” ideologies, memes, or mottos. It's about Jesus Christ and His Gospel which He has entrusted to us. We take our marching orders from the King of Kings, not political pundits or talk-radio personalities. His interests determine our actions. From Moses to Jesus and all the prophets in between, God has plenty to say about His heart for the marginalized and ignored of society, the poor, orphans, widows, and immigrants. He claims that ignorance of their plight is not a legitimate excuse to ignore their cries for justice. He uses very “liberal language” when page-after-page He expresses His concern that laborers are being paid fair wages and impartiality is being extended to outcasts. He warns the would-be oppressor that the marginalized are under His protection and He stands ready to avenge. All this to say, It would take an enormous effort on the part of the selective-listening Christ-follower to ignore God's consistent preoccupation with the underdog.


The Beauty of Diverse Unity

God seems to love rich diversity. A quick perusal of His beautiful and vastly varied creation makes a strong case for this assertion. The Gospels attest to the fact that many of Jesus' miracles were done for racially/ethnically un-kosher (in the strictest sense of the word) individuals. He seemed to go out of His way to make the point that He was not interested in merely being the Savior of one or a few people groups. He had global intentions from the start. This inclusiveness infuriated the religious authorities. It was far too liberal of an ambition for their taste. In the upper room, the night before Jesus was to be crucified, He prayed for the unity of the diverse family He was creating. He expressed His deep desire that the family of God would be “one,” and went on to state that our unity would authenticate His divine identity and redemptive ministry to the onlooking world. That's what's at stake here. In his letter to the Galatian church, Paul explains how the Gospel brings us all to a level playing field (elevated by Christ's imputed righteousness to the status of heirs). Our new identity in Christ is so all-encompassing, in fact, that now “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” That is not to say that my maleness or my Whiteness has been extinguished, but it has certainly been superseded. I think the clearest picture of God's endgame for this whole diversity thing is seen in Revelation 7. John, the disciple Jesus loved, describes “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb,” and with a single “loud voice” they cried “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” This is an incredibly explosive multicultural, multilingual, multiethnic worship service in honor of an adoring God who is loving every second of it! I've heard it rightly said that Christians who are uncomfortable with diversity will be very uncomfortable in their final state. We may as well get in line with God's final intentions on this side of eternity.


Repentance: The Road to Healing

This discussion of racial reconciliation cannot be divorced from America's unique history. The majority culture's—White culture's—ancestral fathers and mothers more than dabbled in race based oppression. Millions of indigenous people and uprooted Africans were slaughtered, subjugated, and dehumanized in a wholesale industry of human brokenness at its worst. Centuries of oppression cannot be so easily undone in a few generations (even if the majority culture agrees that it is so), and it would be naive in the extreme to think that the oppressors' heirs do not still reap the residual benefits of stolen resources beyond measure. In our own time, Near Easterners have been mistreated and Central and South American immigrants exploited. Most of us are not horribly interested in what the wages and working conditions are like so long as the produce ends up at our grocery store in a timely manner and at a reasonable price. “But wait a minute,” says the reader, “You promised you weren't going to promote 'White guilt.'” And I'll stand by my initial claim that what has come to characterize “White guilt” is narcissistic and unhelpful. The Gospel speaks forgiveness and new identity over those who have received the lavish love of the Savior. In spite of its faults, I love my culture and the people who create it. I believe we can simultaneously, honestly admit our historical failings while still being affirming of our people's historical victories and accomplishments. No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as they say. The same people who exhibited uncommon bravery and innovation are unfortunately guilty of unthinkable barbarism and duplicity. This is an unavoidable truth. As Christ-followers, we no longer need to aggressively defend our personal or collective goodness. We've been liberated from that endless and pointless pursuit to rest in the foreign goodness that has been graciously attributed to us. I've gotta say, it certainly feels great having nothing to prove. Repentance, however, is an essential part of, and an appropriate response to, the good news. “You expect me to repent of things I had no direct part in?” one may protest. “My family never owned slaves.” “I've never wronged anyone because of their race.” “I have no culpability.” This is not the language of the Gospel. This is the voice of sinful flesh. I know it well. While I acknowledge God's mandate that an individual is not to be punished for the crimes of their ancestors (Ezekiel 18), I can't help but notice that those who were considered righteous in Scripture identified with the sin of their people. Moses, Isaiah, Nehemiah, Daniel, to name a few, spoke of “our sins” and used “we” and “us” statements as they interceded for their people. The greatest Interceder of all time took personal responsibility for a multitude of sins that were not His to atone for. It should be clear from our Teacher's example that the often expressed sentiments of “not my burden to bear” and “my hands are clean” are unbecoming of a reconciled minister of reconciliation. Furthermore, It's odd to me that people who subscribe to the foundational doctrines of original sin and substitutionary atonement can so easily disassociate themselves from the actions of our fathers. I think this is at the crux of the majority culture's stubborn refusal to admit any wrong doing, implicit in the acknowledgment of the existence of systemic racism. We vehemently reject the notion of collective sin and guilt, as it offends our culturally-specific high regard for individualism. I believe firmly that admitting to the problem will be the unavoidable first step toward racial reconciliation within Jesus' church. Unfortunately, as long as majority culture church members refuse to budge in this regard, we have reached an impasse. Forgiveness and healing are impossible without confession and repentance.


