A Word to White Evangelicals: Now is the Time to Engage Issues of Race

PERSPECTIVES

by Megan Lietz, ARC Research Associate

We are at a critical moment in the history of our nation—a time not when new problems have arisen, but when old problems have been revealed. The violence against young Black men, the tension that inspired the killings of police officers, the division surrounding a heated election, and the exclusion of the Muslim community are just a few indicators that things are not well.

How will we respond in our increasingly diverse nation as racial tensions flare across our land?

Like a doctor removes a bandage to reveal a festering wound, these national incidents are exposing deep-seated racial inequities. As a physician exposes a wound to provide treatment, so does exposing these inequities create opportunity for healing. How will we respond to this opportunity? In our choices, we are accountable to the Lord.

The Current Reality 

The racial diversity of our nation is increasing. The US Census Bureau projects that by 2043 more than half of the nation will be people of color. We have already seen this shift occur in Boston when we became a “minority majority” city in 2000. Diversity is our future, and the future is indeed here.

With this diversity also comes division. Some division comes from the differences inherent in diverse cultures, such as disparate worldviews or languages. These types of differences are not inherently bad. Other divisions, however, happen because disparities exist between White people and people of color. These disparities have a profound impact on people’s daily lives and foster tension and fear.

Consider the racial disparities in education, health care, and financial well-being in Boston. In 2016, rates of graduation from the Boston Public School System in four years were 13 percentage points lower for Black students, and 15 percentage points lower for Hispanic students, than their White counterparts. In 2015, a 2011 health report found that, compared to White people, Black and Hispanic people in Massachusetts have higher rates of infant mortality, cardiovascular and circulatory system related deaths, and diabetes.

Most notably, in 2015 the median net worth for White families in the Boston area ($247,500) towered over that of Hispanic ($3,020 for Puerto Ricans, $2,700 for other Hispanics) and Black families ($12,000 for “Caribbean Blacks” and $8 for “U.S. Blacks”). Furthermore, there is little hope of this improving without significant change, as these national wealth gaps by race have remained relatively consistent for the last 50 years.

These inequalities shape the future ministry of the Church and invite White evangelicals to the work of racial reconciliation. The invitation is open. Our city isn’t waiting. Will we see the problem before us? Will we respond in a Christ-like way to the hurt and division across our land?

Stepping Up 

I believe it is time for White evangelicals to step up in this moment of crisis and walk into the opportunity for conciliation it provides. As a White evangelical myself, I am choosing to step up. Neither my faith nor my conscience allows me to do otherwise.

These inequalities shape the future ministry of the Church and invite White evangelicals to the work of racial reconciliation.

I am stepping up by calling other White evangelicals to join me on a journey toward racial reconciliation, and I am committing to walking with them along the way. More specifically, I am developing an initiative at the Emmanuel Gospel Center called Race and Christian Community. I’m designing the initiative to meet White evangelicals where they are and help them take concrete steps to engage in racial issues respectfully and responsibly.   

While my primary motivators for action are God’s Word (e.g. Eph. 2:11-14, John 17:20-23, Jer. 29:7) and the grave need, my desire to engage is also personal.  There was a time when I was unaware of my race and privilege and culture, when I didn't know what God's Word had to say about the racism and division and discord that sullies our land. At that time, I had fellow Christians come alongside me as I began my own journey towards racial reconciliation.

Born and raised in a predominantly White, rural town, growing up I never imagined myself in multiracial ministry. It was not until I was immersed in communities of color during my college years that I wrestled with my own race and culture. It was not until then that I had considered how racial reconciliation related to my faith.

I had fellow Christians come alongside me as I began my own journey towards racial reconciliation.

As I reflect on my involvement in those early days, I recall my desire to help, my good intentions, my uncertainty about what to do, and my remarkable ignorance. At the same time I recall God’s faithfulness. He extended me grace and guided me, through the Spirit and the saints.

In this space I came to discover my culture and racial identity. I began to genuinely appreciate the cultures of others. My view of God expanded, and I began to more fully live out my faith.

Similar to how the Lord used others to lead me on my journey toward racial reconciliation, it is my hope that I can partner with the Lord to guide others who are starting out.

Join the Journey

I invite you to join me in reflecting on the racial tension our nation is experiencing and to consider how you might respond. As the inequities and divisions are coming to light in ways that White evangelicals can no longer deny, we are posed with the question, "What will you do about it?" It is a question that, though powerful, is often brushed off by a barrage of competing priorities: the problem of good people having too many good things to do.

I challenge you to not brush off the question of how you will respond too easily. In our complacency, we hurt both people of color and ourselves. After centuries of being largely disengaged from pursuits of racial equity, now is the time for White evangelicals to begin to change our legacy.

Perhaps the incidents of violence and upheaval that cross our television screens are a means of God’s grace to us. Perhaps God is using these incidents to interrupt our daily routine with moments of clarity—moments that  invite us to engage in the reconciling work that is not a partisan issue but is essential to the work Christ did on the cross (Eph. 2:11-21).

Now is the time for White evangelicals to begin to change our legacy.

Will you join me, broken and faulty as I am, on a journey toward racial reconciliation? Will you join me, with wounds and fears and insecurities? Will you join me with confidence, not in our ability to bring about reconciliation, but in Christ’s ability to work through those who say, “Yes, Lord, send me”?

Take Action

I invite you to :

  • Attend an EGC small group conversation for White evangelicals. Saturday, April 1, 10 am - noon, at Emmanuel Gospel Center, 2 San Juan Street, Boston. Discuss obstacles and insights you’ve encountered in your own engagement of race, and brainstorm how EGC could support you to do so more effectively.
  • Speak into the development of EGC’s Race & Christian Community initiative by connecting with me personally. I value your perspective and want this initiative to be shaped by the voice of the community! 
  • Explore my recommended resource list to begin learning about race and how to engage these issues.
  • Refer a church, organization, or individual who is already engaging racial reconciliation.  I’d like to connect with them, learn from them, and explore how what we do at EGC can complement, not duplicate, their efforts.
  • Offer financial support to EGC’s Race and Christian Community initiative.

If you are willing to join me, I welcome you to the journey. May we walk it together, bearing the good news of Jesus' reconciling power and allowing him to use us as his hands and feet.

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