As I venture deeper into the work of uniting the church and facilitating tough conversations regarding race and culture, I keep running into the same theme. It’s deeply concerning. “Another prayer meeting? What action are we taking to execute justice against the systemic evil present in America?” It’s almost as if these individuals would say, “forget righteousness, give me justice.” On the other hand, I also hear comments such as, “We should not concern ourselves with history, systemic issues, or social justice. Nothing but the Gospel will fix this!” I find a sincere resonance with both and an inexorable concern. Both positions functioning independent of the other should grieve all of us. Because alone, these approaches are like a one-winged bird, it simply won’t fly. They are both indispensable ideas to the work of reconciliation and the Gospel yet inseparable.
What is at risk in this tug-of-war over righteousness and the mudslinging about justice? The Church’s credibility! ‘Are we credible?’ is the question. Continuing on the trajectory that the church is currently on, doubling down in our respective camps, the church continues to diminish its credibility in the eyes of the world. Righteousness alone can’t produce the fruit of love. Justice alone can’t produce the heart of love. Our witness is not one of love when we commit to one and not the other.
8Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
– 1 John 4:8-11
Both righteousness and justice are present in the text. When Jesus went to the cross we got righteousness as a result, and God got justice against sin. This is the very scandal of the Gospel. So, what then are we to do? We are to love one another. The fruit of righteousness and justice working together in the heart of the believer is love.
34A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”
– John 13:34 – 35
For the Lord is righteous and he loves justice; the upright will see his face.
– Psalm 11:7
The Lord loves both. We should love both. We should practice both. There isn’t a conflict between these two ideas, as there is no conflict in the heart of the Lord. Righteousness and justice are caught in an unquenchable love affair that has been burning since the beginning of time. Righteousness refers to the will of man that is bent towards the Lord’s pleasure. Righteousness refers to the deeds that are done out of a motivation of love and desire for that which is right. In the case of OneRace: catalytic prayer, authentic relationship, and tough conversations are all a part of our righteous responsibility and produce the fruit of love. THE LORD LOVES RIGHTEOUSNESS.
THE LORD LOVES JUSTICE. We should love justice. We seek ways to make wrong things right. In the American situation, there are many injustices that have been perpetrated over time: chattel slavery, robbing, and slaughtering of indigenous people, the Chinese exclusion act, and the subjugation and degrading of Hispanics presently. These injustices bear fruit that we are faced with daily: rampant murders in south Chicago, the prosperity of Ivey league schools founded with slave money, the public school to prison pipeline, DACA, etc. Is it the responsibility of the church to correct wrong things? Is it the responsibility of the individual believer to be a proponent of social justice? The Lord loves justice. He loves making wrong things right. He certainly loves it when we are swift to stand with the oppressed, the frightened orphan, and the wandering sojourner. The Lord loves justice. We should too.
I would contend that we have an ill view of the Father’s heart regarding righteousness and justice. I would contend that we have allowed our Gospel narrative to be seasoned with a peppering of nationalism, coated with a glaze of party politics, simmered in the humanized liberal agenda. I would contend that we are not being true to the Gospel when we forsake justice and forget righteousness. The Church must correct its course. The church must cleave to that which is good and right in the eyes of the Lord.
“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Lovingkindness and truth go before You.”
– Psalm 89:14
Church, if we are going to emerge credible in our witness, we must champion both righteousness and justice. We must pursue a higher ethic, which is love. We must correct our orthodoxy, what we believe. We must correct our orthopathy, what we feel. We must correct our orthopraxy, how to practice both. We must realize that righteousness is the progenitor of justice, and justice is the progeny of righteousness. And the fruit of righteousness and justice working together should look like and feel like love to the world. We can do it. We can emerge as the credible witness that Christ so desires.
Divided to United
In preparation for a OneRace event, The United Prayer March, I struggled greatly to put my finger on what the Lord was saying to the church. Unity? Sure. Reconciliation? You got it! I was looking for more. I felt the Lord was saying and doing so much more.
You see, it was only a few months earlier that we were gathered for a Regional Prayer Gathering at Woodland Hills Church when I heard these words released, “As this church sits on Confederate Avenue, I ask Father that you would use this church to be a beacon of hope and a messenger of reconciliation. Release it, I pray, in Jesus’ name!” It would only be a few weeks later that Pastor Arthur Breland, a dear friend, and brother, would call and say, “The Atlanta City Council voted to change the name of the street from Confederate Ave. to United Ave.” We agreed in that moment, that this was a prophetic harbinger. It was a clear message to the church of Atlanta.
The Church Must Intersect and Become One
In preparation for the march, it came to my attention that United Ave. intersects with Atlanta Ave., and the two become one. “Electric” is the only way to describe how it hit me. The words evaded me, until I stood in the historic neighborhood, at that very intersection. THE CHURCH MUST INTERSECT AND BECOME ONE. I heard it clear as day. The white church. The black church. The Hispanic church. The Asian church. The rich church. The poor church. The Baptist Church. The charismatic church. The Anglican Church. The Presbyterian Church. The right wing and the left. The Church must intersect, and she must become one.
Unprecedented & Glorious
Beloved, we are living in unprecedented times. Yes, there is great evil, division, and hardship. Yes, I acknowledge, the church has never been more segmented and separated than the present. Yes, I too acknowledge the apathy and sin of our past is playing out in present discourse. However, these are glorious times. Never in the history of the American church has the message of unity and oneness been so prevalent and present. There appears to be a great desire among church leaders to stand in solidarity. In these dark times, it is an opportunity for the Church to shine the brightest. It is in perilous times such as these that the radiant beauty of the bride of Christ could and should be seen. What’s the holdup?
A New Trajectory: Oneness
2 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
For too long we’ve stood in our own corners, while Jesus beckons us onward to be one. We must commit to this idea of Oneness. Oneness is not sameness. Oneness is not assimilation. Oneness isn’t ignoring the past or subscribing to a political party. No! Oneness is so much more. Oneness is the commitment to contend together for unity among the brethren. It’s the quest to embody the relationship between the Father, Son, and Spirit. It’s this idea that we would cleave to one another in love with a deep commitment toward the future. Philippians 2:1-2 outlines the 4 key areas that we must strive to be one in:
I can’t stress enough that oneness isn’t a betrayal to oneself or respective culture. So often the expectation is that one party would leave behind their culture and join the other, never to visit or mention it again. Friends, that is flat out wrong! No, it is to operate with consideration, honor, and dignity for all parties involved. It is this idea espoused later in Philippians, that we should consider each other more highly than ourselves. We have a long, yet joyous journey ahead.
The Hard Work of Oneness
In my next post, I will seek to answer the question “How do we become one?” It’s a great idea to become one, but the way forward isn’t always so clear. In fact, I’ll preemptively say, there is a glorious death to self and preference involved for the believer that embraces the message of Oneness. The great news is, JESUS IS WORTHY!
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.