On Tuesday, May 5th, a graphic video of Ahmaud Arbery’s death filled headlines and social media sites. By Sunday, May 10th, I had received more inquiries and messages from white people (particularly Christians) than I could emotionally or relationally manage. On top of the multitude of messages, I read social media post after social media post of Christians (particularly white Christians) expressing lament and/or expressing sentiment of not knowing what to do.
Every inquiry I received contained one of these three questions. “What do you think about the situation in Brunswick?” “How are you?” “What can I/we do?”
Contrary to my relational reputation, I held (and continue to hold) my answers to these questions very close. Here’s why…
After years of navigating questions like this from my white brothers and sisters, I have become aware of a recurring trend. I reflect on conversations between me and (most) white Christians related to the nationally-recognized shootings, and I see an unnerving dynamic. On Saturday, May 9th, I expressed that dynamic to one of my favorite white sisters, Audrey (I changed her name for anonymity sake). Here is a copy of that text transcript…
“I haven’t shared my feelings and perspective of Ahmaud Arbery with white people because if I go there, most of the white people in my life will get more consumed with my perspective and feelings about the situation than personally doing the hard work of getting out of racism, racial ignorance, classism, etc. Instead of consuming decades of research and content, asking hard questions, and comparing the heart’s response to Jesus, I feel like (when it comes to race or classism), white Christians make camp in figuring out if my particular feelings are justified or not…
I don’t think there should be an either / or; however, time and time again these circumstances feel like an either/or… Either I share my thoughts and feelings and everyone gets focused on the validity of them OR people choose to focus on their personal responsibility and how they can do the hard work of the Gospel.
At the end of the day, I do not want how I feel and what I think to keep being a distraction to white Christians not doing hard work.”
I wrote this blog specifically for Christ-followers. In it, I promised another blog for leaders. Whether you are a white brother or sister leading a Church, a small group, your family, a team of people in the market-place, or a para-Church ministry, I hope this is helpful.
Because you are a human who wears multiple hats, your personal responsibility is multi-faceted. (Yes, I said “responsibility”.) Here are ways you can steward your responsibility in the varying areas of your life.
As you reflect on these questions and your answers, I hope these words of our brother Paul are of encouragement to you.
There is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… but if through the power of the Spirit, you are habitually putting to death (making extinct and deadening) the evil deeds prompted by the body, you shall (really and genuinely) live forever. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For the Spirit which you have now received is not a spirit of slavery to put you once more in bondage to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption (the Spirit producing son-ship)… Romans 8:1, 13-15 AMP.
This process is deeply sanctifying and will expose more junk in our hearts than we can imagine; but as Paul said, where junk abounds, grace abounds all the more. Our Lord’s grace doesn’t exist that we might continue in immaturity, sin, or a mix of both. His grace exists because He is gracious and wants to empower us to be people known for how well we love in both action and Truth.
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.
Member, City Church Eastside, VaHi
SVP of Research, Barna Group
We’re in the midst of a crisis with COVID-19. It’s revealing many of the deficiencies in our country and one is food insecurity among the most vulnerable.
It’s a beautiful thing that the church is responding to meet the needs of the vulnerable facing food insecurity and to live out what Matthew 25 says about feeding our neighbors in marginalized places. But it also reveals a deeper issue: why are their food deserts in the first place, where did they come from and how did they take shape?
The discipleship path that OneRace invites people on is to Know the Story, Own the Story, and Change the Story. In order to know why we’re in a food crisis situation, particularly for people of color, we have to know the structures that helped create food deserts in the first place.
From a Biblical perspective, it is important to deal with food insecurity, as Matthew 25 commands. But, it is equally as important to deal with the structures that led to food insecurity in the first place. From a theological perspective, it is very important to also have a proper balance of Old Testament theology, which speaks to structural issues.
