17 Apr 2011

Gospel Racial Reconciliation: Compass Points for Beginnings

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Black History, Church, Contemporary Ethics, Culture, Forgiveness, Hermeneutics, Kingdom, Ministry, Race Relations


This past week in our class “Restoration Theology,” my friend, and mentor, John Mark Hicks and I introduced the students to the history and theology of black Churches of Christ and race relations. This is always a challenging section because the history of race relations can be dismal.

I do not apologize for making students wrestle with this material … indeed we could easily spend the entire semester on it and still not come close to covering the material that really needs to be covered.

It is difficult to be a doctor when you do not know “where it hurts.” The same is true for we who claim to be disciples of the Prince of Peace. I shared what follows with our class, and I share it with my blog readers, as nothing but “compass points” to help us with points to begin Gospel reconciliation. The points mean nothing if we are not willing to do the hard work, and it is hard, of following the points.  I have incorporated wisdom from many brothers and sisters with darker skins than myself.

We are called to be agents of reconciliation. This means getting over our own limited perspective.  And If I understand Paul that would mean every single person that has been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus this is essential to what it means to be a disciple.

Since I am a Christian I approach this matter from a theological and even a gospel point of view (as I understand it).  Here is what I shared …

Compass Points

In light of our readings this week the questions must be asked:

+ how can we move forward?
+ How can we become part of the solution?
+ How can we join the mission of God?

These are questions I, as a white southerner, have wrestled with since the mid-1990s at least and nothing I have to offer is revolutionary or magical. In fact some requires a great deal of intentionality, hard work and cross bearing.

Yet here are a few things that I have become convinced are necessary in allowing God’s Spirit to use us as instruments of his new creation. We may find that it is we, ourselves, who are being challenged to the core of our being and the work of God’s Spirit begins within us.

Intentional Prayer and Communion

We must become intentional in our prayers about reconciliation. Through prayer we must become people who repent and confess our participation in systemic evil. This is exceedingly difficult because our natural response is to defend and deflect rather than humbly repent. In these prayers we need to allow the Holy Spirit to baptize our eyes and ears (so to speak) so that we can see what we cannot and hear what we do not want. This is a must step. We too easily excuse the status quo. We to easily blame the victims of oppression.

Yes the problem is huge, bigger than any one of us. But the buck stops here. We simply must integrate prayer for repentance and reconciliation into both private prayer and communal prayer. Make racial reconciliation an explicit petition in our communal prayers.

We must become intentional in demonstrating gospel reconciliation at the Table. The Table of the Lord itself preaches the reality of the new creation that Jesus’s death and resurrection secured.

Include texts that stress the horizontal dimension of the Lord’s Supper. Communion meditations that recognize that the victory of the Cross is over ethnic division and strife, such as Ephesians 2.11-22, point us to the fundamental meaning of the Table.

The Table stresses the multicultural and multi-ethnic reality of the Table like in Revelation 5.9-11; 7.9-17; and 14.6-7, should be added to our readings about on the Table. The Table erases the distinction between the “haves” and the “have nots” as 1 Corinthians 11.17-34 makes clear (note vv. 22 & 33).  Eating unworthily is not about being “devotional” nor reflecting on scenes of the crucifixion but discerning the multi-ethnic, multi-social status, assembled at the Table family of God. The Table preaches the beautiful diversity in unity of God’s daughters and sons that are made one by the blood of Christ.

Intentional prayer and intentional teaching on the fact that the Table is the place where the crucified and resurrected Lord communes with the New Humanity, where God has put to death the hostility between us – that is One in the Spirit is worth exploring.

Hermeneutical Praxis & Shift

We must experience a hermeneutical shift. Churches of Christ have long had a “canon within a canon” and preachers often have an even smaller one. I know a church in which I surveyed the sermons done in a five year period. In that five year period there were a grand total of four sermons from the “Old Testament.” One was on Hannah on Mother’s Day, a sermon on Joseph, a sermon on David and a psalm. This, in my opinion, is simply unacceptable.

Our traditional dispensational hermeneutic has gutted vast resources for equipping the saints with kingdom eyes. Consistent engagement with not only the Hebrew Bible but also the Gospels confronts us repeatedly with the narrative of God’s siding with the oppressed, the redemption of the slaves, the caring for the widows, orphans and aliens. This story confronts our lack of vision for the cosmic mission of God. Recovering the biblical narrative as a whole is of absolute necessity and must begin today. Solid, theological, expository preaching through Exodus, Deuteronomy, Amos, Micah and Jonah to name but a few. Preach the Prophets. See my suggested list: A Year of Jubilee, A Year of Mercy and Renewing the World Texts.

