The Gospel & Race Project: Learn, Pray, EngageJanuary 25, 2021 Culture
This coming year, we want to bring special focus to the issue of racism or ethnic partiality. As you are aware, this issue is fraught with controversy no matter what you say about it. The Bible is clear that racism or ethnic partiality is sinful because it dehumanizes people who are made in the image of God. For us here at Sovereign Grace Church Dayton, this is not merely a political issue, but it is a first and foremost a deeply theological issue.
My Experience with Racism
My experience with racism has been minimal and does not begin in America, but back where I was born, in India. My family was from the southern India where most people are typically darker skinned, but I was born and raised in northern India where most people were typically lighter skinned. As a young dark brown skinned boy, I can remember occasions at school when kids made fun of me at school because of my skin color. Mind you, everyone at school had brown skin, it was just a matter of shade. Our family moved to America when I was 12 and over time, a sinful heart began growing in me toward other Indians who had not assimilated the way I had or accomplished the things I had by coming to America. That same sinful heart continues to find ways to make me feel superior to others for many reasons including their ethnicities. I have come to see that ethnic partiality exists everywhere humans exist, America is no different, and the church is no different.
Our Cultural Moment
All of us are aware of the deep racial divide in this country that was so intensely evident this past year especially following the death of George Floyd. If you are like me, you listened to the news, read articles but found it difficult to determine a way forward to these complex issues.
Unfortunately, the church in America has not been a beacon of hope on this issue. The church was often slow to denounce racism, and sometimes even supported the legitimacy of slavery and segregation. Even today, deep misconceptions about other ethnicities continue to exist in our largely segregated churches. Our secular culture will continue with the same old talking points and blame shifting without making progress. But, how can the church be different? How can our church make progress in setting an example of Jesus-exalting racial diversity and harmony?
The Church Needs to Be Different
By the power of the Spirit, believers are to live and have relationships in the church that are starkly different than the world. Because the gospel has transformed our lives by reconciling sinners to a holy God, our relationships should also display the reconciling power of gospel. Well, it should. Given the church’s history and complicity on this issue in the past, has now left us on the sidelines of the conversation. Hebrews 5:12-14 states that maturity in Christ comes when our powers of discernment have been trained by the constant practice in distinguishing good from evil. When it comes to of race and ethnic issues, most Christians, especially in America, have not trained their powers of discernment to distinguish good and evil.
We as pastors feel a burden to show every person mature in Christ, and that is a hard thing to do, when we ourselves need milk not solid food when it comes to these issues. We ourselves need constant practice to distinguish good from evil on issues related to race, and we desire to begin to take steps to grow in that this year.
A Way Forward
Here at Sovereign Grace Church Dayton, we do not want to swing between the extremes of obliviousness to ethnic concerns, nor do we want to idolize this topic as the only thing that matters. Today we are launching a project that will continue through the rest of the year. The theme for this project is titled The Gospel & Race Project: Learn, Pray, Engage.
Learn: I will be reading several books on the topic of the gospel and race this coming year because of the need to understand these issues better and be able to speak to others in a winsome and gracious manner. I’ll be putting up some summaries from these books as I read them on our church blog and offer some thoughts for reflection. You are welcome to read along with me if you are interested. We will primarily read books that seek to understand this issue from a gospel perspective, but we will also read historical accounts, books from the secular left (CRT), and the secular right (Thomas Sowell). Reading broadly will help us understand the arguments being put forward from secular perspectives and how we can read these charitably yet critically from a biblical perspective.
Pray: Along with the things we’ll be learning, I will also highlight on the church blog ways in which we can be praying for ourselves, our church and our community based on the things that we will be reading and learning. We need the Spirit to move in our mind and hearts if we are to grow in this area.
Engage: Finally, if there is interest among members, we would like to engage with one through discussion forums as a means of learning from one another and considering ways in which we can grow in our desire to be more intentional in building relationships across ethnic lines.
We have some very small but tangible goals for this project. First, we want to grow in training our powers of discernment to distinguish good and evil on the topic of race and ethnic issues. Second, we want to grow in our desire and love for Jesus-exalting racial diversity in our relationships.
The first book we will be reading together is Bloodlines by John Piper. The pastors began reading this book earlier this month, we will continue reading this over the next month and I’ll be sharing some thoughts on the blog along the way. The digital version of this book is available for free online at desiringgod.org.
We have also invited Tim Shorey, who is a SG pastor, as we host the Respect the Image Conference here at our church on May 1. Tim has written a book on what it means for us to respect the image of God in one another and the critical implications this has for we way we speak and listen to one another broadly, but also has some touchpoints on topics concerning race.
For some this might feel like we are too focused on this topic, others might hear this proposal and feel like it is too little. I know there are several that are way ahead of me in learning about this area and I am eager to learn from you.
It surprises me how we tend to have such strong opinions about complex subjects that we have done so little to try and read, listen, and understand about (I include myself in this category). We want you to know that there is a measure of diversity of thought on this topic that should be expected. Regardless, what I would encourage each one of you be humble, be open to learning, respect one another, and submit all things to God’s Word. Maybe reading along with me requires too much of a commitment from you, I understand. At a minimum, I hope you can still follow along on the church blog and grow in this area this year by learning, praying and engaging together.