Current Events Identity

Now It’s OUR Time To Speak: Reflections on a (Possibly) Landmark Event

Jemar Tisby

“A Time to Speak” will become a landmark for Christians on the journey toward racial justice for one main reason. It has made race a prominent topic of dialogue for this branch of God’s church.

What Is “A Time to Speak”

The event was held as a live webcast on the evening on December 16, 2014. Pastor Bryan Loritts organized “A Time to Speak” on behalf of the Kainos Movement which has the goal of creating “a new normal” where 50% of churches are multi-ethnic by the year 2050. The aim of the discussion was to talk about race, the church, and where to go in light of the racial tensions surrounding the deaths of unarmed African Americans Mike Brown and Eric Garner.

Ed Stezter of Lifeway Research moderated two panels for the two-hour long webcast. The first was comprised of Bryan Loritts, Voddie Baucham, Jr., Matt Chandler, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Darrin Patrick. The second panel had Albert Tate (who is hilarious, by the way, #BlackDinner…you had to be there), John Piper, Trillia Newbell, and Derwin Gray. Each speaker has engaged vocally and passionately about race and justice in the past and they each brought a distinct take on how Christians should respond.

“A Time to Speak” helps thrust racial justice to the top of the list of issues the church must address. For many, the panelists were some of their “heroes in the faith.” These are the people who write the books we buy, preach the sermons we download, and speak at the conferences we attend. They are thought leaders in the broader church in America. When they speak, no matter what the subject, people are almost always listening. So when a group of the nation’s most prominent (at least in our Reformed and evangelical circles) Christian leaders gathers to talk about race, the issue becomes more prominent.

A Few Qualifications

This is not to say that racial justice was not important before “A Time to Speak” happened. Race has always been important because the the Bible addresses divisions between people groups (e.g. Galatians 3:28). God’s word is what makes this a vital subject. It does not matter who chooses to talk about race or who remains silent. God has spoken. He has said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” and it doesn’t matter what skin color that neighbor has.

The panelists at “A Time to Speak” are also not the first Christians to discuss race in America. These men and (sadly, just) one woman form the latest link in a chain of believers that goes all the way back to when Jesus walked the earth. They didn’t make race a prominent topic overall, nor did they make this a prominent topic by themselves. They just made it prominent right here, right now, for this group of people.

Also, this panel is the result of a building momentum among Christians. Believers have been protesting more stridently about the racism our society exhibits. From hashtags on Twitter, to innumerable dialogues in local churches, to marching in the streets, the church in the U.S. seems to be more publicly and widely recognizing the ongoing effects of race in our land.

In the second sentence of this post I used the phrase, “this branch of God’s church.” By that I mean evangelical (which has a broad meaning but used here mostly to distinguish between “mainline” Christianity) and Reformed. The word “Reformed”, too, has a malleable definition, but generally it refers to the view that God is sovereign even over salvation and He is intimately involved in all of life deliberately guiding events to reveal His glory. So, the fact that this small part of God’s church is now discussing race more openly and persistently doesn’t mean that other parts of the Body haven’t been doing so for a long time already.

Last, in the title I say that this is a “possibly” land mark event. I say that because it remains to be seen what Christians will do with this conversation. If we let the news cycle die down and move on from this moment without significant efforts to examine our hearts and change our churches and communities, then this landmark will fade in to the haze of history. But if we use this time to take steps forward, not all the way to our destination, perhaps, but further than we are now, then this will indeed be a landmark.

Why Christians in America Must Speak about Race

“A Time to Speak” may prove significant because even though the Bible deals with a matter that doesn’t mean Christians always do.  I have interacted with countless classmates, bloggers, Facebook friends, real-life friends, fellow church members, and others who understand little of racial dynamics in America and don’t think it’s important. Most people don’t say it in words, but their actions demonstrate their nonchalance toward the matter.

This could be for a variety of reasons. Maybe they honestly don’t see racial justice as a gospel issue but more as a purely social justice issue. Maybe their circles are so homogenous that they don’t think race affects them. Perhaps they think they are racially enlightened and know enough about the subject. Maybe they are pouring their passion and energy into another issue of justice. It could be any number of reasons.

But we live in the United States. We have a history with race, particularly between Blacks and Whites, that must be confronted. Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and a White man says, “I think the most controversial issue in American life by far is race.” Dr. Moore is right. Christians must contend with racial matters because our context requires it.

As long as our churches remain racially homogenous, as long as racial tensions continue to divide even our Christian citizens, as long as we harbor sin that manifests itself as racism, and as long as we have the vision for diversity clearly conveyed in passages from Genesis (12:3) to Revelation (5:9) we must make racial justice in the American church a priority.

It’s Our Time to Speak

Since race matters to me personally as a Black man and, more importantly, as a Christian, I have, at times, been infuriated at what seems like a flippant indifference to the topic of race and the church. Race matters. But too many Christians, of all races, choose to bypass it.

But “A Time to Speak” will be a conversation starter. According to a tweet by Ed Stetzer, “Thousands of ppl from 60+ countries watched #ATimeToSpeak. You can watch it on demand here: Pls RT.” I hope the viewership of thousands of people from dozens of countries makes “A Time to Speak” a Christian cultural artifact. I hope this event becomes embedded in the history of racial dialogue in the church. I hope that I can walk up to most any believer and say, “Hey, did you see ‘A Time to Speak’?” and they’ll know exactly what I mean.

Now that some of our most respected leaders have had their “time to speak” publicly about race, now it’s our time to speak. As many people who saw this event live, there are many, many more who didn’t. It’s time for us to gather our brothers and sisters in Christ together and watch this event. It’s time to have more dialogue around the topic of race in our churches. It’s time to plant or revitalize churches to be intentionally diverse. It’s time to take action and demolish social and legal structures that inhibit the flourishing of all kinds of people. It’s time to preach the gospel to those who are still enslaved to the bondage of racism and all other forms of sin.

Yes, it’s our time to speak, and maybe “A Time to Speak” just made that a little easier.

2 thoughts on “Now It’s OUR Time To Speak: Reflections on a (Possibly) Landmark Event

  1. Jimmie

    Is there a link somewhere to listen/watch this discussion?

  2. george canady

    Thank you guys at RAAN. It seems God is moving in many media contexts this time to expose some of our toxic attitudes that have been hidden in the dark in our churches for so long. I would hope we all maintain an attitude of forgiveness and humility. I ask forgiveness for comments and attitudes I have expressed right here on RAAN to those I disagree with. Please forgive me for my harsh attitudes. May God help us all as he wakes some of us up to our sin. I thank God for those who suffered but died before this day came. I have great hope that God’s people will maintain the right thing this time

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