I shared these thoughts on the Mosaic Church Evans FaceBook page. If you’d rather listen than read, you can find this there. If you’d rather read than listen, here ya go:
Let me say the obvious thing first: This is a really hard time for any American. Like so many, I feel a personal weight and horror that we are a country where a man can be killed in broad daylight by another man, and no one is immediately arrested, and the system is way too slow to pursue justice and only gets there when it is shamed into action.
And the worst of it is that this is a recurring pattern. That is a horrifying truth and a great weight that we all bear. All of us.
Years ago, someone told me that trauma will expose the gaps in a marriage. A marriage may seem to be rocking along okay until a parent or child gets sick, or until someone loses their job. Then, the gaps appear. Then they discover that what they could tolerate on their good days, they can no longer tolerate with the pressure of other stressors.
I’m sure that’s what we’re dealing with right now. On our good days when there is no viral outbreak and the economy is not wrecked and life is otherwise moving along, we can overlook our divisions. We can be tolerant — which is actually a terrible way to live and not scriptural. Tolerance is not a biblical value. It is deceptive. It is not quite the opposite of love (maybe it is better than murder) but if you’ve ever been simply tolerated by another person, you get what I mean. That is not love, and love is the biblical mandate.
But here’’s what we do. We as a country tend to rock along when things are going well enough, and most days we tolerate our weaknesses and we tolerate each other. But throw in a pandemic and economic uncertainty and now the gaps are exposed. Our prejudices and angers and passivities and lack of love show up. And not as a new thing. It shows up as a very deep fault line — something that has been there a long time.
Racial inequity is not a new thing for us. The protests in my town a few days ago were happening on the exact same stretch of road fifty-three years ago. I was a child who lived just a few blocks from that spot. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
When we came back to this area to plant a church, I so wanted to create something that could make a difference. We so wanted to see a racially and ethnically diverse congregation. That’s why we are called Mosaic. I spent a lot of that first year walking the ground of our county and praying against the spirit of racism but as a white person who was naive and mostly working alone, I struggled to realize that vision. The distrust is so deep because the issue is so deep.
Racial injustice and racial inequity is woven all through our history as a country. It has been part of us since the beginning. We have made some strides — I’ve seen some wonderfully constructive conversations happen this time around — but there are still real gaps. Significant gaps. Systemic gaps. And those gaps have been exposed once again in a world already under pressure.
My goodness, they’ve been exposed. These are such hard days, aren’t they? As a pastor it is painful to watch folks go through so much. My heart is heavy. And I’ll be honest: it is hard to know what to say. Is it my place as a white person to preach on these topics? I’m not talking about whether or not I should discuss the biblical take on racism. That, I get, is my job. I won’t hesitate to talk about justice and the Kingdom of God.
But how do we talk about us?
For starters, we have to admit that the black experience is different from the white experience, and that it is different again for a person of color. And too often that difference is unjust. Black moms in our church tell me they live in mortal fear of their child getting killed for living a black life. I will never experience that. I will never experience what the mother of Ahmaud Arbery must be experiencing as her son’s death is played on repeat all over the internet. Or George Floyd’s son. That must be the worst kind of nightmare.
My struggle is not with how I feel about this. My struggle is with feeling too inadequate to address all the pain, especially the pain of folks who have had to live this differently from me. I don’t want to add to that pain or do anything that creates more problems than it solves.
So I am saying all this as a way of helping you hear that if you don’t quite know what to do or say, it is okay to be honest about that. Own it. Wrestle with it, so find your way to the other side of it, because here’s the thing. We cannot not say anything. We cannot minimize the impact of systemic racism in our country. People aren’t marching and crying out and debating all over the country for no reason or because they just want to. People are protesting because they are in pain. We are in pain. And we can’t not have a heart for us — for our own hurting people or for our hurting nation. It would be contrary to all Jesus is about — Jesus, who cried over Jerusalem, who wept with people who wept.
It also would be contrary to our core values at Mosaic:
- Jesus at the center of everything we do.
- All people matter.
- Community is essential.
Those are our core values. That’s who we are as a church. Which means we are built for times like this, and we want to do so much more than simply weather it. We want to build something that can make a difference. We want to build a bridge, not just a raft. Rafts are what people build in a desperate attempt to get out of deep water or to keep from drowning. Rafts can be built quickly but they are temporary and they won’t hold a lot of people. Bridges take time to build. They are built one plank at a time. But a well constructed bridge will last for generations and can carry many people safely from one side to another.
So friends, let’s work together to build a bridge. I believe we were made for such a time as this. If we set specific long-range goals based on prayer and resist the urge to spend our energy on short-term fixes, praying for it all to just go away, then with the leadership of the Holy Spirit we can make a tangible, lasting difference. Let me say again: praying for it all to just go away is not our best. And it isn’t God’s best. This was the dream on which this church was founded.
And now it is time. The Body of Christ deserves our best. If we each keep hold of our own familiar perspectives wearing our old comfortable clothing as it were — white and black believers sitting in separate churches — the Body of Christ is left with a garment that looks more like patchwork than a beautifully woven bridal gown.