Multi-Colored Lenses

Along with a hermeneutical shift, we need to look at the biblical narrative through multiple lenses. All of us are captive to our own cultural biases and presuppositions that reside deep within our social and ethnic background. We need to discover just how richly textured the biblical text is. Israelites were not northern Europeans. Jesus is not white. We often subconsciously turn the people in the Bible into Anglos.

Let me share an embarrassing personal example: in 1995 a very good friend of mine (Robert Birt and about the same time Alisha Pierre) talked about the “black” people in the Bible. One of them was the Ethiopian Eunuch! Perhaps I was especially dense but it had not occurred to me that this flesh and blood man did not look like me. So get a book like Walter Arthur McCray’s The Black Presence in the Bible.

In fact here are some resources that can shape our reading of Scripture and the history of the early church: See Africa, Scripture & Christian History. Two years ago I did a class in February (black history month) called “Forgotten Roots.” In that series I told the stories of the Ethiopian, Ebed-Melech, Fred Gray, Samuel Robert Cassius and others.

Note also that in Scripture unity is often racial rather than doctrinal. Throughout the wonderful book of Ephesians the ethnic divisions established and maintained by the fall is overturned through the work of the cross. Paul’s emphasis in Ephesians has nothing to do with Baptists or instruments and everything to do with Jews & Gentiles (ethnic/racial division) both living as one new race. Baptism destroys the ethnic division (not the ethnicities) of the old fallen order Do we actually preach biblical baptism or some narrow sectarian version of it?

Notice of Galatians 3.26-29 and 1 Corinthians 12.12-13 are both not simply about merely an individual getting rid of personal sin but of healing the human race from the consequences of the Fall.

Learn Black History

Become a student of black history and integrate it into your story.  Without this we will never even attempt to see from a different direction. Until the mid-1990s it never occurred to me that black history in America was significantly different than white. Again my impetus for this was Robert Birt and Alisha Pierre.

If we do not know who Benjamin Banneker, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, or Emmett Till  then our vision is skewed at best. If we do not understand the significance of the three-fifths clause, Jim Crow, Black Codes, one drop rule, literacy tests, blackface, Greenwood, why watermelon is a stereotype, then we have no clue what life has been like for others.

These people, and events, are not just part of Black history but they are people who shaped American history. They rank along with Washington, Jefferson and Franklin.

Engage writers who are African-American like James Baldwin, Henry Louis Gates, Jr, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker.

Birt challenged me to read Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America by Lerone Bennett Jr. which is something of a classic. I did, and I have never been the same.

So I recommend reading Bennett for a broad survey but is only a good beginning point. Read Deirdre Mullane’s Crossing the Danger Water: Three Hundred Years of African-American Writing for an intro into the vast diversity of black culture (that is anything but monolithic).

A good book with a much narrower focus is Richard Hughes Myths America Lives By. We must be intentional in learning to “see” and “hear.”

Become an Ambassador

Become an intentional ambassador for the ministry of reconciliation. Paul says that the Gospel is the gospel of reconciliation. Attend local NAACP meetings, as a guest. Listen to the concerns of people different than you.

Participate in the Martin Luther King Jr prayer breakfasts. Integrate, intentionally, multicultural sermon illustrations. For example when talking about the inevitable theme of freedom for July 4th integrate the story of the Amistad.

If you are preaching from Mark 8 on following the Messiah’s Footprints the story of William Wilberforce or Nelson Mandela fits powerfully. I told the story of George Wallace as an example of the “Ethics of Baptism” from Colossians 3.1-12 which focused on the power of God to transform our fallen defaced image into the renewed brilliant image of God. The fallen Wallace screamed with a baseball bat in hand “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” But he underwent a “baptism” – shot, paralyzed and converted. When he died, Jesse Jackson and Coretta Scott King attended his funeral. A great example of one who put off “anger, rage, malice” and clothed himself with “compassion, kindness, and humility” which led him to confess there was “no Greek or Jew.” Being intentional about our illustrations does not mean they must all be ‘black.” Integrating illustrations from Frederick Douglass, S. R. Cassius, John Perkins etc but our illustrations needs to reflect intentionality.   We need to overcome our credibility gap.  See my Spencer Perkins and the “Prolife Credibility Gap.”

Build Personal Relationships

Become intentional about personal relationships. Cross the race and culture barrier on a personal and interpersonal level. When was the last time you had a person of another race sitting at your table for dinner? Make Gospel reconciliation a priority one on one.

