June 2020

The past week has been a gut-wrenching experience in America. …for our black brothers and sisters who are experiencing the trauma of a racially motivated killing once again. …for Georgians who are experiencing a national tragedy so close to home. And for every person of color who has suffered hardship and wondered “how long, oh Lord?!” 

I am thankful for this community of One Race who has gathered together to pray and cry out to God for justice in this situation, and for mercy on the suffering. I am thankful for the work of reconciliation and healing that this community is committed to. It is unique in our time and in our country.

The past few weeks my colleagues and I have been deep in the trenches of analyzing and writing for a new research study on racial justice and the Church. The project is a follow-up to Michael Emerson’s seminal research published in Divided by Faith 20 years ago, looking at how far we’ve come since then. Except, it seems, we haven’t come that far. Our findings are revealing that our country, and the Church, is still sick with the sin of racism. This week, we hardly needed data to show us that; nevertheless, here are the facts:

Only about 4 out of 10 white practicing Christians (who say their faith is very important to them and who go to church at least monthly – when it’s not closed for a pandemic) “definitely” agrees that our country has a race problem. Not surprisingly, 8 out of 10 black practicing Christians answers “definitely” (if we asked last week, perhaps it would have been 10 out of 10?). Similar proportions agree that historically, the United States has been oppressive to minorities.

At this moment in time in our country, it is nearly impossible not to Know The Story. This unfathomable denial of racism is a refusal to Own The Story. It reminds me of a verse in Jeremiah (get ready; nothing easy comes out of Jeremiah…)

Jeremiah 17:9-11 New International Version (NIV)

9 The heart is deceitful above all things 

and beyond cure.

    Who can understand it?

10 “I, the Lord, search the heart and examine the mind,

to reward each person according to their conduct,

    according to what their deeds deserve.”

11 Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay

    are those who gain riches by unjust means.

When their lives are half gone, their riches will desert them,

    and in the end they will prove to be fools.

On the one hand, we can take some solace in the fact that God sees injustice, and He is not indifferent to it. He promises justice will come to those who gain at the detriment of others, who wield power over others – they will be rewarded according to what their deeds deserve, Jeremiah says. He also promises to restore the broken and wipe away every tear from our eyes. On the other hand, there is little that can comfort from such loss of life.

Few people start out on a path to become racist. Often it entrenches in our hearts as we cling to a very subtle excuses or explanations; preferences or biases. At the root of racism is a heart that is deceitful. A heart that says my comfort or my property is more essential than your life. My values are more honorable than yours. My way is better than yours. The heart of every human is deceitful above all things. Many would never say these, but there are times we’ve thought them.

Not one of us is immune to the self-deceit of pride or wanting control. Our mind plays tricks on us to justify our thoughts, if not our actions. Jesus’ work on the cross was costly, because the depth of our sin is great. I must constantly examine my own heart for signs of self-deceit. It is not a once and done event. Being a Christian does not insure me immunity from self-deceit. Being a member of One Race does not give me a pass. The work of reconciliation is a work of constant examination and repentance. Of putting off and putting on. Of Owning the Story and Changing the Story. Only through the power of Jesus is this kind of change possible. Lord, heal our world and start with me. 

 

Brooke Hempell

Member, City Church Eastside, VaHi

SVP of Research, Barna Group