“Reconciliation is not a side issue of the Gospel. It is the very Gospel itself.” -Dr. John Perkins
Do you remember the first time you were aware of your race? For me, it was in college sitting in a social work class. The professor said, “Are you aware of your race when you leave your house every day?” I was a deer in the headlights. Do other people really think about that every day? I rarely ever considered my whiteness at all. At 19 years old, I had grown up in a predominantly white context and didn’t HAVE to think about my race. The Holy Spirit began working in my heart. I knew I had so much to learn. After college, I would spend the next 15 years living in communities where I was the minority (though this still held a certain level of privilege). I married a black man, and we are raising four sons together. I am learning to view the world through the eyes of my husband, my sons, our friends, and our neighbors.
In our series, Back to our Roots, where we delve into the core values that Sunshine holds, we discuss the topic of reconciliation, what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and how it affects us here at Sunshine.
We want to begin with the WHY behind reconciliation. Why should we care at all? 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 tells us our call to be ambassadors of reconciliation comes directly from the need for reconciliation between God and man that Christ provides us through his sacrifice. The sin divide between God and man could only be reconciled by Jesus. Out of gratitude, there is now no excuse to be separated from our fellow brothers and sisters. The Bible shows that broken relationships are at the root of poverty, marginalization and conflict. We see racial division play out in our cities and even in our churches despite the strong call to believers to love our neighbors as ourselves. Sunday mornings remain the most segregated time of the week.
Rev. Brian A. Tillman helps us understand reconciliation further. “Reconciliation is not a singular act. It is a process by which the participants of injustice and the endurers of injustice come together to do the work of bringing about restoration of the relationship with God and with one another.” But he also points out that, “First we must define what racial reconciliation is and what it is not. If the white pastor of a large white church says, ‘We need to pray for reconciliation,’ but it requires no work from them and is left only up to God to change hearts, that’s not true reconciliation. Or if people use reconciliation as a call for the oppressed to just forgive, it allows those who benefit from racial injustice to confess nothing, change nothing, pay nothing, and concede nothing.”
When I first started the journey of racial reconciliation, it was uncomfortable for me to think about racism happening today. I would rather just view it as an issue of the past. If it remains in the past, it absolves me from any responsibility in the ongoing system. As we look to the example of Christ reconciling us to God and the Kingdom of Heaven, we also see that in order for reconciliation to happen there must be an admission of sin and repentance. Reconciliation assumes there has been a breakdown in relationship. “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar and remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”-Matthew 5:23-24
Pastor Daniel Hill, who founded River City Church in Chicago, discusses how for him as a white Christian who knew the call of all Christians to enter into racial reconciliation, everything changed when he realized that his entire way of viewing the world was only through his own lens. In order to SEE the Kingdom of God and his brothers and sisters, he must start to learn from those different from him and see the world through their eyes. In this kind of posture of humility, we can begin to have the scales removed from our eyes and begin to view things from another’s reality. For white people, this can cause feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment, or even defensiveness. We like to view racism as a single act of one person against another, instead of a system that is set up to benefit a group of people at the expense of others.
Author Austin Channing Brown shares some wise insight as we move forward in difficult conversations around race, “Race conversations can be very uncomfortable. That doesn’t make them bad. Just as listening to difficult stories is hard, so is telling those difficult stories. While it’s true we must own our emotions, it’s important that we not make our personal feelings the center of the conversation for everyone. We must listen, even when it hurts.” For minorities to share their stories takes emotional energy and vulnerability that oftentimes is not met with grace. The ultimate goal in these difficult conversations is to come to a place of empathy which can lead to healing.
At Sunshine, we are passionate about the call to racial reconciliation. While our first priority is reconciling people to God, it is impossible to be truly reconciled to God and not be reconciled to our brother and sister. We find it is a painful and difficult process that we stumble through every day requiring a continued posture of learning and humility from those of us that are white, while it requires grace and patience and trust from our black brothers and sisters. We would love to have you enter the conversation with us. We will continue to unpack these ideas over the next few months but we would also invite you to come talk with us either through our BridgeBuilders program or over a cup of coffee.