Likewise, if we bite and devour each other we will destroy each other. It is maddening and heartbreaking to see the Church of Jesus Christ being used politically right now. As the pastor of a church, it feels almost like we are a child being fought over by angry parents. It seems to me that the Church of Jesus Christ has been put in the middle — used almost like a pawn — more than once recently. I want to encourage you not to take the bait. What is happening is politics, not Church.
You know, I was reading recently about the incredible rise of the Church in Cuba, a remarkable revival sprouting up in a Communist country. I was reading an interview with a leader in that movement, and this Cuban follower of Jesus was asked what advice out of his experience would he give to the American church. He said, “If you believe that any political party will advance the return of Jesus or be the cause of the spread of the Gospel, you’re wrong. My advice to the church is to have our own personal political opinions but do not let this cause division at the communion table.”
Let me say that again: Do not let this cause division at the communion table.
If I were to place a footnote on that advice, it would be this: Please have your conversations in person, on the phone, on a zoom call, in a park. Not online. Friends, the enemy does some of his best work on social media. Meanwhile, the Body of Christ is just that — a body. Flesh and blood. It is rooted in community and is advanced in real-time conversations where we can empathize with one another, really listen to one another, confess our sins to one another and pray for one another. James tells us this is how healing happens.
Paul says it so well (Galatians 5:15), “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” I’d encourage you to spend more time listening … learning … and praying.
I’ve been doing a lot of listening over the last couple of weeks. I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts and online conversations that have been so helpful. Ed Stetzer has good and helpful conversations online. I found a couple of great conversations through the Institute of Religion and Democracy. Esau McCauley has some excellent lectures online. I’ll post some links in the comment section of this video.
I’ve also shared in conversation with good friends, and I encourage you to do the same. Listen in person. Find a friend who isn’t like you, who can talk intelligently with you about this. If you have no friend like that, then that would be good homework for you. I get that it isn’t fun to talk about pain. It is hard to say out loud that we aren’t doing this well. It is hard to say what you think and have folks disagree, some passionately. It is hard to sit with people as they grieve, and there are folks who are genuinely grieving right now. Community is hard. If it were easy, we’d see a lot more of it out there. But this is what makes community essential. Community is exactly where we learn to sit with each other, to wait on each other, to wait on the Lord together. This is what makes real conversation — not just posting opinions but real conversations — priceless. Find some real people to talk to so you can better understand. Listening to understand is a gift to the world.
We can listen … and we can learn. Not all opinions are created equal. I am reading voraciously right now so I can form a better opinion and there is no shortage of books. Some titles I have found that keep showing up on other lists are titles like:
- The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby
- How to be An Anti-Racist by Ibram Kendi
- Rediscipling the White Church by David Swanson
- One Blood by John Perkins (anything by John Perkins)
- Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
- Democracy in Black by Eddie Glaude
- Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race by former Georgia Bulldog Benjamin Watson
Start with any one of those and you will have a better, broader perspective on other on other sides of these issues. Remember, we want to build a bridge, not a raft. Articles and blogs are great, but well-researched books will give you a stronger foundation. If you only have a limited amount of time, spend it reading.
We can listen. We can learn. And friends, we can pray. I saw this somewhere so I’m quoting, and I couldn’t agree more: “People will mock you for prioritizing prayer. They will mock you for organizing concerted times of prayer together with other Christians. Expect to be mocked by people outside the church and, surprisingly, by people inside the Church. Don’t let that stop you. Pray anyway.”
Why does prayer matter? Because prayer is a spiritual act and ultimately this is a spiritual problem. The laws are already in place. The rights have already been expressed. The problem is not with our legislative framework. The problem is in our hearts. Which means this is a problem only Jesus can fix.
Right now, we are protesting the state of people’s hearts. It is exactly what Paul said, being lived out in our day (Ephesians 6). Ultimately, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand … And pray in the Spirit (Paul goes on) on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
We believe in a supernatural God who does supernatural things. So listen and learn, but make sure you leave time for strategic, focused prayer. We pray every afternoon at 5 o’clock on a zoom call and right now, we’re praying for our country and for the Body of Christ on earth and against the spiritual forces of evil. Come pray with us (Monday – Friday, 5p ET; Dial 646 558 8656; Meeting ID: 605 829 929).
Maybe you’re feeling paralyzed and wondering what one person can do. Listen: one person can make a huge difference. We can listen, we can learn and we can pray. And I’m confident that not only will those three actions form a better opinion … they will also form a more humble heart. And humble hearts build better bridges.
In this world in this time, we are in desperate need of more humble hearts. What is most needed right now in our country is the spirit of Christ, which is a spirit grounded in humility — teachable spirits … listening ears … praying hearts. We are in desperate need of humble leaders. I read this somewhere: “Pride builds monuments but humility builds ministry.” Yes! Humility builds bridges. Humility builds understanding. Humility builds up the Body of Christ, which is to say that humility is the kind of bridge that will carry the Kingdom of God from Heaven to earth.
If you want to make a difference in the world right now, begin with your own heart. This is the spiritual work every person can do. Check your own heart. Check your motives. Look for idols and blind spots.Begin with the words of the psalmist (Psalm 139): “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
I’m grateful to serve a Church that already has the tools in hand to build a bridge. I so love and appreciate you and am hungry for the day when we are worshiping in our spiritual house together. Until then, stay safe … and call me if you need me.