Theology Conference Relationships/Family Identity

The A.R.C. of Racial Reconciliation

Jemar Tisby

I had the honor of presenting at the 2016 Together for the Gospel conference on the A.R.C. of Racial Reconciliation. It was part of a breakout session I did jointly with Ligon Duncan, Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary. In it, I explained the essential elements of all genuine racial reconciliation.

A = Awareness

The phrase #staywoke which is often abbreviated simply as #woke. It’s a contemporary term for being awakened, woken up, or enlightened. It is usually used to refer to enlightenment about racial issues. You’ll often see it as a hashtag on social media outlets like Twitter. It means you are aware in more than a superficial way about the dynamics of racial reconciliation. Stay woke is simply another way of saying we need to be aware of racial issues and dynamics.

One particular area of concern is the racial history of the United States. I am concerned that our knowledge about racial justice in this country extends to one chapter in our high school social studies books. History is about context. It teaches us how to place people, events, and movements within the broader scope of God’s redemptive plan.

This is what Reformed folks should understand better than anyone. In our passionate pursuit of proper exegesis, we always look at the context. We want to know the historical-grammatical situation of the text so that we can accurately explain and apply it. It’s no different with racial reconciliation. We have to develop an awareness of the context to properly exegete the problem and apply biblical solutions.

Action Steps*:

R = Relationships

Awareness isn’t enough. No matter how much awareness you have, it remains abstract, theoretical principles and propositions until you meet a person. Reconciliation is incarnational.

Christ is our example. “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The logos of God—His wisdom, his character, his attributes—all that God is (“for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”) became a human being. This is what makes Christianity different from every other religion. We don’t worship a far off deity, we don’t worship an impersonal force. Christians worship a person, and his name is Jesus Christ.

All the way back in Genesis 3:15 God gave us a promise of reconciliation. God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” In Jesus Christ that promise of reconciliation has become a person. A person with whom we can have a relationship and thereby be reconciled to God.

What is true of our reconciliation with God is true of our reconciliation across racial and ethnic lines. Just as vertical reconciliation with God requires a relationship, horizontal reconciliation with our neighbors requires relationships as well. Reconciliation requires relationships.

Action Steps:

  • Start with Acquaintances:
    • Most of us have some diversity in our churches or social network, not as much as we’d want, but we have some.
    • Maybe there’s someone in your church who is of a different race. You know each other, but you’ve never spent significant time together or had a substantive conversation. Why not invite that person out to coffee or have their family over for dinner? It’s natural, organic way to deepen a relationship you already have.
  • Don’t Over-Complicate Friendships
    • “Every one of us at 3 or 4 or 5 [years old] used to go up to people and say, “Will you be my friend.” And what happened? We got friends. At some point we stopped doing that because it became weird. I just think we should go back to being weird. And say hey, listen, I offer you friendship. He goes on to say we should release our passive approach to friendships.”–Thabiti Anyabwile
  • Find New Places to Hang Out:
    • Restaurants that only Black people or Mexicans, or Ethiopians go.
    • Sports/Clubs/Activities: Why not join a YMCA or city league or a local club?
  • Intentionality:
    • We don’t naturally gravitate toward those who are different from us. We naturally gather in similar groups. We have to do something unnatural, or rather, supernatural to break the cycles of social sameness that hinder racial reconciliation.
    • Think like a missionary.

C = Commitment

Committing to concrete action is the hardest part of pursuing racial reconciliation. Developing awareness and relationships may create a burden, but does that burden move you to act? Are you willing to put aside preferences and prestige to take the side of the marginalized and despised? Are you willing to lay down your comfort for the cause of Christ?

Racism is one of the most controversial topics you can ever bring up, and people fight to defend their views. It’s a battle everyday online, in writing, in families, at church. People who talk about racial reconciliation are on the front lines and they get wounds, and scars, and feel pain in the struggle. All of that comes with the territory and we’ll keep fighting. But we would love it if our fellow Christian soldiers took up the sword of truth and shield of faith and joined us on the front lines.

Action Steps:

  • Learn from the people who are already demonstrating solidarity.
    • Matt Chandler has spoken out publicly about “white privilege”
    • Russell Moore has famously said the “cross and the confederate flag cannot exist without one burning the other.”
    • Ligon Duncan is a co-signer on what is shaping up to be the most talked about resolution to ever hit the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly. It’s a resolution on Civil Rights remembrance telling how the founders of our denomination were silent and complicit during that struggle. And he’s taken hits for that stance.
  • Tweet and retweet (hashtag activism builds awareness, but shouldn’t be content to stop there)
  • Interrupt Ignorance
    • If someone is making a stereotype about a people group, then stop and ask, “Why do you say that?” Or, “Hey, you might want to rephrase that.”
  • Create something
    • Write a blog post. Write a book. Write a sermon. Do a Sunday School class. Host a forum. Write a song or a poem. Create something that speaks to racial reconciliation.
  • Organize a group to attend a conference headlined by minorities
  • Pray that God would position you to take action for the cause of racial reconciliation.
*Note: Not all of these are Christian resources and are not intended for spiritual edification. They are merely outlets that give some sense of what certain segments of the African American population are thinking and talking about. Engage the material critically or you may decide not to engage it at all. 

6 thoughts on “The A.R.C. of Racial Reconciliation

  1. Alpha Plus

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  2. Justin Runyan

    Thank you for your talk at T4G. I really appreciate your wisdom. I’m praying that God will graciously help me become/stay “woke” (as you taught).

    Praying for you and the ministry of RAAN from here in Maryland. May God graciously give you joy, patience, and endurance as you strengthen the Church.

  3. Jemar

    Thansk, Paige!

  4. Jemar

    As I mentioned several times during my presentation the point is not to agree with all/most/any of the information provided at these sites. I never claimed they were spiritually edifying. The point is to diversify your information sources. If you want to know what certain segments of the population are thinking and talking about along with how they are thinking and talking about it, these sites are helpful. If they cause you too much dissonance then you can disregard.

  5. John N

    Thank you for directing me to AALI. I’ve been listening to lectures all day and very blessed by them.

    However, I checked out your recommended social media, Huffington Post’s Black Voices. Here are some of the article titles from today:

    Cable News Won’t Stop Whitesplaining Black Issues

    5 Things Black Women with Naturals Need to do when Preparing for a Sexy Nightcap

    The Shocking Statics Trans Women of Color Face

    The 2 Percent Problem and What I’m Doing About It, (by apostate crooked shepherd, Reverend Jesse Jackson)

    Hampton University’s First Drag Queen

    North Carolina NAACP Promises Sit Ins if Anti Queer Law Isn’t Repealed

    And that’s just a few of the titles!!!!

    Jemar, please help me understand what reading Black Voices will do to benefit any Christian? It is rife with filthy racist, abortion promoting, homosexuality promoting garbage.

    Please, please explain.

  6. Paige Britton

    Awesome, Jemar! Thanks for sharing your notes! Will there be a recording, too?

    You have a real knack for making memorable and quotable quotes. (It’s all that Tweeting experience, I guess! 🙂

    I wanted to mention that Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s “Many Rivers” series is one that parents/teachers should screen first before showing to kids, just because there are occasionally disturbing images used that might be hard for sensitive youngsters to deal with. The voice-over narratives and interviews are all terrific, though (so you can feel confident listening even w/o the visuals sometimes).

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