On August 28, 1963, ten speakers took the stage to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. The last speaker, Martin Luther King, Jr., had prepared an 11-minute speech to close the day. The crowd of 250,000 people had been there for hours already. Even though the last time slot is, in many respects, the worst one to have, King Jr. delivered a speech that would forever change the world.
Upon taking the stage, King Jr. realized that the crowd hadn’t experienced an “aha” moment yet. While progress in race relations over the previous 100 years presented a reason to celebrate, the reality is that the fight for equality amongst races was nowhere near completed.
As King Jr. took the stage, he slid his prepared speech to the left side of the lectern and delivered a 17-minute speech that is arguably the GSOAT: Greatest Speech of All Time.
He spoke of a dream that all men and women would be equals and that racism would no longer exist. Ultimately, he hoped that as all people would come together as one, the glory of the Lord would shine brighter than ever. To read the entire “I Have a Dream Speech,” go here.
Almost 60 years later, as we celebrate and honor the life of this extraordinary disciple and leader, we still stand at a crossroads. Things are not as they ought to be. Racism still exists. All are not treated equally.
In 2023, it’s time for all of God’s children, white, black, brown, red, and yellow, to make peace and pursue reconciliation. To stop this injustice and put an end to racism. At the heart of the Gospel is the fact that Jesus reconciled us broken, sinful people back into a right relationship with God the Father. We who have received the peace of God now must give it away to others and give it away in droves.
How many more people do we need to lose? How much longer will we wait? When will we fight against the injustice of racism? How do we even do this?
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9
He also said these words in His most famous sermon, and it’s time we put these words into action. Remember, Jesus didn’t just say this phrase and expect it to fall on deaf ears. No, he closed this famous sermon with these words: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Matthew 7:24
The words of Jesus are to be heard and followed.
Therefore, the children of God are called not just to keep the peace but to make peace with one another.
Many of us want to help, but we’re unsure what to do. When we are uncertain of what to do, it’s essential to gain wisdom from God. The great news is that when we ask Him for wisdom, He gives it to us.
The central place to gain wisdom is in God’s Word.
Thankfully, God’s Word isn’t silent on this topic. There are six critical steps that we can take to pursue racial reconciliation, and I believe the order of these 6 are essential and intentional.
The first step we can take is to pray.
Some people say that you should do more than pray. You should speak. You should act. And they are correct. But, true reconciliation has to start with prayer. Prayer matters.
2 Chronicles 7:14 says this: “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
The reason why this step is first is because we need help from heaven. We need God to show up. If we try to make peace with others without personally being changed on the inside and hearing from God, our efforts will be futile. We cannot do this alone.
So how can you start to pursue racial reconciliation?
You can pray.
- Pray for those who are hurting.
- Pray for those in leadership to make wise decisions.
- Pray for compassion.
- Pray for justice.
- Pray for those who suffer unjustly and for those who protect us bravely.
- Pray for the victims and for those who serve.
- Pray for opportunities to use your voice and to act.
- Pray for unity in the body of Christ.
- Pray that God would reveal to you how you can help make peace.
Every injustice in this world, including racism, is a spiritual problem. Racism is not primarily a political issue. It is a spiritual issue. We battle not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities of this dark world. Prayer is not our last line of defense; it is our first line of offense. It ought not to be a last resort but a first response.
A lot of us want to make a difference in this world. Typically, we will talk about all of the things we can do. But the truth of the matter is that God is far more powerful than you. God can do more in one second than you can do in your entire lifetime. In light of that, what you should be praying for, and focusing on, is allowing God to move mightily and making room for the Holy Spirit to move powerfully.
And because of this reality, biblically speaking, the biggest difference you can make in this world is not by things that you do but by prayers that you pray.
After you pray and invite God into the situation, here’s a second step.
When injustice is seen, it creates emotions in us. And we want to do something. And we want to say something. But before we move to those steps, it’s essential to listen.
Solomon, the wisest man in the world in the Old Testament, said this in Proverbs 18:13:
“To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.”
If I were to hold a Coca-Cola bottle up and show it to you, we would see different things.
If you see “Coca-Cola,” on your side, then on my side I would see all the nutrition facts showing me all the reasons I shouldn’t be drinking this stuff!
This simple illustration tells us that two people can be looking at the same thing but seeing it completely differently. And until everyone walks to the other side to see how the other sees it, we will continue to be at odds with one another.