In an interview for this blog with Donell Woodson, lead trainer for the Lupton Center with FCS, which does community development work in Atlanta, he said, “The church needs go back to the Old Testament for a theological framework on community development.” Matthew 25 is important, but so is Isaiah 65 as God lays out a vision for the new heavens and the new earth and this becomes a place where, “They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit; no longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people, my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.”
The legend and forefather of the Christian Community Development movement, Dr. John Perkins says in Beyond Charity, “America’s best intentions, most sincere thoughts, noblest efforts—all of these are useless to the urban poor if they do not connect with our personally defined, deepest felt needs. In fact, acts of charity can be dangerous because givers can feel good about actions that actually accomplish very little, or even create dependency. The result is that their sense of satisfaction takes away any motivation to seek more creative long-range development strategies. Overcoming an attitude of charity is a difficult task because it requires givers to demand more of themselves than good will. Christian charity should never be discouraged, and there will always be a place for acts of sharing and kindness, but charity is only a beginning point, not the final strategy or solution.”
Nine years ago, my family and I moved to Historic South Atlanta to live out the ministry of Christ’s reconciliation. We had been schooled in Dr. John Perkins’ Christian Community Development’s three, “Rs” of relocation, reconciliation and redistribution since my years in seminary. We were ready to live out a holistic gospel of Jesus in word and deed. Little did we know that we had just moved into what is called a food desert, just two miles south of the city.
The community non-profit in our neighborhood, FCS Ministries, kept hearing from our neighbors about the need for a grocery store in the middle of this food desert. They soon started what is now Carver Market in our neighborhood.
After being trained in Dignity Serves and being introduced to asset-based community development, we were trained to listen first. I remember listening to neighbors and hearing their struggle of having to ride the bus 1 1/2 hours to the local grocery story and then 1 1/2 hours back to the neighborhood. After all is said and done, that’s a four-hour run to the grocery store, and the majority of the day is gone.
But what kind of a city creates food deserts? Why do they even exist in a developed country like America? We see over and over that what happened in the past is always playing out in the present. A country that was founded upon unjust laws that systemically displaced and segregated people of color, particularly African-Americans, is how we ended up with food deserts. This is why it’s so important to Know the Story of what got us here.
Grocery stores won’t open up a store in low-income neighborhoods because, put simply, the economics are not there. Why are the economics not there? Because distressed communities like a South-Atlanta were shaped by racist structures like red-lining, racial steering and white flight that happened between 1940 to 1980, and it is still happening today.
Ruth Evans, the City Director with Unite, a OneRace partner, said this, “In many communities that are home to people who live in financial poverty – there is a web of systems that are wrecked and broken. We are seeing the fragility of those systems as many families are feeling the staggering impact of the Covid-19 virus. As the immediate crisis starts to dissipate, there is an opportunity for that heartbeat and our engagement to move beyond providing temporary relief – which will have the effect of creating cycles of dependency and further poverty. There are opportunities to engage in ways that bring restoration and resurrection. I would love for churches to have a sense of the powerful difference it could make if we start knowing our history and the underlying roots of our current reality, own the ways that it has created an environment of vulnerability, and participate as agents of change in creation of a new story…a story of restoration and resurrection.”
As we as the body of Christ respond to the immediate needs of our neighbors with food insecurity, I pray we use this time to also educate ourselves about the structures that have created a class system in our country and the Biblical call to restore structures plagued by systemic racism. This is one of the steps of Knowing the Story, in order to Own the Story, and ultimately through the power of Jesus, Change the Story.
How does a white farm boy from Bumpville, PA (yes, a real place), come to live in the black Mecca of the US and give his life to Christ’s work of racial reconciliation with a group called OneRace Movement?
Hello, OneRace family! My name is Dan Crain and I am the new Director of Groups and Mobilization. Josh and I met two years ago and he shared the vision of OneRace, OneRace Stone Mountain and the heart to address racism within the church. From that moment on, I felt a kindred spirit with Josh. This has been a deep passion of mine since I was exposed to the racial underbelly of our country and church back in seminary.
