Hey Waite Park Church Family,
I hope you were as excited as I was about our joint service with Wayman AME on Sunday! It’s always great to get together with our brothers and sisters in Christ to worship the same Father, Savior and Lord. I wanted to write up some of my reflections to follow-up with the service on Sunday.
The reason I want to do this is because—although I haven’t heard anything negative—I suspect there were some who were, at times, uncomfortable. No doubt, Rev. Coleman said some things that might be hard to hear. Words like “white fragility” and “white supremacy” fall hard on white ears. Our tendency is to want to cover our ears and dismiss the ideas out of hand. Some of what Rev. Coleman said may challenge long-held beliefs or even create some angst because it sounds similar to political beliefs or ideology you might find unbiblical or even dangerous.
While I understand how some may be uncomfortable with the conversation, I want you to resist the temptation to dismiss it out of hand. In the end, you might disagree with some of what Rev Coleman shared Sunday, but don’t disagree or dismiss without first hearing and considering what he had to say. Here’s how I’m processing this past Sunday. If you weren’t there, take the time to watch the discussion and sermon here. If you don’t remember much of it, watch it again and consider these ten not-so-brief-thoughts going forward.
I can vouch for Rev Coleman’s character and his dedication to Christ and Scripture. You can trust him. Does that mean he’s always right? Certainly not. But neither am I. Trust does not equal blindly believing everything someone says, but it does mean that they are worthy of consideration. The fact is that on matters of Bible and theology, the Wesleyan Church and the A.M.E. Church are about as close as denominations can be. Rev Coleman is neither progressive nor conservative. He seeks to be Biblical as do we.
While our theology is quite similar, our experience as people of different races, ethnicity, and skin-color, shapes how we see the world. The fact is that white Americans and Black Americans see the world differently. Even with our common commitment to Christ and Scripture, white Christians and black Christians see the world differently because of our history and personal experiences. Many alive today live with the memory of the Civil Rights movement in the 50’s and 60’s. Of course, many great things happened during that time, but the fact is that the last known lynching in the U.S. happened as recently as 1981. That’s not that long ago…
As Rev Coleman mentioned on Sunday, Black Americans as a whole lag far behind on almost every metric of social and economic well-being, including median income, education, health, and employment. Is this because black people are naturally inferior? Less moral? (This belief, by the way, is the definition of white supremacy.) Or is there something else going on that still needs to be addressed? Since the Civil Rights movement our laws have certainly improved, many of them intended specifically to benefit minorities, but could there still be societal factors that contribute to racial disparities? For instance, home ownership is the great indicator of generational wealth. Today, the average net worth of white Americans is $110,000; for black Americans $4955. Could some of the economic disparities we see in Minneapolis today stem from the fact that home ownership was deliberately denied blacks with red-lining laws of the 30’s through the 60’s? While tracing the disparities historically might be easy, finding the solution is much more complicated.
The Bible talks a great deal about justice. Black Christians know this well. White Christians tend not to be as in-tune to this fact. But justice isn’t a minor sideline, it’s a MAJOR theme that runs throughout Scripture. On Sunday, Rev. Coleman preached on Isaiah 32, which talks about “righteousness and justice.” Righteousness means to “be right,” justice means to “do right.” (the Bible Project has made a great video on the Biblical concept of justice here. Really, watch it!) These two things go hand in hand. Most of the time—especially in the Old Testament, you rarely see one without the other. Along with idol worship, God’s most common accusation against Israel was the failure to do justice. In fact, they would use their “righteousness” (i.e. “we do our sacrifices and are faithful temple-goers and tithers) as an excuse to ignore justice. Is it possible we are guilty of the same thing?
The proper initial response to preaching for the believer is not to critique the preacher (though that may be appropriate at times), but to be open-hearted. Is there truth here? Is God speaking to me? Sometimes our resistance to a message may be our resistance to conviction or simply a comfort with how we live. Again, that doesn’t mean that we blindly accept everything we hear in the pulpit, but it does mean that we must continue to be open to correction where it’s needed.
