First, we want to recognize that many are already fatigued by the topic of racial equity and justice.
Those in the majority often feel this only dregs up old wounds from the past and is therefore divisive rather than unifying. Others fear a secular or anti-gospel agenda might be lurking under the surface, and still others see race and justice as distractions from the Gospel. “Let’s just proclaim Christ!” they declare.
We recognize these concerns, and we would simply respond that the Gospel, rightly understood, points us to, not away, from racial equity and justice. As Pastor Chris Brooks explained, the Hellenistic widows in the early church were right to advocate for fair treatment, and the apostles were right to change the unjust system that left them out. In the same way, we are right to bring up the uneven and unjust ways people in the Church and in our communities, particularly those of color, are treated.
Likewise, those in the minority (people of color) often feel wary of engaging this topic yet again. They fear this is just another well-intentioned, but empty, discussion that will lead nowhere. “I’ve seen this before,” many will say. Other fear they will again be forced to carry the greatest burden by sharing their stories and teaching their white brothers and sisters only to be discounted and told they’re seeing things wrongly. The risk of re-tramatization is real.
We recognize these concerns, as well, and we call on people in the majority to take the lead, own their own learning and pursue true unity, equity and justice. As they do, our hope is for real change, trust and healing to grow over time. We won’t solve a lot in just a few months, but we can take meaningful steps forward. Church leadership, in particular, must lead by example in this area.
Furthermore, the topic of justice raise questions because of the inadequacy of our language. In his book Generous Justice, Tim Keller writes, "The fact is that the word 'justice' does not have a definition in our culture that we can all agree on." However, God has said a lot about justice in Scripture, and Keller summarizes the biblical teaching in two ways: “care for the vulnerable” and “right relationships.” The fact in our context is that people of color are especially vulnerable due to our history. Dr. Todd Robinson describes our own local history of segregation in his book A City Within a City: The Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This history shows that being members of the Body of Christ didn’t necessarily protect people of color from being left out or marginalized.
Therefore, seeking unity and proclaiming the gospel today includes repairing these wrongs, and cultivating right relationships. We can’t fix everything in a few months, but we can move the needle, if we all engage with grace, patience, humility, a willingness to learn from one another, and an eagerness to repent and repair whatever we find that is broken.