The Lord has taken OneRace and the church in our city on a Journey into His heart on issues of race this year. The major themes on this Journey have centered on knowing, owning and changing the story for future generations. This is part three of a three-part blog series related to those major themes: Know the Story, Own the Story & Change the Story.
Change The Story
In the 400th year of Egyptian enslavement, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the Israelites: Moses.
In the 400th year of silence between testaments, the Lord raised up the ultimate deliverer: Jesus Christ, The Righteous. The One on whose shoulders a new government would be borne. Jesus, the progenitor of salvation. The One who brought reconciliation between God and man and made provision for brother and sister to be reconciled into one.
At this 400th year anniversary of chattel slavery entering the colonies, later to become the United States of America, we are believing for the Lord to raise up a new kind of deliverer: The Church. The Church standing on the Gospel, boldly declaring the truth therein, that God has created all people in His image and in his likeness. This means we all have inherent, equal worth. The Church rising, using her governmental authority as the ekklesia, proclaiming truth to the world. God, through his son Jesus, has provided a means for us to be reconciled to Him and to each other. It is indeed the Father’s desire for us to be one, a diverse beautiful family.
Know, Own, & Change
In Knowing the Story of our collective history, this should drive us to lament the past 400 years of racial terror. Better understanding the church’s complicity with racism and supremacy, for the believer, should start a journey of accountability and reconciliation.
Secondly, we must Own the Story. Lament should be the church’s response to Knowing the Story. This should produce contrition of heart and beg the question of individual and corporate responsibility, concluding with us on our knees in repentance.
The final piece of this journey of transformation is Changing the Story. It was the prophet Amos who exclaimed to the nation of Israel and the nations more broadly what the Lord desires, righteousness and justice:
21 “I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Fruit-bearing Always Follows Repentance
The passage in Amos can be summed up in this simple statement: fruit-bearing always follows repentance… Thus, there Changing the Story! At the heart of the message to Change the Story are righteousness and justice. I believe the two are inextricably bound, but one, more often than not, is neglected by the church: justice.
I love what our mentor and champion, Dr. John Perkins, says about this, “Justice is any act of reconciliation that restores any part of God’s creation back to its original intent, purpose or image. When I think about justice that way, it doesn’t surprise me at all that God loves it. It includes both the acts of social justice and the restorative justice found on the cross.”
We must pursue justice. Now, before we can move forward with this idea I think we need to provide some language and background. In Amos’ context, the nation of Israel, by in large, was oppressing the poor and the righteous. They were behaving in an immoral way, such that father and son were sleeping with the same woman and bowing down to the altar of other gods. God is always displeased when our behavior misaligns with his standard for holiness, and so it was with the nation of Israel. Thus, Amos forth tells of these evils and how the Lord disapproves and how He desires for the nation to practice holiness and justice, rectifying the wrongs this community was complicit in.
Justice in Practice
This must be the same approach for us. We practice justice in multiple ways, but there are two I’d like to highlight:
Dr. John Perkins continues, “Justice is a process, and change takes time, but I believe we ought to dream big dreams and make big statements as we pursue those dreams.” Amos didn’t tell the people that God wants justice to trickle through their society. The New Living Translation uses the phrase “mighty flood of justice” to describe what God wants to see (Amos 5:24). One thing we learned in Mendenhall is that once floodwaters start rushing through a place, there’s no turning them back with human strength.”
Together, we can Change the Story. Together, we can raise the prophetic conscious of the church back to the Father’s standards. But, we must all do our part. Change is never easy and should never be pursued lightly. The road is long and the fight is great. There are many social injustices that plague society and systemic issues that must be addressed. This can seem like an insurmountable struggle, but I’d like to remind you of the words of the apostle Paul: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Together, we can change the story for generations to come.
The Lord has taken OneRace and the church in our city on a Journey into His heart on the issues of race this year. The major themes on this Journey have centered on knowing, owning and changing the story for future generations. This is part one of a three-part blog series related to those major themes: know the story, own the story & change the story.
This is Tragic
“As a preacher, I would certainly have to agree with this. I must admit that I have gone through those moments when I was greatly disappointed with the church and what it has done in this period of social change. We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic. Nobody of honesty can overlook this.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking at Western Michigan University in 1963
This is a moment to give pause and ask ourselves, “Has much changed since this statement was made by Dr. King 56 years ago? Are we different?” I think we can agree, much has changed and there is much to be celebrated. But, is the church still the most-segregated institution? This is tragic.
It’s tragic that this oft-quoted portion of Dr. King isn’t met by the obvious question: How did the 11 o’clock hour on Sunday mornings become segregated in the first place? Or a better question, how did we get here? Whose fault is it? And why is the church still lagging in the conversation on race and culture? It is indeed tragic.
Know The Story
We need to KNOW THE STORY! Know the story of race in America. Know the story of race and the church. We need to know each other’s story.
We need to know the story of the White Lion and that when it docked on the shores of the European colonies in the U.S., it began a dark night that has yet to end.
We need to know the story of the economic implications of men owning men. We need to know the heartlessness of saying, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” to a bootless man.
We need to lean into one another and seek to understand with sincerity, HOW WE GOT HERE.
Know the Story Disclaimer
It must be said that this is not a comprehensive review of the history of America and the church. The goal herein is to provide a broad overview. To create a framework to answer the question, “How did we get here?” Additionally, this work focuses primarily on the African/African American experience, as it is the 400-year anniversary of African-slavery in the colonies/US. This is not to ignore or to make small of other ethnic experiences. We are simply using this narrative as an on-ramp for the conversation on reconciliation and racial unity, and to exemplify its necessity.
“For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals—
7 those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth
and turn aside the way of the afflicted;
a man and his father go in to the same girl,
so that my holy name is profaned;
8 they lay themselves down beside every altar
on garments taken in pledge,
and in the house of their God, they drink
the wine of those who have been fined.”
Know the Story: 400 years of history
In late August of 1619, the manifesto of John Rolfe, most notable for his marriage to Pocahontas, stated: “20 and odd Negros” arrived on the shores of the European colonies aboard the White Lion ship. This began the terror known as the Transatlantic slave trade.
Where is the Church?
Where has the church been along this 400-year journey? Where has the church stood on issues of enslavement and dehumanization? When has the church raised her collective prophetic voice amidst the onslaught of terror? Well, friends, She has been largely silent. The church collectively has been split, rendered ineffective. Though there were several figures who were proponents of racial justice, the church buy-in-large was silent. We must know the story of the church’s complicity with racial terror.
Here is the later part of Dr. King’s statement: “Now that the mistake of the past has been made, I think that the opportunity of the future is to really go out and to transform American society, and where else is there a better place than in the institution that should serve as the moral guardian of the community. The institution that should preach brotherhood and make it a reality within its own body.”
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.