“Cross my heart and hope to die. Stick a needle in my eye.” Our promises use to mean something. As children, we took our commitment– no matter how trivial or time- sensitive– seriously. We meant what we said with our little mouths about a rumor we had heard or the score of last night’s game. It was the difference between life and death for us to break a promise. Our very life was staked on our fidelity.
But, words don’t mean much now. We say words and take them back. We say things that we later claim we didn’t mean. We don’t think through the impact of our words and later maintain that we misspoke. But, what of the promises that we have made to Christ?
Certainly, we meant it then but do we mean it now? And going to church is no indication of our allegiance. The story of the disciples removes our rose- colored glasses and any doubt that you can follow Christ and still deny him, that Jesus can call you by name and you still betray him. Proximity is not an indication of one’s ability to keep a promise. Friends and enemies share the same space.
So how do you or I know how committed you are until a time of testing? How does God know that you are committed? Would we know if our commitment changed? Because betrayal is a slow backing away. We take long breaks and then Sundays off before we leave the faith altogether. It simply starts with our fellowship.
Consequently, confessing Christ as our personal Lord and Savior is not a one- time declaration. Instead, we must confess Christ daily as there are continuous assaults on his position in our lives. Everyday, the forces of our society, the traditions of our family, the tyranny of our workload threatens to unseat him.
And what of our commitment to Christian community? What happens to our confession to love when the community does not reflect our culture, when the people “don’t look like us”, when it becomes apparent that we have created a version of Christianity that suits our people group and no one else’s? Then, we realize that our promise was conditional and the challenge to “renew our minds” so that we become one in Christ is presented (cf. Romans 12.2,5). Because we crossed our hearts and hoped to die to self and all its carnal desires, too.
Didn’t you promise?
Last year, I had the privileged of serving with Dr. Hart at a community- wide event, aimed at race, community and the practice of our Christian faith in Henderson, KY. It was my first time meeting him and he was gracious. I had just read his book and been sharing his insights on social media. To say the least, I was excited to meet him in person and to hear more of his thoughts on subjects dear to both of us. He happily obliged, answering all my questions and offering support for future study endeavors.
This time, he is closer to home. On July 22, he will be speaking at the Festival Center in Washington, D.C. at 1 p.m. and from his new book Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism. It is a conversation that the church needs to have and if we are not prepared to speak, we can at least listen in.
For more information and to register, click here.
While the Washington Post reports that there is a surge in hate graffiti in my area and video of the confession of Dylann Roof, accused murderer of nine members of Mother Emanuel AME Church in 2015, has been released to the public, I am praying that more stories like the ones emerging from the protest of the North Dakota pipeline are on the rise. Below is proof that if we could all learn the language of apology, then we could talk reconciliation.
There is power in truth- telling, in stepping forward and raising our hands to say, “I did it.” There is courage in the acknowledgement of fault and seeking accountability for wrong- doing. It takes a strong person to say, “I have wronged you.”
Anyone can stand to take the credit but there are few who will step from the shadows and break the silence to take the blame.
More than a personal reflection, it is a survey of one’s character that reports all of our findings: “I have lied to you, tricked you, hurt and harassed you, oppressed you, stolen from you, cheated you, murdered you.” No shuffling of feet, no blame- shifting but an eye- to- eye confession, we are not ashamed to show our faces and we look into the faces of those we have done harm.
Not a deathbed confession, our reputation will suffer. We cannot close our eyes to see death, comforting in knowing that we will never have to face it again. This is not for those who just need to get it off their chest. Reconciliation is compelled by love.
Recently, military veterans went to Standing Rock to apologize and to ask for their forgiveness. “We’ve hurt you in so many ways. We’ve come to say we’re sorry.”
We give and spend millions of dollars in hopes of curing diseases that infect the body and prematurely take the lives of those we love. Worthy causes they all are. We also need to invest in a cure for race. This social infection compromises our relationships, vanquishes our self- awareness and understanding of our neighbors, local, national and global.
The effects of its prejudices and stereotypes have been devastating. It causes people to separate into groups of us and them. We take sides that do nothing more than pull us apart. Without techniques and proper training, there seems to be no means of putting them back together again. Friendships never form and we will never know how much has been lost in the absence of cross- cultural conversations.
We walk miles to raise money for these causes. It is good for our health and for the momentum of those who fight, but what of the distance we do not travel to make connections, random but intentional, with those who do not share our culture and traditions? Race has caused our members to be spread so far apart, not wanting to touch though we cannot function without each other.
Jesus asked a necessary question of a man who had been ill for thirty- eight years, “Do you want to be made well” (John 5.6)? Because it cannot be assumed that because a person is ill or even asks for help that she and he want the condition to change. Sometimes, we can get use to fighting, arguing, hating, living separately. And while the possibility of wholeness is accessible through the presence of Christ, we have gotten use to lying down. We’ve gotten comfortable with our position.
Today, I challenge us to answer the question or stop talking about the problem.
In April, I talked about the ways in which being a multicultural church is easier said than done. How I wish that our faith would be enough to bring us together. Because it is more than enough if we would allow it. Our shared relationship with Jesus Christ is enough to bring us to the Lord’s table if we would put down our privileges and entitlements. Still, we want God to sit down with us and not them.
Praying hands should be able to hold hands, to join hands with persons of other cultures. Voices lifted to God should be able to speak to persons of other cultures. How is possible that God’s people, Jesus followers practice racism, prejudice and stereotyping? Surely, we have forgotten his commandments. Obviously, we are not following in Christ’s footsteps.
Sin is the biggest difference yet God did not allow this to come between us; instead God became like us in Jesus Christ. But, we cannot get over the differences in our appearance, perspectives and traditions? Yes, we pretend to for one day and a couple of hours on Sunday mornings. Fooling no one. Well, maybe just one– yourself.
But, time’s up. The scales must come off. If you read the list below, then your vision will return.
It might not be a multicultural church if…
- The members of different cultures do not have a relationship with each other outside of the church, if they only see each other on Sunday mornings, if all they have found themselves to have in common is that they attend the same church.
- You cannot talk about race, racialized or race- related incidents with a measure of respect and understanding, without labeling or judging, without withdrawing from the conversation through silence, reverting to stereotypical assumptions or resignation because you are right and they are always wrong.
- Your talking about race threatens your relationship with other cultures, if there is an unspoken rule that we don’t bring race up around here and if someone does, they are ostracized (because race has nothing to do with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, our faith, worship, right?).
- You don’t know the cultural cues, customs and traditions of the other cultural groups represented and you don’t see a need to.
- You speak disparagingly about the dress of other cultures, critique, criticize or seem confused by their hairstyles or clothing choices or see their appearance as something to be tolerated (if only in your mind).
- You speak of the other cultures represented as persons to be fixed, helped, aided and view yourself as the source of their change (if only said to persons of your cultural group).
- You see the cultures represented as an internal missions project, a do- it- yourself renovation of those people (Remember: You don’t have to say it; you need only think it and operate from this premise.).
I hope that this post is challenging. It might even upset you. And if it does, ask yourself why?
One last thing, sitting on the same pew does not make you a multicultural church. It’s more than a new seating arrangement. We will all need to come a whole lot closer if we are to be a true multicultural church.