Guest post by Isaac Adams
I thank God for folks who speak biblically about race. Whether it’s a black mom teaching her children that they also bear God’s image, or a white sister writing a prophetic blog post—there are many brothers and sisters take up this worthwhile battle.
And it is a battle—with wounds, fatigue, and conflicting sides. Though there are many sides, I’ll mention two: on one side are folks who try to lovingly share biblical truth about race, and on the other side are people who reject it, often with hostility. Trillia received this hostility personally in a comment on her blog post, which said:
I’m convinced that when black people talk about “diversity” that the real message is just anti-white…For too long we’ve had this burden of white guilt hanging around our necks. Every time I see an article about race, every time I have to go to some mandatory ‘diversity awareness’ training at work, every time I read about black criminals terrorizing people – I just get more and more resolved to fight for my race. I’m done apologizing to you.
Regardless of how gracious folks from the first side are, the other side lobs these devastating verbal grenades. Nonetheless, I pray that this post encourages those in the race battle. After all, when someone receives a comment like the one above, there’s a strong temptation to despair and quit the fight altogether.
I sympathize with that temptation, and I want to give grace to those who decide to step back from the race conversation (or certain parts of it). Like any battle, there are times to retreat, recover, or even retire, and let other parts of the troop push forward; no one should have to subject themselves to attack. Yet for those still in the trenches, I have two encouragements for you.
1) Some people are being convinced of the truth!
Though we can’t always see them, there are people who are listening, learning, lamenting, and loving in a new way because of what’s being written, shared, and spoken. Though we may feel like Elijah in 1 Kings 19, the Lord does have 7,000 out there devoted to the truth. Francis Grimké, a black pastor from Washington D.C., saw the 7,000 of his day. Grimké wrote about them in a sermon series he delivered in 1898. He preached:
“I have faith in a brighter future for us [blacks] in this country because both in the North and in the South there are some white men and women, who do not approve of the present treatment which is accorded to us, or share in the sentiment which regards us as naturally inferior to the whites…”
Grimké hopefully persevered in the battle because he saw the truth win some people. But what about people the truth doesn’t win? When we encounter them, I’ve been helped to remember that…
2) We cannot convince everyone, but God can convince anyone.
W.E.B. Du Bois, a civil rights activist and writer, wrote haunting words in 1935. He knew that he couldn’t convince everyone of the truth, when he wrote:
It would be only fair to the reader to say frankly in advance that the attitude of any person toward this story will be distinctly influenced by his theories of the Negro race. If he believes that the Negro in America and in general is an average and ordinary human being, who under given environment develops like other human beings, then he will read this story and judge it by the facts adduced. If, however, he regards the Negro as a distinctly inferior creation…then he will need something more than the sort of facts that I have set down.
Du Bois reminds us that truth does not necessarily cure ignorance or racial resentment. It’s tempting to think that there’s a perfect way to talk about race, one that can win the listener without offense. In a fallen world, however, such a way does not exist because sin is not just an abstract, mental falter that can be simply fixed with information; rather, sin is a willful rebellion of a heart that rejects the truth, and it must ultimately be fixed by transformation—that is, getting a new heart from God. There may be more strategic ways to talk about race, but Christians have a greater hope than our own skill in having this conversation. Praise God, we do have “something more” that can make our words effective–even to the hardened hearer.
That “something more” is prayer, as Jesus encourages us to pray for our enemies (Matt 5:44); that “something more” is the Spirit of God, who can give a terrorist a heart of flesh (Acts 22:7). With us, it is impossible to change the hearts and minds of the racially resentful, but with God, all things are possible (Matt. 19:26).
Du Bois stated that he was not writing to people who needed “something more” to be convinced, and maybe we shouldn’t either. There are times when we shouldn’t answer fools in their folly (Proverbs 26:4).
Yet the same verse from Proverbs also says there are also times where we should answer fools in their folly. When we do answer them, let’s keep our eyes on God, especially since whom we fight ultimately isn’t just hostile flesh and blood. Brothers and sisters, we fight against the cosmic powers of darkness (Eph. 6:12).
Yet despite what any fool might tempt us to believe, truth will overcome falsehood, light will overcome the darkness, and the battle will be over soon.
Hang in there, brothers and sisters. Stand fast.
There are 7,000 with you.
lovingly caputred by Sarah Danaher (Ampersand Photography, © 2012)
More about Isaac:
Isaac Adams serves as a pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church and a staff writer for Humble Beast, where he writes on the arts, race, and the local church. You can follow him on Twitter.