It all started back in 2006 when my wife and I were a part of a white mega-church outside of Grand Rapids, MI. The church was trying to align themselves with the “God of the oppressed” theology, as it is clear from the Scriptures that God holds a special place for those who have been marginalized. I heard a pastor from an inner-city church in Grand Rapids who was black speaking from Isaiah 58 about God’s heart for a certain kind of fasting that, “looses the chains of injustice and unties the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.”
He shared about his experience in that decade of being called, “boy” at a restaurant by a white man in Grand Rapids, MI and what it was like as a black man living in a majority white culture in America. “Boy” is a racial slur going back to the Jim Crow era. It was in that moment that I felt a deep sense of conviction from the Holy Spirit that this is what I was to give my life to: God’s heart for racial unity.
I had breakfast with that pastor and he was gracious enough to answer all of the questions I had for him as a white man who was clueless to his reality. I changed my degree in seminary to a Masters of Intercultural Ministries because my wife and I knew God was calling us into this work. Dr. Reggie Smith began to mentor me in this work as he was pastoring a church in inner-city Grand Rapids and was the adjunct professor at the seminary.
Dr. Reggie pointed me to Divided by Faith, the work of Dr. John Perkins, Christianity Development Association, and many other resources. I did a research paper on how Christ broke down the dividing wall of hostility between the Jews and the Gentiles from Ephesians 2, and as I did, I fell deeply in love with a God that longs to reconcile all things in his son, Jesus Christ.
In 2008, we spent a month living in an African-American community in historic South Atlanta, interning with a non-profit that was doing community development. My wife and I fell in love with being the minorities in this context. After the month was over, we were invited to move back into that community, but at the time we weren’t ready to raise funds and fully move into a community experiencing distress, plus we felt like we had more to learn. So we moved back to Orlando.
In Orlando, we were exposed to Polis Institute’s “Dignity Serves” and the need to live out a dignified interdependent relationship with those different from us. It was through this training that Christ made it very clear as a white man coming from majority culture that I was to be a learner more than a teacher, particular in the world of racial reconciliation. The words of author Donald Miller resonated with what God was doing in my heart, “Be careful of a white guy with a masters degree, because he thinks he knows it all.”
I was so deeply impacted by the Dignity Serves training that I began to raise funds under Polis and we moved to Atlanta in May 2011, to live in historic South Atlanta, work at a small church in the neighborhood under leaders of color, and begin to connect with and share with churches the message of Dignity Serves. It was the Dignity Serves training that opened up a lot of doors for me to talk about race within majority white churches, as one of the organization’s lessons presses deeply into racial and cultural differences and how the Gospel breaks down these barriers. It was also the experience of sharing life with young black men in the neighborhood that deeply shaped the way I saw how little culture cared for their lives and how they were constantly harassed, profiled and accused simply for the color of their skin. There are too many painful stories to share now.
In 2015, I burned out from ministry and realized that was as a result of a lot of unhealed wounds in my soul, which Christ was inviting me to look into. The reality was that I was living a divided life and wasn’t facing the deep wounds of my past. The reality was that Christ was inviting me to reconcile the divided life inside of me. The result of this healing is the discipleship training, Loving Freely, which I have put together. I firmly believe that in order for us to be honest about reconciliation, we must allow this to happen in ourselves first and be honest about the ways in which culture has shaped us.
In 2018, a group of men journeyed deeply into the racial history of our country and its impact upon ourselves through Latasha Morrison’s curriculum at Be the Bridge. This training took the reality of the problem of race in our country and church from an intellectual level into my heart and soul. The journey with these men climaxed when we visited Bryan Stevenson’s work with the Equal Justice Initiative at the Memorial for Peace and Justice to honor the over 4,400 men and women lynched in our country because of white supremacy in Montgomery, AL.
