In the past few years, discussions regarding racial issues, particularly between black and white Americans, have intensified in volume and number. What explains this phenomenon?
Though no simple answer exists, certain factors have surely contributed. Having our first African American president. Social media spreading imagery like wildfire of white police officers mistreating black males. Rallies of white nationalists, small in number but loud in voice. Counter protests of groups such as Black Lives Matter. The recent 50th Anniversary remembrance of Martin Luther King's assassination. The ongoing segregation found in our culture, especially on Sunday mornings. Discussions on race, from political commentators to evangelical leaders, fill the airwaves and blogosphere, trying to make sense of it all.
This post is not an attempt to add further commentary. Rather, it is simply a personal reflection on what the Lord is teaching me regarding this matter.
Because of the social, theological, and ecclesiastical context in which I live, my view of the world is quite different than that of my black brothers and sisters in Christ. Through close friendships with some honest brothers in Christ where I teach at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, along with some reading and listening to a number of talks, I am convinced of one thing. I’m seeing in a new way just how white I am. For I look at most situations and see the white in the picture. It's been a growing experience to notice anew the darker tones.
Now, often at this point, the person making such statements either defends himself or apologizes. I'm not really doing either with this post, but rather rejoicing that the Lord continues to sanctify me.
For I can testify that I'm growing in the communion of saints with people gloriously different than me. I'm hearing of the Lord's work in places I do not always frequent. New doors are opening for me to see the Lord's gracious acts. He has blessed me by allowing me to participate in such things as visit a black church's community meal program; teach evangelism from a Reformed perspective to a group of AME Zion leaders; share with a church history class of black students Calvin's teaching and pastoral use of predestination; have one of our African American students preach evangelistic messages for a special outreach time at our church; or preach myself at an inner city Baptist church. As the psalmist says, so do I. "They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom and talk of Your power; to make known to the sons of men Your mighty acts and the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom" (Ps. 145:11-12).
Yet, more must be said regarding my sanctification.
For as I interact firsthand with my black friends, I also learn more about the social suffering they experience. No, their trials are not necessarily the slavery, lynching, or Jim Crow Laws of yesteryear. But, like the genetic traits passed down through families, their experiences are related to them. For when I hear a godly friend share experiences where he or a loved one was mistreated as inferior in a school, pulled over without true warrant by a policeman as he drives through a white neighborhood, or not wanted in certain businesses because of his race, what am I to do? Fulfill the call of the apostle regarding Christ's body. "If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it" (I Cor. 12:26). When I ache in my heart for a pain they carry, pray against injustice, seek to love and comfort my brother, and encourage godly responses, I grow in the grace of communing with Christ and his people.
Yet I, and the church I serve, have a long way to go. For I minister in a denomination with an interesting history in this regard. On the one hand, historically the RPCNA opposed slavery and its members participated in the Underground Railroad. Indeed, historian Joseph Moore wrote a book about our church chronicling our efforts, entitled Founding Sins: How a Group of Antislavery Radicals Fought to Put Christ into the Constitution. He said our church fathers "mounted a witness against the sin of slavery unlike any other in both North and South."
However, on the other hand, we should be careful about boasting. Even into the 21st-century we remain predominately a monochromatic denomination. We currently do not have active black pastors. Though there are significant changes occurring which are bringing the RPCNA into greater contact with the nations of the world, we must not forget to work hard on our home soil.
For I am learning that we must not only reach out across the oceans but also across the street. I am learning to pray more fervently that the church in which I worship and serve would reflect more faithfully the true constituency of the kingdom of God. We must not only preach the kingdom gospel and its righteousness to corrupt persons, but also to unjust rulers and institutions. We cannot be content only reading about our history, but rewriting it. I cannot rest until the picture I truly see not only adds black to the white, but becomes as colorful as the kingdom of God promises it will be (Rev. 7:9).
For more along these lines, read Dr. Michael LeFebvre's "Neither Jew nor Gentile:
The Musings of a Modern Covenanter on Racial Reconciliation" in the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Journal (Spring 2017 Issue).