In a previous post we began a conversation about racial reconciliation and how the church should address this issue.
How can each person take a first step toward racial reconciliation?
In the famous book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey argues that we must seek first to understand and then to be understood.
The Minor Prophets require us to address God’s emphasis on social justice, and it is critical we not read right over those passages.
If that principle were put in place in our lives, we would make a lot more progress than we have made because I think we do the opposite: we want others to understand our position before we try to understand. If we tried to understand where people are coming from before we push hard for our position, I think we’d get farther down the road.
More recently we’ve noticed how little attention predominantly white groups pay to themes of justice in Scripture. The Minor Prophets require us to address God’s emphasis on social justice, and it is critical we not read right over those passages.We must evaluate where we are and solidify our position on biblical principles rather than cultural trends. #racialreconciliation Click To Tweet
Others Alert Us to Our Blind Spots
We rarely discover blind spots on our own. We need people outside our immediate context who can alert us to these blind spots. When we finally see the blind spots, they become extremely evident. It’s like there was a section of our vision missing.
As a young child, I struggled with my vision in the classroom. Often the simple fix was to be moved to the front of the class. I was in sixth grade when I finally got glasses, and I remember how distinct the trees and branches became. The trees hadn’t changed; it’s just that I could now see better.
It’s a similar process with blind spots. We have a remarkable ability to overlook them. I had never thought about those branches being out of focus and could never have processed what that meant. I was startled how sharply they stood out to me in ways I’d never seen before. That’s what happens with blind spots. We don’t see them. Unfortunately, blind spots in our personal lives don’t stick out easily and are harder to correct.
Some have used the biblical text to justify slavery or other wrongs. Can we use the Bible to instead speak to justice and reconciliation?
In Scripture we see we are all children of God, equal in His sight.
It’s always a challenge to read Scripture holistically rather than trying to extract meaning from small passages without looking at the broader witness of Scripture. It’s important to try to read the Bible within its context.
Some have struggled to read Paul’s writings, thinking he was acquiescing to the larger culture rather than overturning its wrongs. He was not primarily interested in overturning social structure, but he was interested in changing the heart. That feeds into Pentecostal narrative in that we should be interested in the heart and not in this world.
The New Testament Tears Down Slavery and Racial Inequality
The broader gospel structure tears down slavery and racial inequality. In Scripture we see we are all children of God, equal in His sight. We have to fight against an impulse to pull proof texts and to back up a slanted view with an isolated passage.
Even the idea of jubilee in Israel upended the power structures every fifty years. Property (and thus wealth) reverted back to its original owner. Twice a century, it reset the table. That wouldn’t work very well in the capitalistic West, and I’m not suggesting we should. But it’s interesting that we don’t have those conversations.
Have white Christians been too dismissive of social injustices?
It’s critical we think through our reality and not just pile up more rhetoric around our existing viewpoints. It’s hard to push back against our default positions. It’s uncomfortable to deconstruct our current situation. Our human nature wants easy answers. We value comfort. If we are well served by the status quo, we would like to keep things to remain as they are. However when we see injustice, we need to explain it in ways that call us to change.
The attempt to be fair and just is not a straight path forward. It’s filled with complexities and pitfalls.
We have to find ways to address issues in a way that is true to Scripture in thought and in conversation.
As the church, then, we have to be nudged forward. We have to recognize it’s part of our responsibility, and we have to find ways to address issues in a way that is true to Scripture in thought and in conversation.
The Church Complied with the Flow of Culture
In the broad sweep of history, the church often was comfortable accommodating to the flow of culture. One example would be how women were viewed. For centuries, women had no voice—they couldn’t own property, couldn’t choose a spouse, and couldn’t vote in democratic societies. They were chattel, or property.
A daughter was a bargaining chip to bring together two power structures. Nothing in Scripture would have suggested that, but the broader Christian church would have been complicit in that. It was the result of complying with the flow of culture where this view of women was normalized.
There would’ve been pat answers for why that worked and severe consequences for those who challenged the social structure. I think there are parallels to that in racial issues as well. We must evaluate where we are and solidify our position on biblical principles rather than cultural trends.
Bio: Dr. Robin Johnston serves as the editor in chief and publisher for the United Pentecostal Church International. In addition he is the director for the Center for the Study of Oneness Pentecostalism and an adjunct professor at Urshan Graduate School of Theology.
Resources and Links by Dr. Johnston
To read more on racial reconciliation by Dr. Johnston, click here.