I wanted to share my heart on the divisions and racial tensions so evident in our country. A single email isn't a solution, I realize. The issue is complicated, and we need grace-filled discussion and understanding for an extended time. But I want to address what's happening during what feels like an historic time, especially as it pertains to our local assembly.
As if our country weren't facing enough challenges with COVID-19 and the economic downturn it caused, racial tensions have again erupted. I say "again," because they never completely disappear, and perhaps they won't on this side of heaven; they just retreat for a time until another event causes them to boil over. Watching the needless death of George Floyd is both heartbreaking and maddening. It's also frustrating and frightening to see the damage being done through violent responses. As a Christian and as a pastor of an increasingly diverse ministry, I grieve over it all.
- I worry for police officers who are or have been part of our ministry. I love them, and I pray for their safety. They put themselves in harm's way for our protection. Also, pray for the brave firefighters and political leaders in our congregation to have wisdom in how to move us forward.
- I empathize with the people of color in our ministry. I love them, and I try to feel and share their fears and frustrations.
- I pray for our country to return to internal peace today and to then deal with deep-rooted and systemic justice problems in a way that makes such events a thing of the past.
- I am determined that the tensions all around us must not spill into our church family, and I am praying that any other tensions in our church will be resolved. I pray for a Spirit-produced, Spirit-preserved unity and that KHBC will be, in this way and others, a "city on a hill" to show the world the radical difference that the gospel makes in how we relate to each other.
Because our ministry is so beautifully diverse (in our ethnicities, our experiences, our perspectives, our opinions, our gifts and burdens, and so on), I'd like to share some pastoral counsel with you. Here's what's on my heart:
1. Please don't adopt an "us vs. them" mindset when it comes to ethnicities. Look for it in yourself, candidly, and resist it. Everyone I know is saddened and angered over the death of George Floyd. Most white people want justice for him and have a zero-tolerance for such abuses of power. Most black people want justice for him and are still grieved and frightened by the violent responses. Most police officers serve us because of a sense of duty and a deep desire to help people. All people. As Americans, as image-bearing humans, and especially as Christians, we're all on the same side. Our many ethnicities do not—must not—change that, even in difficult times.
2. Empathize with those who are hurt and frustrated. Rather than debating the idea that black men are treated differently than white men in our country, listen to your brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in our church. Find out what situations like this feel like from their perspective. Black men in our assembly have expressed to me that they feel (a) unsafe at times or (b) like they are feared as a potential threat at times, simply because of their appearance. Most of us haven't experienced that, but we can empathize with it. We can listen, try to understand, and care. One of the virtues the gospel produces is the ability to "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15), feeling their hurts as if they were our own.
3. Listen with an intent to learn, not in preparation for a response. And beyond that, listen to your own words (before you speak them!) through the ears of others. One of the most important expressions of empathy is to imagine how our words will (or even could) sound to others. Although you don't intend to be insensitive, could your words be heard that way? Practice thinking that way and filtering or adjusting what you say as a result. Try to "feel in" with others (which is what the word empathy means). Such careful speech is commended throughout the Scriptures, especially in Proverbs (10:31; 12:18; 13:3; 15:4, 28; 16:23; 21:23; 31:26). This will improve every relationship you have!
4. Most importantly, pray that our church will be a model of gospel-driven unity. I say "gospel-driven" not as a pious-sounding catchphrase, but with the confidence that the gospel alone can bring peace where political and philosophical movements are impotent. We see this in the Scriptures, where Jesus' twelve disciples come from a wide range of (sometimes antagonistic) backgrounds, where the gospel makes one church out of those previously divided by race and prejudice (Acts 13:1-3; Ephesians 2:11-22; Galatians 3:27-29), where there is no respect of persons or partiality (Acts 10:34; James 2:1, 9), and where our ultimate hope is for the day when people "from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages" will unite around the throne to give praise to our saving, reconciling God (Revelation 7:9).
5. In short, as God's people, united by Jesus' blood and by the indwelling Spirit, let's utilize this current pressure in our society as a force to drive us even closer together rather than a force to pull us apart. Let's be a striking contrast to the chaos all around us so that the words of Christ will be beautifully fulfilled at KHBC: "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).
Because I know you, I write this challenge with every confidence that you desire the same things. I'm not fearful for our church. I'm confident that the dark all around us will allow us to shine brighter than ever. That is my prayer and my expectation. These words from Romans 12:14-21 are so timely—especially verse 18, which I've highlighted:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, n“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I love you, and I'm praying for you during these challenging times. As individuals, families, and a body, let's grow in Christ-likeness and in our love for one another!
Grace to you.