The Gospel Way: Observing the Law of Love

The Gospel transplants a foreign desire to love boldly and sacrificially, the way we have been loved. I appreciate how Paul talks about his obligation to love his brothers and sisters who may find the eating of meat offered to idols offensive. He basically affirms his freedom to partake, but graciously states that if his spiritual family is harmed by the expression of his freedom then he is prepared to bite the bullet and become a world class vegetarian in order that they would thrive. That's the Gospel way. Likewise, as his disciples were constantly jockeying for power, Jesus spoke of and illustrated another way. He said that unredeemed humans consistently exert power over each other, but that the one who aspired to be great in His kingdom would need to divest themselves of power and become the lowest and the least. This is the counterintuitive nature of kingdom economics. We are not to stockpile power (those who are invested in practical ecclesiology, take note). Power is given to empower. Jesus' invitation is to follow Him as He lays down His life, and only through our mutual death do we share with Him in His resurrection. This is the ultimate act of releasing power. In light of all authority and power being given to Jesus, he immediately distributes His power to His church, as He sends them out with borrowed authority to carry out His mission. He invites. He does not force. His “yoke is easy” and His “burden is light,” and yet there are millions inhabiting every epoch of time who would gladly lay their lives down for Him if He were to only ask. That's a profound and otherworldly form of true power that we can't wrap our heads around.