When someone is hurting and crying out, it is our responsibility to understand why they are hurting and crying. When Mary Magdalene couldn’t find the body of Jesus, she was crying, and before doing anything, Jesus came beside her and said these four words, “Why are you crying?”
That powerful question gives a person the opportunity to speak about what is going on in their story. I have found this practice to be so helpful. To have someone else share their story with me has helped me see the waters I swim in that much more clearly.
Walking to the other side is vital for everyone, but it’s God’s children, the ones who have received God’s grace, that must take the first step. God took the first step in reconciling us back to Him.
Thank God that Jesus took the first step and walked to your side, and came into your life. Where would you be without Him taking those steps in your life?
In our day, we have the option to listen to just about anything or anyone. Of course, we ought to listen to a wide variety of people, but the best form of listening we can do is with an actual real person who is different from us. With all of the injustice in the world right now, you can become easily overwhelmed or desensitized. But when you have a real relationship with someone different than you, you gain a much greater understanding. Problems become real when on the other side of the problem is a person you know.
In our effort to “walk to the other side,” another critical step is to continue to educate ourselves.
I have found that with the topic of racism, many people will give opinions. It’s great to hear what others share but if we are going to really understand, it requires work on our part. It requires a level of intentionality.
Again, the wise man Solomon said in Proverbs 18:2: “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.”
When it comes to educating ourselves in this matter, you must receive your education from more than one place. Even though we can learn and educate ourselves from more sources than ever, most people listen to the same echo chambers repeatedly. And it’s only making us more divisive as a whole. Quit listening to the same echo chambers, or simply, one talking head, especially if that talking head looks and sounds like you already. But, instead, listen, read, and watch a diverse mix to be clear-eyed about the situation. I hope you consider this blog, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you read.
Here’s what I would say is one of the critical things I have learned regarding this issue of black and white. I’m speaking for myself. Some of my learning over the past few years deals with the fact that as a white person, I think it’s easy for me to look back at our history in our nation and say, “Well, as bad as things were, at least things are moving in the right direction now.”
It’s easy to point to a list of things going in the right direction.
- In 1865, the 13th amendment abolished slavery.
- In 1870, the 15th amendment gave blacks the right to vote.
- In 1954 and 1955, Brown vs. the Board of Education and Rosa Parks helped give further rights back to the black community.
- In 1964, the Constitution officially ended segregation and discrimination based on race.
- In 2008, the first black president Barack Obama was elected.
Despite those steps in the right direction, what we have seen in the past couple of years, has clearly shown us we haven’t arrived at the finish line. There is more work to do. Systemic oppression and persecution for centuries don’t just end with a law or two or a milestone or two or a figurehead or two change everything overnight and make things an even playing field.
Several years ago, I was convicted that I needed to be a part of the solution for racial reconciliation. But, unfortunately, I had a long way to go to educate myself properly. I felt like I had a very limited, sheltered experience growing up.
I enrolled in an initiative that brought together about 16 men and women of different races, genders, and professions to learn what it’s like to be a person of different skin color. As part of this initiative, we experienced three full-day field trips. One of those trips was to the local courthouse in Orlando, Florida.
What I experienced that day forever changed my perspective. I can’t un-see what my eyes saw. I’ll remember many things, but what stuck out to me the most was the pretrial hearings. Each defendant received about one minute in front of the judge in that room before they entered their plea. Every defendant, about 25 people in total, was either black or brown skin. Not one white person. Not one.
I know every story is different and unique. I understand that some white people have grown up in oppression, and some black people have grown up in riches. But overall, historically, it has been easier to succeed in America having white skin than black skin. And there are still differences that exist today. It’s why our black brothers and sisters have been crying out so passionately for decades.
Continue to educate yourself. Perhaps, on this MLK Jr. holiday, you will do as I’m doing and read his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
After putting it in God’s hands through prayer and listening, and educating ourselves, we are ready for our fourth step.
Some of you might be thinking this isn’t my problem. I’m not a racist. Helping end racism is for someone else.
I think that most children of God don’t believe that they live with racism or bias in their life.
But, statistically, Christians are more likely to be considered racist than those who are not Christian. Unfortunately, hatred and bigotry are words people associate with Christians too often. And the church hour of the week is one of the most segregated hours of the week.
