Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Time to Build Up, and a Time to Break Down

In light of recent events in our country, yesterday our church called its members to fast and pray for racial reconciliation. Initially I was skeptical; I have a natural reticence to go along with something just because someone tells me to do it. I want to be able to put my intellectual and emotional support behind something before committing to it. So instead of abstaining from food, I considered abstaining from the fast. But that's precisely why I needed to participate, and I did. I fasted and prayed for racial reconciliation—sort of. I will explain.

I am not going to write about Ferguson, Eric Garner, the situation in Cleveland, or any other recent incidents involving police brutality and racial tension, although the temptation to do so has been strong. I am writing about what God revealed to me during our fast, and what I think it means more broadly for the church, or maybe just for my own heart. I normally deal in polemics, but this time I am writing personally.

I had a hard time with this fast initially. From the outset, I've thought that the response and reaction to these situations has been overblown and misses the real issues. I didn't see the need to talk about racial reconciliation—I thought the real problems were elsewhere. So I rolled my eyes, so to speak, at the idea of fasting for racial reconciliation. What does that mean? Nevertheless, I committed to doing it because I knew, deep down, that there were likely sinful attitudes polluting my motives and creating a divide between me and my brothers in Christ. I am glad I did.

Let me be clear up front: I believe—and passionately so—that every human being is created equally in God's image. We are all descended from Adam, every one of us. And we are all reconciled by the same blood of Christ. So there is zero distinction along racial lines in terms of human dignity and worth. Zero. (Secularism, by the way, can offer no such unambiguous foundation). Despite my beliefs, however, I have to deal with the reality that there are racial tensions in our country (and even, I have to assume, in some of our churches).

This is difficult for me personally because I do not harbor real, objective prejudices against any particular race; I really believe in the equal dignity of all people. So, my thinking goes, if I'm not harboring racism in my own heart, then it's not a problem. This attitude tends to foster another attitude further down the line: minorities' concerns and fears of systemic racial injustice are, at worst, illegitimate and, at best, merely misplaced.

And here is where the Lord revealed my sin in the midst of this fast. My racial sin is not thinking or acting like one race is inherently better than another. My racial sin is believing that certain minorities aren't thinking properly about race in the first place. It's the sin of pride. My pride says that I am the one who is defending true justice, that I am the one who is thinking properly about racial tension, and that I am the one who has a firm grasp on the nuanced truth of these situations.

I wasn't esteeming my brothers and sisters as better than myself; I esteemed their thinking as inferior to mine. I wasn't bearing with my brothers and sisters in their burdens; I was secretly thinking their burdens weren't really burdens. And I wasn't considering the sufferings of others in how I approached the situation. That's unwise and prideful.

The book of Ecclesiastes says there is "a time to break down, and a time to build up." My timing was wrong.

This was because of my own pride. Therefore I must repent of that way of thinking and instead build up my brothers and sisters before I seek to break down bad arguments. As a wise friend explained, "we want to win people, not arguments."

So while it may not be that I have harbored overt racial animosity in my own heart, I have not fostered a foundation upon which to listen to those who have legitimately experienced it. Regardless of the merits of any of these individual cases that sparked this fasting and prayer, it's never unwise to listen first, judge later.

In light of that, I am sincerely excited—and hopeful—for the upcoming conversations in our church regarding racial tensions and what reconciliation looks like. I have devoted serious thought to these issues before, but I believe that God will honor our fasting and prayer to bring about true reconciliation—the reconciliation that only occurs through our mutual need for the forgiveness of sins, bought by the precious blood of Christ.


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