Editor’s Note: This is part two of an earlier piece by Bobby Scott. If you missed Part 1, Understanding the Past as a Way to a United Future, read it here.
In the last conversation I had with my grandmother, we talked deep into the night. She kept exhorting me, “…but Bobby, you can make it.” I politely nodded as she exhorted, but I honestly didn’t understand what she was saying. I thought to myself, “Grandma, of course I can make it.” She continued to talk, and as I continued to listen, she pressed through my ignorance and began telling me my family’s story as far back as she could remember—all the way back to slavery. I was born in 1964. I am, therefore, the first African American born in my family with all the legal rights of an American citizen. She taught me the price that she and my ancestors had paid so that I could be a steward of freedoms that they could only dream about. Our nation is still on a journey, one that is either moving towards or away from its ideals. With all the competing voices trying to influence the future direction of our nation, it is my prayer that the church will use the recent dark events, like the heinous taking of George Floyd’s life, to light for our nation a path toward racial reconciliation. Let me encourage us with three ways that we can pursue a more united future.
1. Pray that we learn from our past.
The Bible is The Book that calls us to learn lessons from the past. God commanded the Jews to memorialize how they were slaves and how He set them free in the Passover. Jesus commands the church to memorialize His death and resurrection with Communion. Christians, of all people, should be well versed in remembering. So, let’s choose not to forget how Africans came to America as human cargo, endured 250 years of inhumane inculturation as chattel slaves, and were forced to accept and were treated as if they had an inferior imago dei status to white Americans. Let’s choose not to forget how even the Civil War didn’t end that oppression. For another 100 years, America legally oppressed black people with segregation laws that divided every institution and arena of American life by color—black and white. Let’s choose not to forget that this is part of our American story so that we can all marvel that in spite of America’s racist treatment of Africa Americans for 350 years, God saved countless slaves and descendants of slaves through the power of the Gospel. Now imagine how much more brightly the church would shine if we collectively showed that we have learned these lessons from our past by heeding our Lord’s call to pursue “the weightier matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23) when we witness the dark clouds of racist sins, or the callous destruction of the imago dei of Black Americans and our fellow Black Christians.
2. Pray that we actively pursue the two-sided mission of reconciliation—confession and forgiveness.
As the agent that morally validated racism in America against African Americans, the church must willingly do what it can to stamp out racism wherever it remains. In John 4, Jesus shows us what He wants us to do. Jews and Samaritans had no dealings with each other for hundreds of years until Jesus intentionally walked to their side of town to tear down the wall of racism that divided them. Jesus places all Christians under that same mandate in Acts 1:8: to cross every barrier that exists in order to reach our Samarias. Jesus’ gospel message that He reconciles repentant sinners to God includes Him reconciling repentant sinners to one another over every barrier that once divided them—whether ethnicity, slavery, or gender (Galatians 3:28). Let’s strive to strategically employ gospel outreaches with our Lord’s aim to unite a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation (Revelation 5:9). In the spirit of Daniel’s confessed failures of his forefathers and his acknowledgement that those sins lead to the plight of the nation in his day (Daniel 9). Churches and Christians can acknowledge our racist failings when they rear their ugly head. In response, injured Christians can embrace a spirit of forgiveness as Christ has forgiven them. God’s grace in the gospel enables us to do both, and by doing so, the church will experience the reconciliation that Jesus secured for her, model for the world Jesus’s reconciling work between groups who were once at enmity with one another, and grow in boldness to continue preaching the Gospel that saves and reconciles.
3. Pray that we will learn to love—really love one another.
Love is the greatest power we possess to tear down the walls that separate us, and it is the most excellent way to live with others who are different from us. Loving God enables us to fulfill our mission to love our neighbors. Our divided history leaves us with a tribalism that deceives us into thinking that loving only people in our tribe fulfills the second command. It doesn’t. Jesus taught that even unbelievers do that (Luke 6:32). It is only when we love others as Jesus did do we fulfill the law. When we love our enemies, when we love sinners, and when we love even the least of those among us, then we are really learning to love. So Jesus used a Samaritan to show religious folks, who failed to love, what real love looks like. If you want to test the quality of your love, look back on how you responded to the many recent race-related tragedies. Love is an action word. God so loved that He gave. All the descriptive words in our English translation of the love chapter (1 Corinthians 13) are actually verbs/action words in the original. So let’s act. Just as love moved Christian abolitionists to fight against slavery, and as love moved Christians to fight for African American civil rights, let us hear the rebuke from the nations calling us to live up to our pledge to be “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” and act in love.
My grandmother was right. America has changed. My life has been radically different than hers, and my children’s lives are different than mine. But the past few weeks have also shown us that there is still much more work to be done. The walls that America built to divide us by race can come down. Yet tearing down walls still leaves the work of building the relationships and maintaining the justice that the walls once prevented. The blessing of being a Christian is knowing that Jesus tore down the wall for us, and with His love He empowers us to love all of our neighbors. At this defining moment in history, failure to do so will leave us as a nation still divided by race, which we all just so vividly witnessed. And as we know, a house divided against itself cannot stand.
May God graciously bless us.
- Pray that the church stays on a path of Gospel-driven racial reconciliation
- Let’s pray that we learn from the racist failures of the church’s and our nation’s past.
- Let’s pray that we actively pursue the church’s two-sided mission of reconciliation—confession and forgiveness.
- Let’s pray that we love our neighbors better.
- And let’s pray that we intentionally take and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus’ saving and reconciling grace across America’s dividing racial lines to the other side of town too.