“Our research confirms the fear that the church (or the people in it) may be part of the problem in the hard work of racial reconciliation. If you’re a white, evangelical, Republican, you are less likely to think race is a problem, but more likely to think you are a victim of reverse racism. You are also less convinced that people of color are socially disadvantaged. Yet these same groups believe the church plays an important role in reconciliation. This dilemma demonstrates that those supposedly most equipped for reconciliation do not see the need for it.
More than any other segment of the population, white evangelical Christians demonstrate a blindness to the struggle of their African American brothers and sisters. This is a dangerous reality for the modern church. Jesus and his disciples actively sought to affirm and restore the marginalized and obliterate divisions between groups of people. Yet, our churches and ministries are still some of the most ethnically segregated institutions in the country.”
I think a more common problem for children of God in the pursuit of racial reconciliation is not sins of commission (a sin we commit) but rather sins of omission (something we omit or don’t do). A convicting thought I’ve had in my life regarding this issue, and I think it could be said of the church as well, is this, “Might it be that our greatest sin in this area is what we haven’t done and said?”
The closer I get to Jesus, the more I see how far away from Him I genuinely am.
I certainly have my list of sins that I have to confess to of things I have done, but I think my list of sins of omission would be far more damning and numerous than my sins of commission.
In the Letter from Birmingham Jail referenced above, King Jr. echoes similar thoughts to the above research. We are still struggling decades later with the same issue. Here are his sentiments:
First, I must confess that over the past few years, I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I come before you today knowing that I need to repent. I haven’t acted as much as I could have in some areas. But I know I’m not alone. Apathy and indifference are not the answer. The church is called to reject apathy and embrace action.
Our first action step is repentance. Repentance, though, does not mean that we return to life as it was. To repent means to turn. It leads to acting in a new way. Sadly, too many churches, pastors, and Christians got together to repent after the George Floyd tragedy, but then just went back to what they were doing. No, after repenting, we must act in a way that brings reconciliation. It’s up to the children of God to continue the work of Jesus in bringing peace to this world. Paul says it so clearly to us in these words of 2 Corinthians 5:17-21:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
God has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Yes, everyone needs to walk to the other side, whites to blacks, blacks to whites, police officers to blacks, and blacks to police officers. Yes, yes, and yes. But those who have been reconciled, children of God, are called to take the first step.
We have a God who was proactive and not reactive for us.
Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
He did not wait for us to have it all together. He came down into our broken, messy stories. We have a God who crosses lines to love people in, not draws lines to keep people out. If you are a child of God and are any part of the church of God, you have the ministry of reconciliation.
So what do you do? Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.” Your step might be different than mine, but take the first step today. Pray, Listen, Educate, Act.
Then we move to the fifth step, which, sadly, is most people’s first step.
Your first step doesn’t have to be posting something on social media to make it seem like you care. I’ve seen so many posts go awry due to ignorance or speaking in the heat of the moment.
Prayer, Listening, Education, and Action should all come before speaking. Please don’t hear me wrong, though. At some point, we are called to speak up. And it’s best done after action. Why?
Actions before words make your words more powerful.
We have been called, the Bible says, out of darkness and into His marvelous light so that we would declare His praises. There is a time to declare, speak, and proclaim God’s truth. The ministry of reconciliation requires the Gospel of Jesus. Faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.
Pastor and Dr. Charlie Dates says, “Believers of color want their brothers and sisters to call out the injustice around them. They want to stand in unity in rebuking a wayward culture.”
The word unity is essential. The world doesn’t need your voice right now to bring division. I’ve seen so many posts lead to more division, political arguments, blame, and hatred. D.L Moody once said: “You may find hundreds of faultfinders among professed Christians, but all of their criticism will never lead one solitary soul to Christ.”
Rather than accusing blame, let’s encourage peaceful protests and voices that unify.
Here’s something you can say right now:
“Racism is real.”
You can wholeheartedly be against racism and injustice and wholeheartedly for honorable police officers. You don’t have to choose sides. But you do need to speak the truth. Racism is real. And it’s wrong. Even if you haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Until we acknowledge the problem, we can’t be part of the solution. So we have to recognize it.
We are called to speak about this in our homes, not just in public. So if we talk more about this in public or on social media than in our very homes, we have to ask what our motivation is.
And here’s another thing you can say:
“Racism is wrong.”