Throughout all of this, I have always shared a deep passion that the church may be one in Christ and so when I had the privilege of meeting Josh in November of 2017, and he shared the vision of what OneRace was trying to call churches to, I was in. Since then, Pastor Arthur Breland of United Church and I have the honor of being the co-leaders of the OneRace network in the Southeast part of Atlanta. Last year, Arthur put together a march to commemorate the street name change from Confederate Ave. to United Ave. and we walked together with over three hundred fellow believers in a spirt of unity that was amazing. The Holy Spirit’s presence among us was palpable.
I am deeply honored to join the OneRace Movement and to work under Josh as the Director of Groups and Mobilization, as my heart and passion has always been to do this work on the street level. Conferences and marches are beautiful and good, but if we’re not pursing the new humanity in the norm of life, the structures will still be there.
It’s my heart to equip people to read the Scriptures through the lens of racial reconciliation, pray deeply about the demonic forces of racism in our city, read books written by leaders of color that dive deep into the history of our country and church, and make small, spirit-led, intentionally organic steps towards being the church God intends it to be.
Finally, people often ask me the why of this. Why do we do this? For me the answer is layered.
First, it’s God heart. It’s his heart that his body here on earth be one and we are not, as Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise documents well. This is modeled in Jesus’ prayer in John 17 and manifested in the book of Acts, where we see what happened as a result of the Gospel changing people’s hearts.
Second, God has hard wired me for diversity. I have loved seeing things from a different perspective. I have close friends of color who I have given them permission to point out my cultural blindspots of whiteness. I really value what other people teach me from the way they’ve walked with Jesus and read the Scriptures. God’s redeeming all of creation to what’s revealed in Revelation 7 as, “and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before eat throne and in from of the Lamb.” Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God wants us to live his future reality here and now.
Third, I firmly believe I am the one laying half-dead in the middle of the ditch in Luke 10, in need of Jesus. This was the point of Jesus sharing the story of the good Samaritan, pointing out the rich young ruler’s need for a savior. Being shaped by the majority culture to have all of the answers has made me aware that the more I learn, the more I don’t know, particularly around race. It’s not that I don’t have certain knowledge of the Scriptures and theology, it’s just that I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface on the deep knowledge of God when it comes to race and culture. This is why I love to consult the majority white church on these issues and help them to see their blindspots when it comes to race, culture and class.
Fourth, I am a more complete and better follow of Jesus because I’ve been mentored and impacted by people who look nothing like me. I am a firm believer that in order to live out the fullness of God’s kingdom and live the vision of Revelation 7 here and now, we must be willing to be influenced by people of other races, cultures and classes. Reading Howard Thurman’s “Jesus and the Disinherited” in Seminary shaped me in deeply profound ways.
Fifth, after being exposed to the racial history of our country and church back in 2006, as documented in the seminal book, Divided by Faith, I felt the Spirit lead me to move against the stream of racism that the church and culture swims in. This has been something we’ve committed our lives to by the grace of God.
It’s an honor to join what God is doing through OneRace Movement in order to be the fullness of all that God intends the church to be here. We hope God allows us to journey together as we seek to Own the Story, Know the Story and through the power of the gospel, Change the Story!
This time of year presents an incredible opportunity to look back and reflect on the goodness of God. OneRace has been so blessed in the past 2 years to see many believers engage in the conversation on race, culture, and the church. These conversations are crucial as it impacts the credibility and the witness of the church, which are principles of infinite value. Our mission at OneRace is to teach a city to love regardless of color, class, or culture. Our hope is that every tribe, tongue, people, and nation would express the infinite worth of Jesus. (Matthew 28: 19, Revelation 7:9) So in this glorious season of joy and thanksgiving, we want to reflect on God’s kindness toward OneRace in 2019:
With a grateful heart, we give thanks. Many of you have been a tremendous champion of the OneRace movement and our mission. It is with full hearts that we give thanks to you and to our God for your invaluable support. Further, we honor and give praise to our God. We know that He wants the church to be spotless, adorned in glory for his son Jesus at his return. We count ourselves blessed to be co-laborers with God and with each of you. Be blessed in this most amazing time of year.
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.