The Way Forward
“The fact is, race is a constant factor in American life, yet reacting to every incident, real or imagined, is crippling, tiring and ultimately counterproductive. I’d grown up in a family that believed you might not control your circumstances, but you could control your reaction to them.
“Despite the gross inequities my ancestors faced, there has been progress and race is today no longer determinative of how far one can go. That said, America is not color-blind and likely will never be. Race is ever-present, like a birth defect that you learn to live with but can never cure.”
Much to my dismay I must admit that I agree with former Secretary of State Rice’s take on the issue of race in America. In my view it’s both sobering and accurate. It’s sobering to know that within my lifetime blacks simply wouldn’t have been invited or welcome in many evangelical churches. And yet within that same lifetime our country has elected an African-American president. In between these two realites lie our present struggles with race/ethnicity. No one can sincerely doubt that we’ve made great progress, however such progress does not mean that America is a color-blind society. Secretary Rice’s analogy while unpleasant has a ring of truth to it, for in some ways our national issue of race/ethnicity is like a birth defect, something we learn to live with but can’t really cure.
The irony of race in America is that over forty years since the end of legalized Jim Crow in the South and de facto John Crow in the North we’re still in many ways two peoples living amongst (but not necessarily with) each other with distrust and some animosity. We rarely talk about race and when it comes to our collective attention our society tends to react like two factions within the Christian church with respect to demons. One faction sees demonic activty behind every tree and under every rock, while another almost never admits to it.
Unfortunately, the best our culture can seem to do at this point is highlight the issue, wish it were better and then go about our business. Like Ms. Rice we might admit our problem, but feel somewhat powerless to address it and thus go on our way hoping that somehow it will correct itself. Sadly the evangelical church is not much better and may be worse. For one we, (and I do mean we, for we cannot truly address this issue if we remain in our separate historical camps) have a long and sinful history of disobeying God’s clear commands regarding the treatment of individuals and groups. The fact is that the evangelical church embraced the social gospel of racial discrimination instead of pursuing the bibical message of ethnic unity that springs from the gospel. In so doing we put the temporal and sinful wishes of our tribal group above the clear mandate of scripture. Moreover, rather than taking the lead in this area, we’ve retreated into ideological positions which may reinforce our political beliefs but do little if anything to further the cause of the gospel.
And that’s what this discussion is and should be about. We approach the thorny issue of race not to champion one side or the other, nor to advance our cause or even to placate our own conscience. No, we do so because our society has proven over and over again that its lost in this area and it like so many other issues is one in which the scriptures speak and speak powerfully.
Some of you are aware of the article in the Southern Poverty Law Center (http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2010/summer/rooting-out-racism) concerning Pastor Craig Bulkley’s response to an email from a former elder. One thing that should be clear is that the PCA is not the only denomination or for that matter institution that struggles with the issue of race. As Ms. Rice wrote ‘’the fact is, race is a constant factor in American life’… It’s not a debilitating factor, but it is a factor nonetheless.
The issue then for us dear ones is simple: what is the way forward and can we as a church begin to shepherd those we serve to the extent that all of us can speak to the issues of race/ethnicity with grace, humility and a with a focus on the mission of the gospel? We believe so and thus we start this series of articles with the hope of providing a voice of experience, wisdom and insight coupled with a strong biblical perspective. All of those who write these articles have served for some time within the PCA. Moreover, all of us have had different though common experiences as African-Americans in this country. We’ve all been blessed to have embraced biblically reformed theology and by our Lord’s grace are either presently pastoring or served in pastoral ministry with both blacks and whites.
Our goal in this series of articles is to address the various issues of race/ethnicity from a biblical point of view that equips all of us to be faithful witnesses to our culture. We recognize that not every PCA church will be become a multi-ethnic congregation and we also realize that this is not the only issue to which we as a church of our Lord Jesus Christ must speak. But speak to it we must, just as we speak to issues such as abortion, homosexuality and other issues we deem important.
Our hope is that this series helps us to navigate the turbulent waters of race/ethnicity together. And that together we can present a gracious, humble, biblical and Christ-focused witness to culture and communties for God’s glory and the sake of the gospel.
Joyfully in Christ,