This past week has been very interesting for me. On Wednesday, the trial of Derek Chauvin handed down their verdict. The obvious race component of that trial caused me to reflect on my journey with racial issues, which began two years ago. As I was preparing for my second sabbatical, a friend of mine encouraged me to read, Woke Church. As I read it, I was convicted of my stubbornness to not read a book that was being read widely by the Shenandoah Presbytery Waking Up White. As is typical when learning about a topic, one book led to another, which led to another. My research helped me realize I was woefully ignorant of prejudices and racist attitudes I had instinctively embraced and were a far cry from what our Lord Jesus meant when he told his followers to love their neighbors. I was surprised and somewhat angered to learn that huge parts of the history I learned in school were glossed over. For example, I had no idea how sinister Jim Crow laws really were; how strong a reaction our nation had to Brown v. Board of Education. I never learned about the Tulsa riots or Juneteenth. Most importantly, I realized there is still a race problem in our world, and I was part of the problem. I had convinced myself to turn away from that issue and focus on Jesus, but what I was really doing was dressing up my own ignorance in spiritual platitudes.
I came back from sabbatical knowing two things: First, I wanted to do something about this, and second, that it would be hard, given the emotional and divisive nature of the problem. Just before the pandemic, I launched a group to study Waking Up White. The pandemic and the difficult nature of the material whittled the group down to a handful of people. That group has remained faithful, wrestling with our own prejudices and attitudes. It has been hard work. The group even has a name now, R.E.A.D. (Racial Equity and Discipleship). The goal of the group is to learn about and figure out what these race issues mean in light of faithfulness to Christ. This Saturday, the READ group is beginning a new discussion, looking over the first section of Jerome Tisby’s How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice. This Christian book takes a sensitive and practical look at how Christians can respond to these important issues. Anyone curious about these issues is welcome to join us Saturday at 10am (the Zoom info is in this newsletter).
I completely understand that this is not easy, and that most of us would rather not deal with race. It is soul-crushing to realize that something that shaped us might be wrong or even harmful. No one wants to deal with that. And yet, in this fragile moment in our country, Christians are in a special place from which to approach this. Laws, verdicts, curricula – they are good steps, but they do not change people. Only the Spirit of God can do that. The Church of Jesus Christ has a unique opportunity to lead the way toward genuine reconciliation, for the gospel of Christ has the power not only to reconcile us to God, but to bring healing and genuine fellowship that can only come from God. So for now, I will continue to try and balance what it means as a pastor to wrestle with a new way of understanding a particular issue while pointing people to Jesus. For this, I humbly ask for your prayers.