In Redeeming Racial Relationships, It Matters How We Look

In the last few days, the Christian Post has published some excellent articles on a growing reawakening of Christian people concerning racial issues. This is deeply encouraging, because Gospel-teaching churches must take bold Biblical leadership on the present American racial scene for there to be real progress. The very institutions that remain so embarrassingly segregated on Sunday mornings can become the brightest, exemplary beacons of light for racial justice and reconciliation going forward. This is also a personal passion; racial social justice has been a constant and costly major theme of my life and ministry.

Paul de Vries is an exclusive CP columnist.
Paul de Vries is an exclusive CP columnist. | (By CP Cartoonist Rod Anderson)

Our president and attorney general seem stuck on the rhetoric and policies of the distant past. For example, they wanted to use the 50-year old voting rights bill to punish some states, based upon 50-year old data, when justice (and the Supreme Court!) requires that public policies and punishments be based on present facts. As intelligent men, and as black men, they should have noticed that so much has changed in 50 years. Similarly, they assisted the ignorant chorus racially profiling the New York Police Department (NYPD) as white and racist, when the NYPD of 2015 is only 51% white and racially integrated at all levels. Even at the tragic July 17, 2014 death of a black man, Eric Garner, during a NYPD arrest on Staten Island, half of the four police officers making the arrest were black. It is easy to appreciate New York City, my town. Justice is on the rise while crime continues to shrink.

These remarkable facts are not hidden, but some of the rhetoric of "civil rights leaders" and of our Mayor Bill de Blasio suggests that they are blind to these facts. And much of the media collaborates, too, because it is easier to dig up an old story than to give full attention to the present. And there is an accurate, palpable public awareness that something is deeply wrong in our world, too, even if many of our leaders and protestors do not define it well.

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NYPD officers make mistakes too often, such as in the death of Eric Garner and in situations I have personally witnessed. But for some of our leaders and media to seem to miss the huge progress is phenomenal. What is going on? Is "liberal" ideology so personally "enslaving" that the leaders and media cannot bring themselves to recognize the obvious facts? Or worse, could the senses of some of our leaders be so deeply dulled by their own old political rhetoric that they are truly blind to progress. How else are so many people saying, "It seems as if nothing has changed"? Really?

For Jesus Christ's church and her leaders, present racial crises create a precious spiritual opportunity, because we are so very often reminded in the Scriptures to pay attention, to "behold" what is happening around us, and to "watch and pray." Blind faith is dead faith.  

Some of the greatest stories in the Bible are based upon people gaining fresh perspective – starting at the simplest level of seeing with their eyes and hearing with their ears. For example, the immediate impetus for Jesus' appointment of the original twelve Apostles was his eyes seeing accurately and compassionately the conditions of the multitudes, ripe for life-giving spiritual harvest. Jesus immediately urged his followers to pray for the "Lord of the harvest to send laborers," and then he selected twelve of them to lead the effort, becoming the answer to his harvest prayer.

In another example, it was the Samaritan that proved himself good in Jesus' parable when, instead of going to the other side of the road and trying to ignore the facts, his eyes saw with compassion the man who was beat up, robbed and left for dead. It was the Samaritan's compassionate integrity, in full sensory perception of the facts, that shaped the rest of that great story. No wonder Jesus also says that the eyes are the window of the soul.

Indeed, "the eyes have it." How we look at other people matters deeply – as Jesus demonstrated in his own leadership and in his great parable about the Good Samaritan – and this may be the greatest area for improving racial fairness in our time. Do we literally see people of other ethnic groups as equals to us? Or do our eyes and ears focus especially on differences? When we reach out to share the Gospel, do we joyfully follow Jesus command to disciple every ethnic person? Or do we give preferences especially to people who "look like us"?

Do we hesitate to do street ministry or door-to-door evangelism in our neighborhoods because our communities are increasingly ethnically diverse? Or do we take Jesus literally and share his awesome grace with all men, women, youth, and children – and then bring them into true fellowship, too? Can we see with Jesus' eyes? Can we hear with Christ's ears? Will we allow our eyes and ears now to be transformed by the Savior?

Is it time for a real AWAKENING? Is it time to open our eyes and ears to perceive how ripe the spiritual harvest is in 2015? Are we attentive to see and hear the personal needs around us and serve everyone in Jesus name?

All our personal biases are subtly percolated into our perceptions – especially in the way we look at other people and the way we listen to them. There is no neutral seeing or hearing. For example, it is nearly impossible for a male chauvinist to see all the qualities of skill, professionalism, knowledge, or leadership that a gifted woman of God may quite obviously have. Bias is debilitating blindness, literally. Two men talking with the same woman may later compare notes. One remembers only how large her ears were, while the other recognized her wisdom, knowledge, and poise.

In a similar way, people's senses of ethnic superiority – or comfort only with their "own people" – deeply dull their perceptions, making them clueless to the literal awakening God wants for them and for his church. The world will know we are Christians by our love – especially love across ethnic gaps.

1. Consider that at Jesus birth the magi came from different countries to worship him, so the first congregation to worship Jesus was multi-ethnic!
2. Notice that the day that the church was born, 120 praying preachers left the Upper Room to announce the Gospel message in several languages to men and women visiting Jerusalem from 16 nations – including from nations in Africa, Asia and Europe –
and that day about 3,000 of these brothers and sisters were saved and started meeting together.
3. The definitive church of Antioch was planted by leaders from Africa (Cyrene), Asia (Cypress), Europe (Greece) and Jerusalem.
4. The Forever Church of heaven integrates people from every ethnicity and language.

The church was conceived multi-ethnic! Born multi-ethnic! Defined multi-ethnic! Forever multi-ethnic!   

If our churches are not multi-ethnic now, something got damaged and needs to be fixed. After all, there is only one ultimate race problem: all of the human race has sinned and needs the Savior. We need to be together for God's liberating salvation and empowering sanctification, too.

Please try this as a "mental" game as you walk down the street or through the shopping mall or airport, or wait at the bus stop: look at each person you see and say to yourself, "What a dear image of God!," or "Jesus loves that person and I do, too," or, "There is truly my brother (or sister)." The more you do this, the more those divine concepts will actually shape your sense perception – and you may even start seeing with Jesus' eyes. Then the present ethnic divisions on Sunday morning will make even less sense!

Churches can now become the multi-ethnic dynamos the Lord desires, and as he designed, birthed, defined, and purposed his whole church for eternity. Otherwise the churches may well continue to be part of the problem, failing to cross the costly bridges of understanding and love that Christ has already built so well.

We in the church will get it right, or we will not do any better than the present confused culture.

Dr. Paul de Vries is the president of New York Divinity School, and a pastor, speaker and author. Since 2004, he has served on the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, representing 40 million evangelical Americans.

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