Editors are constantly encouraging me to develop a catchy introduction that captures readers’ attention right away to encourage further reading. And so when I was thinking through sharing thoughts about why writing on race and ethnicity can be difficult, I literally thought I’d just skip the introduction and get straight to the facts. Why do that? Because writing about race is so incredibly hard. Some even go so far as to question the need to read and process material about race.
I have been told that speaking and writing about race could hurt my ministry. That publishers may not be able to publish me because my “platform” would be hindered by my communication on the topic of race. But for me, it’s more than a topic. Race, racial reconciliation, racial harmony, you name it, is about people made in the image of God. It’s not a topic that I can just ignore. And, as a black female in predominantly white spaces, I face the reality of my ethnicity every single day. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s simply reality.
“We are in 2017 and, surely, we are all past the race issue,” I’ve heard. My short answer is “No,” we aren’t past these issues. People are still quite unaware of the struggles of various members of our society. Even just recently, I shared a picture of my husband and I as we both lamented and celebrated the 50-year anniversary of the legalization of interracial marriage. Many of my friends didn’t know that something so precious as interracial marriage was illegal in our country at one point in time (and as recently as 50 years ago). I imagine that for those who became aware, they also gained a deeper understanding as to the pain that many African Americans continue to feel in this country. Fifty years wasn’t that long ago.
So, I continue to speak and write about this topic not because it’s near and dear to my heart alone, although it is so important to me, but because I believe wholeheartedly that this “topic” is a gospel issue and that the church, which I’m a member of, must speak up about it.
God cares: The Word addresses ethnicity extensively. Genesis 1 through 11 seems to focus rather intently on developing creation and establishing cultures. We see God rebuking racism in Numbers. Head over to the New Testament and God establishes that the gospel is for all nations and on the last day all nations will be present worshipping Him. I am only scratching the surface of God’s Word about his love and thoughtful creation for all people. He cares deeply about all nations and tribes and tongues. This is a great motivator to continue to write about the subject of race (and I would say for those who aren’t writing, to read). God does not discriminate.
It’s important to Jesus: There are probably several verses I could draw our attention to in order to demonstrate the importance to Jesus, but I can’t help but think of the most overused, but oh so rich, verse in the Bible. John 3:16 is rich because it sums up the gospel and includes the profound words, “God so loved the world.” Jesus died for anyone, specifically for “whoever” believes in Him and places their faith and trust in His finished work on the cross. Jesus gave his life for the nations, for anyone and everyone who believes! Go on and read the gospels, Ephesians, Galatians, Revelation; shall I go on? You will find the gospel–you will find Jesus. You will also find the wall of hostility has been broken down in the body of Christ– there is one new man. Jesus does not discriminate.
I write and speak, even in hard places, because I am convinced this is important to God. I write and address these topics because, until Christ’s return, strife among nations and people will continue. And maybe in some small way, writing will help advance understanding. It’s not easy but my prayer is that it might inspire others to move and speak because so much is at stake. Perhaps a catchy introduction will help hook readers, but I believe it is the gospel that will cause our hearts to be knit together in a way that only God can do.
I’d like to invite you to join the conversation. How can we all learn to gain a better understanding of each other? How do you think the gospel applies to this conversation?
This isn’t a topic left to the public, news sources, and/or politics, rather this is a topic that the church must not only take up, but be on the forefront of engagement. It’s about people – all who have been bestowed with the gift and honor of being made in the image of our God.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned a new series centered around questions that I’ll be launching on the site. I’m excited about the series. I think it will be an interesting time of reflection and answering everyday questions. But in the midst of moving and travel, I’m going to have to postpone that little series.
We aren’t moving far, only about 10 minutes from our current location. Nevertheless, moving is taking up the little bit of time and attention I had in my margins of life besides breathing. I kid! But seriously, moving is incredibly time consuming and so, please forgive my absence here on the site for most of May while I sort out boxes and toss all the things that we didn’t know we had! I will post updates from time to time and maybe even do a giveaway! But there will be a lack of consistency so if you haven’t already, please sign up for my blog updates or you can watch for posts via facebook.
If you weren’t already aware, most of our family lives in England. My husband’s mother, my dear mother-in law whom we affectionately call Mum, was born and raised in England. Thern, my husband, was only months away from being born there. Well, we are all taking a trip to England in a few short weeks to visit family and allow our kids the chance to meet all their cousins they’ve never met or seen before. It should be a good time and another reason I will be a bit MIA here.
While I’m in England, I will have the chance to visit with The Good Book Company, the publisher of my new kids’ book God’s Very Good Idea, which releases in September. If you are interested, you may pre-order it here.
If you think of me, I’d love prayers for these exciting and somewhat major life events.
And although I am unable to answer every email or respond on every comment, I do read them all and would love to be praying for you over this month. If you have a prayer request, fill free to comment or send it to me.