No one should ever be mistreated, hurt, or oppressed simply because of the color of their skin.
There is a great debate right now with the three words “Black Lives Matter.”
I understand the debate. It’s hard because, as a statement, those three words are entirely true. But, as a movement, it’s tough to stand for some of the things this movement is promoting.
But rejecting the truth that comes from this statement, or trying to alter it, is not helpful.
So many people will push back and say, “All Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, Unborn Lives Matter” Yes, Yes, Yes, and Amen. But sometimes, you have to be very specific and personal.
I have two kids. If one of my kids is left alone, abused, and hurting, I won’t go up to him and say your life matters as much as your brother’s. No, I would look at him and say, “You Matter” because I love the individual as well as the whole. When someone is hurting, they don’t need to hear the politically correct phrase; they need to hear your voice say “Your Life Matters.”
I have asked my black friends if my white voice really does matter regarding this topic.
Not everyone who is black may share their opinion, but they told me resoundingly, “Yes, we need your voice. You have a platform. And sometimes, white people will hear things differently from a white person than a black person. We are asking you to speak out on our behalf. We’ve been crying out for a while against this injustice, and we need your help. Please.”
So as a white pastor in the pursuit to let our black brothers and sisters know that their lives do matter, I would go so far as to say that white voices do matter in the pursuit of racial reconciliation. You cannot have reconciliation if only one party wants it. Therefore, the children of God of all colors must use their unique voices and actions to bring the peace of God into this situation.
Another truth must be shared when it comes to speaking. Too many Christians can be known for what they are against but not what they are for. So, yes, let’s speak up against racism, but let’s also speak up for diversity, equity, inclusion, loving our neighbors, etc.
After these five steps, I truly believe the 6th step is where we will start seeing some significant movement in this pursuit of racial reconciliation.
While we can take steps to help, only God can move mountains, part seas and walk on water. When you invite God’s power and presence into injustice and then use your unique calling and gifts that He has given to you, this is when God moves mightily.
You might feel like this will never get better. But our God has a history of coming down and making a way when it seems like there is no way.
For four centuries, there has been an injustice to the black community in our nation. How can we make a change now? You can’t, but God can.
Let us not forget that it was for four centuries that God’s people, the Israelites, were enslaved to the Egyptian superpower under the rule of King Pharaoh. Things were progressively worsening for the Israelite people, and now they had escalated. Innocent lives were being murdered as Hebrew baby boys were killed for no good reason.
At this time, God came down in a burning bush and said, “I have seen the misery of my people. I’m coming down to rescue them.”
When God turns an eye toward injustice, it will be defeated.
Injustice will bow down to the power of our mighty God. It will not prevail in the presence of God. Darkness doesn’t stand a chance in the light of God.
So what happened? God came down powerfully, working through human beings like Moses and Aaron, to bring deliverance to an entire race of people. He brought them out of four centuries of oppression and into a good life with His presence.
God right now is looking down at our nation. He sees those who have been hurting and oppressed for four centuries. He sees those who have been hurting for just a little while.
If you are trying to find where God is in all of this, He always positions Himself to be on the side of the oppressed and the mistreated. So, no matter who you are, if you are hurting, oppressed, and mistreated because of your skin color, or if you are continuing to serve faithfully as a police officer, God sees you.
When we bring God into racial reconciliation, we can expect God to move. You and I cannot change people’s hearts. But, through our prayers, our relationships, and what we say and do, we can give the Holy Spirit room to change people’s hearts. God is the one that changes hearts, but He invites you and me, the children of God, who have been reconciled by the grace of Jesus, to continue the ministry of reconciliation.
Please be a part of the solution.
God will make this right. And until He comes back and we glorify and worship Him in His full glory, with every nation, every tongue, and every tribe, let’s do our part, knowing that Christ has already done His.
Today is not the first time that a great division has existed. In the New Testament, the Jews and Gentiles had a turbulent history and past and didn’t always get along. And these were words written by Paul to the two tribes. So as you read these words from Ephesians 2:13-20, may it help you grow in your expectation that God can and will bring reconciliation.
“But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him, we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”
The world needs the peace that only Jesus can bring. You have that peace inside of you. Will you PLEASE help?
I’ll end with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s closing to his speech. These words summarized what would happen, if and when, this dream of equality was finally accomplished.
“When this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men, and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the Negro spiritual: Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.”