Whenever we begin a visioning process in the church, a particular passage of scripture comes to mind: when “a great multitude … from every nation, tribe, people, and language” will gather around the throne together and worship the Lord (Revelation 7:9).
Stunning, isn’t it? There will be a day, in the great by and by, when we who were created to be different — race, language, look — finally will gather as one and sing Songs of Zion forevermore.
Until then, we languish in a society of separation, discrimination, and racism — ills that will not be quenched on this earth.
That statement undoubtedly catches some folks by surprise. Throughout history — and especially over the last 60 years — well-intentioned people have tried their best to eradicate all forms of racism. The Civil Rights Act made enormous strides in creating a more just society. The desegregation of schools invited kids of every race to learn together and figure out how to live together. We’ve even elected our first African-American president, something unimaginable two generations ago.
But, hard as we try, racism will not be eliminated.
Mark Galli makes an important observation: “A simple definition of racism is ‘discrimination … against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.’ Racism, like all sins, is the result of something good gone bad — in this case, affection for loved ones. Such affection makes possible familial, ethnic, and racial pride, as well as love and sacrifice for family and community. But just as healthy sexual attraction often turns into lust, and healthy self-esteem into pride, so healthy loyalty to one’s own too often turns into racism.”
In other words, our human condition — we who are the in-heritors of original sin — prevents us from fully eradicating racism, pride, lust, and the like.
Let’s say it together: “Ugh.”
So … are we hopeless? Should we just throw up our arms and walk away? Hardly.
The irony, Galli goes on to say, is that this seeming cause for despair has the capacity to prevent despair. “Just because we cannot eradicate racism doesn’t mean we have to succumb to its nasty expressions,” a la Charleston or the KKK.
Well said. But what does that mean for the church — for you and me?
It means that we the church bring a lot to this conversation. First, we are able to honestly, authentically, and painfully con-fess that “we are sinful and unclean” and in need of forgiveness. With that in mind, we abandon utopian hopes of a world free of sin and focus our attention on those things we do best — gather in community and proclaim the power of reconciliation.
The church must be front and center in bringing together black and white and brown and yellow for honest conversations about race. Let’s hear each other out. Let’s not be afraid of challenging comments. Let’s make room for tears, while also making room for hugs. Let’s create space for folks to acknowledge our brokenness so that we can then begin the process of building bridges. After all, Paul writes, “the ministry of reconciliation is now ours” (2 Corinthians 5:19). That means you and me.
Reconciliation is a long journey that requires patience and forbearance. It’s not about removing all tension, but figuring out how we can treat each other with grace while seeking peace and justice and mercy for all. In the meantime, we wait for that glorious day when “a great multitude … from every nation, tribe, people, and language” will join together in the eternal song of Zion. What a day that will be.