Lately, I’ve found myself evaluating in greater depth what I’m spending my time and attention on. I’ll ask myself questions like: What is the most important thing for me to do today? Why am I interested in this post? Will this help my family in the long-term? These questions aren’t born out of a struggle with guilt, by the grace of God. And I am not operating under a system of rules that I think will add to my favor before the Lord, by the grace of God. The reason for why I’ve been asking these questions isn’t complicated, it’s simply learning to guard the little time I have within the 15 or so hours that I am awake within a 24-hour period. But these series of questions have led to more questions like: What do I find myself obsessed with? What would I like to do this year? How can I serve my neighbors better? What have I done for my church lately?
Thus, the start of a new series…
Over the summer, I’d love for you and me to explore questions together. These questions won’t likely be theological questions, rather I want to explore practical everyday life questions that might be actionable, or they could lead to confession and repentance in an area, or maybe the questions will help to stir love and affection for the Lord. They will likely be questions that I’m asking myself or asking my friends. They may even be questions based on a trend I see via social media.
And I’d love for you to participate.
If you feel compelled, I’d like to hear your answers to these questions either via the comments section of this blog or on my social media posts. I hope you would join me as we think and reflect on various aspects of life together. Every now and then, I’d love to feature your answers on my site. I’m going to give you a bit of a head’s up for next week’s question, which is: What Am I Truly Obsessed With?
I was inspired to ask myself this question after seeing someone quote a friend who said she’d like to be obsessed with the thing she’ll be obsessed with for eternity (paraphrasing). Next week, I’ll seek to answer honestly about my obsessions and then share why I hope to be more obsessed with the person I will have the joy of being obsessed with for eternity.
Until then, are there any questions you’d like for me to explore? Any questions you think would be useful to consider as an online community?
(Enjoying God and all He has given to us can be difficult to understand and abstract at times. That’s why I’ve asked a few friends to share how they have enjoyed various aspects of the Christian life, seasons, and disciplines. I pray you are encouraged by this series of guest posts.)
With these words, the pastor in the pulpit bows his head and everyone in the pews around me does the same. What follows is pretty unspectacular. A roomful of people close their eyes. Their pastor speaks words of praise and thanksgiving, of confession and repentance, of desire and supplication. It might last for five or ten or fifteen minutes. There is no music. No movement. No sound except the voice of one man and the quiet “Amens” from the congregation.
This hardly seems like a high point in the worship service. And, I admit, I haven’t always enjoyed it.
As a child, I squirmed and daydreamed through many pastoral prayers. As a teenager, I slept through a handful. Even as an adult, I find my mind wandering and my heart cooling more often than I would like to confess. At such times, the week’s calendar or the prospect of lunch seem more compelling and delightful than sitting in church with my head bowed.
But, Sunday after Sunday, I must remind myself that these moments of prayer are much more than they seem to my myopic human eyes. The pastoral prayer is not a passive interlude. It’s not a serene intermission for the congregation to catch its breath. It’s far from boring.
It’s work. And it’s war.
When I was a teenager, I lived for a while in the Scottish Highlands. I’ll never forget my first Sunday in the village church: as the pastor began to pray, the entire congregation rose to its feet. We were not listening to the prayer. We were praying. The pastor was the mouthpiece—he gave words to our desires—but we all joined our hearts before the Throne of God.
In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John pulls back the curtain of heaven so that we might see what our prayers look like from God’s perspective. John writes:
And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightening, and an earthquake. (Revelation 8:3-5)
This picture looks nothing like the quiet, unspectacular ten minutes we experience every Sunday morning. Incense. Fire. Thunder. Lightening. Earthquake. In the words of one commentator, “the prayers of the saints and the fire of God move the whole course of the world.”
Elsewhere in Scripture, we read that by our prayers God’s people escape temptation and find deliverance from evil (Matt. 6:13). By our prayers, Satan’s subjects surrender and his demons admit defeat (Mark 9:29). And by our prayers, the gospel of Christ secures victory in people’s hearts (2 Thess. 3:1).
When ordinary people bow their heads in the wobbly pews of a nondescript church building on any Sunday morning, their prayers are used by God to accomplish his great purposes.
Enjoying the pastoral prayer, then, means that we see ourselves not as passive listeners to someone else’s prayer but as active members of a praying army, boldly approaching the very Throne of God. It means that we cherish the invitation to join with our brothers and sisters in this important work. It means that we learn to delight in what God will do as we pray together.
Megan Hill is a pastor’s wife and writer living in Massachusetts. She is the author of Praying Together (Crossway 2016).
(Learn more about Trillia’s new book Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts)