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.
Before I became a Christian and while in college, I would host multi-ethnic group discussions at my university on the topic of race and diversity. My hope was that we’d be able to discuss misconceptions and together challenge racism. Now that I’ve been talking about this topic for many years, I’m anxious for us to take the topic beyond talking and into action. What I also realize, however, is that for many, the past few years have been the very first time you’ve ever considered the importance of racial reconciliation and how you might be involved in it. So, I’ve often been hesitant to give friends a large list to do. With that said, here’s a list for you to consider. Some of the thoughts below are practical and not related directly to our faith, while others are steps I believe you can take to directly put your faith into action.
What can I do?
- Foster an environment in your churches and in your homes where the gospel is proclaimed and there is a robust understanding of imago dei (the Image of God). God created each one of us in His image and the gospel is for all nations, tribes, and tongues.
- Each of us has a responsibility to love one’s neighbor. In order to do that, we must first have transformed hearts. Then, we must take action to get to know others–even those not like us. As much as possible and when possible, fill your lunches and dinner tables, your conference rooms, your business meetings, and your college study groups with people who you can love and serve who are not like you.
- Promote confession. If we confess our sin, we know that God is faithful to purify us (1 John 1:9). Ask the Lord to reveal any place of pride or prejudice in your own heart. Recognize that racism within our hearts does exist, even though it may be hidden. Promote confession among your friends and in your churches—this, I believe, is foundational, fostering a gracious environment. Remember that love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8). Be ready to forgive when others confess.
- Resist apathy. It’s easy to think that because we are 50 years past the Civil Rights Movement, we are now in a place to move on. Because we are now united under law, let’s work even harder to be united under Christ. We have not arrived yet and, therefore, ask the Lord to give you eyes to see the work yet to be done.
- Get practical: If you read The New Jim Crow, go and visit a prison—pray with the men and women. Begin to see them as human. If you live in a homogenous neighborhood, shop in a neighborhood that is more diverse every now and then, find a way to engage in the community that is not your own (community events, community centers, Boys and Girls clubs, etc). Get yourself in a position to meet new and different people.
I’m afraid to speak. How can I speak about this topic well?
If you have a desire to speak about this topic well, that’s a good sign that you’ll be thoughtful and careful. I do think it’s important for us to pray about our words before we speak them. There isn’t a moment that I share something that there isn’t a slight fear before I share it. Part of this is a sinful fear of man—being afraid of what others will think of me. Another fear, I believe, is a healthy fear of the Lord. I want to honor God with my speech. We also want to love others well. Part of loving others is praying about our speech and speaking with thoughtfulness and care.
But—speak! We don’t want to use prudence as an excuse to be apathetic or uninvolved. This does not mean that you must write blog posts or scream on Facebook or other social media platforms, but it does mean that if you see something that is clearly wrong—speak up. I’ve heard it said that if you are in the vicinity of slander, racist chatter, racist jokes or the like and you do not speak up to those who are around, then they will, 1) assume you are okay with it, and 2) feel comfortable to do it again with you in their presence. Make it so that people know they cannot say anything racist in your presence because they will be shutdown and corrected. Don’t be afraid to stand for truth and justice—and I think this is especially important in private conversations—where they matter most.
Is there hope?
Yes! There’s hope for today and hope for the next life. We are living in perilous times, but I wonder if there’s ever actually been a time that hasn’t been perilous since Genesis 3. There are many reasons to mourn, but no reason to be without hope. Jesus has accomplished the unity that we desire (Eph.2). We need the power of the Spirit to be able to live out this reality in our lives.
We also realize that one day all the sin, pain, and fear will be wiped away. I’m thankful for that reality.
Other questions I’ve received:
Quotas: Won’t it feel artificial?
Yes, it will feel artificial—if it is artificial. It’s about the heart and ultimately about love. Seek to love your neighbor as yourself. Ask God to change your heart if it feels artificial.
Don’t you think it would be weird? Kinda like: “Hi. Will you be my black friend?”
Chances are you won’t do that and if you begin to gain a better understanding of imago dei it won’t be weird at all. Building relationships with those who are different than you and me should be a natural part of our lives. We know, however, this is not the case, so as my friend, Thabiti, once said, maybe it’s time to get a little weird.
What if I’m rejected?
You will likely be rejected. Aren’t we all rejected at some point? God’s word says, what can man do to the soul? Nothing. They can kill the body, but the soul lives on. Don’t fear rejection. Know that not everyone will be open to getting to know you and that’s okay.
What’s wrong with having preferences?
I understand that it is most comfortable for some to be with those just like themselves. I get it. My question is why do we hold to those preference? Could it be that you actually struggle with the sin of partiality? James talks about the rich not wanting to associate with the poor. Could that be your trouble? In this instance, instead of rich and poor partiality it is cultural and racial?
As my little series comes to a close, please know that this is only the beginning but it is indeed a step. I pray that you and I will take some action whether it’s starting a conversation with a neighbor, reading a book written by an African American author, or being a part of a peaceful protest. Whatever it is, let’s make today the day we take our faith and put it in action.
Trillia is an author and speaker and the owner of this site. You can learn more about her here. You can also find her on twitter: @trillianewbell and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TrilliaNewbell/
Also see: Be Strong and Very Courageous: Jemar Tisby Answers Your Frequently Asked Questions, Listen. Learn. Love: Kristie Anyabwile Answers Your Frequently Asked Questions, The Monolithic Black Community and Frequently Asked Questions and Is Racial Harmony a Black Issue?
Saturday was the “official” release date for United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity! I’m excited about this book because I am convinced of the message. United is not so much a book about diversity as it is about loving others. It is a book about the beauty of diversity in God’s creation and design and how we can fellowship with one another because of the blood of our Savior.
We know that in eternity, people from every tribe and nation will come together. But I think we can start seeing that happen now, in the body of Christ. It amazes me that we are one — brothers and sisters adopted into the family of God. The gospel unites us. It breaks down the barriers that separate us.
I’m praying that we will have a greater vision for what the church could be. That the world will look at the church and see the beauty and diversity of God’s creation. And that they will be amazed by the power of the gospel to make us united.
You can now purchase United via: Amazon, ShopMoody, and other retailers.
Interested in helping spread the word? Here are a few ways:
- Book Review: If you’d like to share your thoughts about United you can do so by writing a review on Amazon or Goodreads.
- Share via social media: You can share links or your thoughts via social media
- Interviews: I am doing several interviews over the next month and would love to chat it up with you. If that interests you feel free to contact Jana Muntsinger. You can learn more here.
United is dedicated to my children. My desire is that one day they would be surprised that their mom would write a book about the beauty of diversity in the church and all of life because it would be so commonplace. This video captures my heart and the book so well.
United: Captured By God’s Vision for Diversity from Igniting Women Books on Vimeo.
Thank you so much for watching! United has released and is available for purchase!
A few months ago, Bollinger Productions filmed my portion of the promo video for United. Last week, the crew organized another shoot with children of various ethnicities to highlight the last chapter of my book, “For Our Kids”. United is dedicated to my children. My hope is, when they are older, they would wonder why their mom wrote a book about diversity in the local church and the beauty of diversity in friendship, because it would be so commonplace.
Here is a time lapse video that captures the kids coloring (you’ll get to see what they are coloring once the promo releases in mid-February). I thought it was beautiful and hope you’ll enjoy seeing a small taste of the video. What an appropriate celebration of children, diversity, and the joy of friendship, especially on this day—the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Production Time-Lapse of “United” Book Promotional from Nathan Bollinger on Vimeo.