I would contend that listening to our neighbor is the first step to loving our neighbor. James says, “Everyone should be quick to listen,” and “slow to speak.” Unfortunately, the majority culture does not have a great track record of listening well. White Christians, not unlike the rest of the majority culture, often rabidly endorse, bolster, and share on social media the few non-White individuals who atypically share the majority culture's perspective (the occasional Black individual who loves and defends the Confederate battle flag or thinks Trayvon Martin “had it coming,” as an example). While these anomalous non-White individuals are, of course, welcome to their opinion (no community is a perfectly homogenous monolith), I take issue with the White Christian who erroneously offers up said opinion as if it were the result of their thorough investigation into the prevalent Black community's perspective. These type of videos, interviews, blog posts, political candidates seem to be employed by the majority culture with the intent of restating an already deeply held preconception (the fact that the sentiment comes from the mouth of a minority member is thought to somehow give the position greater credibility) rather than an honest effort to know the other side by listening to learn. I believe that many well meaning White Christians were extremely, though unintentionally, rude with the “All lives matter” counter movement that was launched in response to the original plea that “Black lives matter.” When criticized, the majority culture's response was typically “well, it's true, all lives do matter.” “How can you argue with that?” The inappropriateness of the popular counter campaign, as with many nuanced human interactions, was in the timing and the underlying reason. If your friend was sharing with you how devastated they were at the recent passing of their loved one, I'm sure you would see how unloving it would be to immediately talk over them with the truth that many other people have recently lost loved ones so there isn't anything particularly unique or unusually grievous about what they've just shared with you. I have also heard it rightly compared to someone running through a breast cancer awareness rally yelling “What about heart disease!?” “It's also a serious illness that affects millions of Americans!” While the zealous counter activist has in fact made a true statement, most would see the inappropriateness of their poor timing (and reasonably be left wondering what was the greater factor: the shouter's uncontainable commitment to heart disease awareness or their intent to disrupt the meeting in-progress). Given the timing and setting in which their true statement was shouted out, it is at best grossly inconsiderate and at worst outright malicious. I would contend that it is better understood as a show of power by the majority culture, using its louder voice to correct the arrant claim that “Black lives matter” (thereby denying the Black community's stated grievance—which was clearly “Black lives don't seem to matter to the majority culture” and not “Only Black lives matter”) with the more true statement, “All lives matter.” It is dismissive, rude, and unloving. We, the majority culture, are known for our proclivity to condescendingly explain, correct, and declare rather than our ability to compassionately listen with the goal of growing in wisdom and understanding. The Scriptures commend the one who reserves judgment until hearing both sides. May the people of God be gracious listeners.

One of the First Century church's earliest, and potentially crippling, obstacles pertained to the budding multicultural nature of the family of God. Bluntly stated, the first Christ-followers were vile racists (thank God for the redemptive grace of the Gospel!). Granted, race and ethnicity were viewed differently (religious/cultural/socioeconomic ties to ancestry as opposed to fixations on skin pigmentation). There were, however, comparable themes of racial superiority and presumptions of manifest destiny. The Spirit of God patiently led the early church through stages of difficult transition (inclusion of Hellenized Jews, then Samaritans, and finally Gentiles). Had the Jewish Apostles been unwilling to submit to the Spirit's multicultural vision for Jesus' church, the Gospel would have quickly begun and ended in First Century Palestine (Due to the sovereignty of God, this was of course never really at risk). The early tension is chronicled in Acts 6, where a group of Hellenized Jewish Christians (Greek speaking and cultured Jews who had trusted in Jesus), a minority in the church at this point, bring a grievance to the Jewish Apostles. Their claim (in the midst of a radical family-style sharing of the community's resources) was that the Hellenized widows were being unfairly “neglected” in the daily distribution. We really don't have the particulars. Was this an unintentional oversight by the majority culture (Jewish Christians), or was there some intentional prejudice at work? Perhaps the Hellenized Jewish Christians were honestly mistaken in their claims of being slighted. What's pivotal about this event is the Apostles' Gospel-centric response. They don't dismiss the complaint with an assurance that “no one is a racist here, so you simply must be mistaken.” Or explain the grievance away with, “Perhaps your people aren't lining up properly—we have rules, you know—or maybe their ridiculous baggy togas are making them look shifty and causing the Jewish distributors to get nervous around them” They didn't retort, “All widows matter.” They wisely responded with, “we hear you, we want to address your concern, and we'd like you to pick new distributors from among you” (my paraphrase). As a result, the first seven deacons were selected, all with distinctly Greek names. Did you catch that? There was an extremely humble release of power on the part of the majority culture. That's what I call Gospel progress. They could have easily taken a defensive posture and said, “How dare you call our integrity into question? —I've known brother Hezekiah for years, and he is definitely not a racist,” or “We walked with Jesus, who was Jewish by the way, and this is how we've always done it.” The growing tension reaches its pinnacle in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem council. The still Jewish-Christian run church gathers to give their definitive ruling on whether or not future Christ-followers must first become Jewish in order to be eligible for membership in the family of God. This was a landmark decision for Jesus' infant church. Their unanimous vote was for an enormous release of power that inevitably marked the beginning of the end of the current majority culture's influence over the rest of the family. The Jewish Christians quickly became the minority in an ever-expanding multicultural family of God. As a result, the four Gospels were written in Koine Greek, I imagine the Apostles had to let go of some of their favorite Hebrew hymns, they had to adapt to Corinthian worship styles, and the original members of this dynamic movement of God willingly and humbly put themselves at the mercy of the new majority culture. As I mentioned earlier, this type of willing, sacrificial release of power from a majority culture to its minority brothers and sisters happens nowhere else but in God's family.