These are a few things all of us can do as we seek to become instruments of shalom in God’s fallen world. These are not exhaustive but they are places to begin and the one who is likely to do as much changing as anyone is ourselves.

Blessed are the shalom-makers for they shall be called children of God.” – Jesus

10 Responses to “Gospel Racial Reconciliation: Compass Points for Beginnings”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    GW: Excellent, Bobby. Perfect timing too. Our next 6 Sunday morning class topics deal with Ethiopians and Slaves in the Bible.

    You have framed the opening discussion better than I would have had I written it myself.

    Enjoy the day.

  2. JeremyNSunny Says:

    Wonderful, Bobby. Thanks for this.

    Our first experience intentionally bringing down the race wall was as newlyweds in a majority black congregation in CA. It was perspective- and life-changing, praise God!

    I look forward to checking out the suggested reading you mentioned.

  3. Terry Says:

    You have some good ideas here.

  4. Michael Says:

    Interesting and challenging. There are some wonderful videos available on the Day of Discovery website. These are from the weekly TV series: “Africa and the Bible,” a series of three programs. The book by the same name by Edwin M. Yamauchi serves as something of a basis for these presentations. Also such series as “The Marian Anderson Story,” and “The Christmas Journey,” re. the Underground Railroad.” Great stuff. Ken Green

  5. Anonymous Says:

    it seems to me, god is so gracious to tell us His Story, fully knowing our limitations,our proclivity to fight to be right,and in that mind set,we fail to see his story of how our father Adjusted our future to not only expose his ability to bring about his goal by the spirit working,but also do this in such a way that that even today we are finding out just how ignorant we have always been when comprehending his purpose and his ability to accomplish this in the old way as in the new cov.once established by his words,he is good to do for us as well as them for his sons kingdom psalm.2

    to me this in itself is one of the greatest wonders when the greatest minds of the history, of this last 2000 years, (because of our subjective cultural ontological psychology wrapped in a tradition of exclusiveness)
    we have missed the point time and time again.
    one of his promised blessings is seek and you will find.
    condition? of coarse this doesn’t affect our salvation,just our world in which we live today
    love one another!
    be wise as a serpent concerning good.
    and as Innocent as a dove concerning evil.
    how long does it take bob to finally figure out, until we get these intrinsic characteristics of loving kindness mercy and self forgetting “of god” integrated into Ourselves we are a pretty screwed up bunch.
    SO as the teacher would say be grateful that you can be joyously free,if you allow God to do what he does best adjust our future for our good,and Allow him and facilitate his work to do the same for our neighbor IF we will but LEARN to have a relationship with him(OUR NEIGHBOR) as god in Christ has with us.

    I BELIEVE bob the integration or dovetailing of gods good can not be accomplished until we understand and believe just how well god will work for our good.

    rich constant

  6. Anonymous Says:

    bob i sent you a little something i am working on good or not good …
    i hope you got it …
    i don’t have a copy could you e-mail it back to me so that i could work on that concept a little more
    thanks and i hope you got it…
    boy oh boy.
    i am one piece of work on this computer.
    rich constant

  7. Gardner Hall Says:

    Thought provoking as always. I often have to deal with the hostile attitude of many brethren towards Hispanic immigrants. Of course the fact that some are “illegal” gives ammunition to those who would marginalize them and complicates our efforts to help.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    Good thoughts until your recommendation on attending a NAACP breakfast. While this may have been a good recommendation a decade or so ago, the NAACP has long since abrogated its moral high ground. It is nothing more than a left leaning political organization in a racial reconciliation disguise. Far better to not waste our time with political hacks in the NAACP, and spend it with real people of other race’s.

  9. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Dear Anon:

    I normally do not allow unsigned comments so next time you comment put your name or don’t comment.

    Now in reply. I said attend a MLK Jr Prayer Breakfast not the NAACP. I recommended attending the local meeting of the NAACP though.

    However your sweeping generalization is just that – a sweeping generalization. It really is no different than saying do not attend the PTA meeting because the teachers are all left wing puppets. This is simply not the case.

    For the record I am not even remotely interested in “left wing” politics nor “right wing” politics. Rather my interest is Gospel reconciliation.

  10. Wiley Says:

    Bobby, Good article! I’m curious as to how you feel about started at ACU about 15 years ago with Royce Money and their attempt at reconcilliation during Lecturship. Do you feel that this is still an ongoing process or has the friction of time slowed brought it to a stand still again? There seem to have been some positive changes that occured at the university lever which have been carried on but in the many churches our ethnicity ratios still seem to be 99 t0 100% one sided.


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