Self-flagellation and walking on egg-shells isn’t part of conviction and repentance. If you feel conviction, acknowledge it and move forward. How will you operate differently as a result of this conviction? The test of true conviction is not how bad you feel, but what changes.
Sometimes our resistance comes from being raised with a different point of view. But I would encourage you to go on a journey with our black Christian brothers and sisters. I know we’ve been doing this with Wayman for a few years, but the goal is for us to open up dialogue so we can learn to listen to each other. I believe we are entering into a time in our nation’s history where we will NEED each other (not that we ever didn’t), but we won’t be able to work together if we don’t come together.
Younger generations have their antenna’s up on racial issues today. If Christians are not at least conversant on the issues, we will be dismissed out of hand. The Christian perspective on race may be different (hopefully MORE redemptive and radical) than our society in general, but we must be able to understand other perspectives to communicate effectively.
Though we don’t often think about it, most white Christians believe that white is just “normal.” For instance, are traditional hymns sung stoically and reverently “normal” (i.e. superior to gospel songs with dancing?) and everything else a fun diversion until we can get back to worship the way God intends? By the way, gospel songs with dancing are also not superior to traditional hymns sung reverently. They are both legitimate expressions of worship.
If you want to gain a new perspective—the point of black history month—here are some great resources for you to dive in.
I mentioned the series “Eyes on the Prize” done by PBS in the 80’s. It’s a great in-depth look at the Civil Rights Movement in America. You can get it on Amazon Prime Video or order the DVD’s on Amazon as well.
A more recent series (2019) is called “Reconstruction: America After the Civil War” is also available on Amazon Prime. It’s an amazing look at a forgotten time in American history that will open your eyes to many of the issues facing us even today.
“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr. was written to white pastors in the south who were uncomfortable with King’s “agitation” and were calling for patience. You can find it in PDF form here.
Another King writing mentioned by Rev. Coleman is “Why we Can’t Wait.” You can get it here.
Rev. Coleman mentioned the book “White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for White People to Talk about Racism.” If you want to be challenged (sounds FUN!) you can get it here.
Two great black thinkers in America were Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. They both wrote extensively about the plight of black Americans and the legacy of slavery, but had very different ideas about how to deal with it. This book gives both perspectives. “The Souls of Black Folk, Up From Slavery: Two Visions, One Mission”
If you’re interested in considering who needs to take responsibility for racial disparities in the U.S. the Christian Sociologist, George Yancey has written a great treatment called “Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility.” You can get it here.
Another newer book (2018) that is hopeful that we can come together. Bryan Loritts, “Insider Outsider: My Journey as a Stranger in White Evangelicalism and My Hope for All of Us.” Get it here.
The reason this is important is because racial reconciliation is a gospel issue. We tend to think of the gospel as good news for individuals—and it is. But the gospel also reconciles people groups. From the very beginning, when God called Abraham, he told him that “all the people on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3) “People” means tribe or people group. In Matthew 28, Jesus gives the Great Commission and says to “make disciples of all nations.” Nations is the Greek word ethnos—where we get the word ethnicity.
The book of Acts is filled with descriptions of the multi-ethnic makeup of the Kingdom. In Acts, chapter 2, the first Christian sermon was preached to “God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” And that’s no small detail.
The Apostle Paul viewed the bridging of the ethnic gap as a core piece of the gospel. In Ephesians 2, he writes, “For he [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups [Jews and Gentiles] one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” While he was talking Jews and Gentiles, the spirit of his teaching applies also to other ethnic divides.
Finally, in John’s picture of heaven in Revelation, he sees, “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9) Of course, this includes every people group, not just black and white, but every people-group under the sun. And while we certainly have work to do in breaking down prejudice that still exists toward other groups—like our Mexican immigrant brothers and sisters—there is a particular wound that comes from 250 years of enslavement and another 150 years of racial prejudice toward African Americans. We will spend eternity together, so working toward that vision should be a priority for all of us.