Martin Luther King Jr. asserted that Sunday morning contained the most segregated hour of the American week. Decades later, this is still true. I find this undeniable fact devastating. What's more, it breaks the heart of a loving Father who yearns to see His children live as “one.” Why is it that the secular world has become more integrated than the family of God? Reconciliation, building bridges, is supposed to be our thing. I can't overemphasize how important it is that we get this right. By His own testimony, the validity of Christ's incarnation rests on our unified oneness. The onlooking world is supposed to stand back in awe and say “see how they love each other.” “There is no earthly explanation for what we are witnessing.” And instead they have just cause to smirk and walk away. “Hypocrites” is our duly earned title. But brothers and sisters, let's shake it off once and for all. The Gospel will have it no other way.

If your local church congregation and, more importantly, leadership team reflects the diversity of your city, then you are in the Christian minority. If your church is more like the rest of ours, then I would encourage you to actively and graciously seek diversity within your corner of the family. We ought not to try to presumptuously speak for our minority brothers and sisters (this would be conventional majority culture thinking), but we can use our privilege, our voice, to make room for them to be able to speak for themselves. It is we, the majority culture, who are impoverished for lack of their voices within our divided church community. Cliquey homogeneity is our natural human bent—par for the course—and diversity will not happen without intentionality. The Gospel of Jesus Christ prescribes, in no uncertain terms, the necessary intentionality. As mentioned, people do not typically seek out opportunities to rid themselves of their current power, privilege, and ability to institute their preferences. I'm inspired by organizations like InterVarsity, that have been leading the charge toward sacrificial racial reconciliation. Some gestures are small, but get the ball rolling. InterVarsity regularly incorporates multicultural worship styles into their gatherings, for example (I awkwardly sang Spanish or Korean, etc. worship songs on many occasions during my time with IV). Gestures like this seem to say “we don't have to, but we want to, because we're family” to our frequently ignored minority brothers and sisters. I remember attending InterVarsity's awesome mission conference, Urbana '12, and was puzzled at first when I saw the teaching lineup for the week. David Platt, an incredible speaker, best selling author of “Radical” and “Follow Me,” and mega-church pastor—a veritable, Christian majority culture rock star—was only asked to speak one evening. Why isn't this guy headlining the week, I thought? In lieu of Platt (who is undeniably an awesome leader in the church today) the keynote speaker was a Kenyan pastor that I had never even heard of. Because of Urbana's intentional dedication to actively seeking racial reconciliation within Jesus' church, I was exposed to the incredible teaching of—the previously unknown to me—Calisto Odede. I'm also inspired by the voices of conservative pastors like John Piper who have declared their intentions to seek diversity within their leadership teams. We can all respectfully request that our current church leaders consider making room for future qualified non-White leaders. It does us no good to merely absorb them. We must release power to them if we are to benefit from their voices, their God given uniqueness. If our intention is to seek out Gospel-centric racial reconciliation within the American church, we must be prepared for the inevitable push-back from comfortable naysayers and the unavoidable messiness of cross-cultural interactions. Our worship and teaching styles will change. It will mean the death of our preferences in hundreds of large and small ways. But didn't we always know that was part of the deal when we answered the call to take up our cross and follow Him? I've heard doubts from non-White Christ-followers who question whether the majority culture will ever “get it.” I love the church. I'm hopeful in the transformative power of her inherent Gospel DNA, and I know, through the power of His Spirit, she can be all that Jesus graciously sees in her.