Today is Juneteenth, commemorating the day in 1865 when Major General Gordon Granger issued General Order Number 3 in Galveston, Texas, “in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” By June 19, 1865, the “proclamation”—the Emancipation Proclamation—was almost two and a half years old, the Civil War had been over for two months, and the “Executive of the United States,” had been assassinated. Still, the evils associated with slavery would persist. Historian Elizabeth Hayes Turner cites one witness who remarked, “the 19th of June wasn’t the exact day the Negro was freed. But that’s the day they told them that they was free.”
Scroll forward 155 years, and freedom fully proclaimed is not yet fully practiced. Living in Minneapolis in the harsh wake of George Floyd’s death under a police officer’s knee, I’m deadly aware, once again, of the frustrating and infuriating track paved by racism in America. Worldwide protests and renewed calls for justice too long delayed are welcome, but the finish line feels far away. As the pandemic rages, unemployment persists, and an election looms, it will be easy for passion on the part of many to recede. Racial justice is a race Christians run and run, around and around—never quite making the progress we dream.
Nevertheless, Hebrews 12:1 insists we “run with perseverance the race set before us.” Surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses,” we’re told to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” We persevere because racism persists as sin that not only entangles but dehumanizes and destroys. It is a horrible hindrance and perverse. Freedom from sin comes only in Christ, and thus Hebrews focuses our eyes upon Jesus—“the pioneer and perfecter of faith”—who for joy’s sake endured the Cross and now sits enthroned at the finish line beckoning us onward (12:2). Centuries of faithful black Christians surround and bear witness. In Christ, the race may already be won, but our experience of oneness (Gal. 3:28) has not caught up to reality. Therefore we persevere. Justice is sure, but must be pursued. Christ’s death on the cross secures future victory and compels present-day action. And so Christianity Today commences a 20-week series titled, “Race Set Before Us,” a deliberate riff on Hebrews 12:1. We will feature 20 Christians of color all addressing racial justice and what churches need to know that perhaps they don’t yet understand.
Some will object. “Has not progress been made?” “Don’t all lives matter?” “Why do we need to keep talking about race?” Vincent Bacote, associate professor of theology at Wheaton College and host for this series, acknowledges such questions as fair, but answers unexpectedly.
-Daniel Harrell, editor in chief.
Many minorities would rather talk about anything else. We would much prefer to converse over the joy of sports, music, cinema, the beauty of nature, and many other topics.
But many feel like we have to keep bringing up the topic of race, often in an exhausting effort to get other Christians to see that our concerns are not imaginary. From the personal to the public domain, we keep talking to pursue a life of flourishing in the church and society. There remains not only a need to say, “Racism is part of reality” but also, “We need to construct paths toward fruitful life together in this world.”
I propose we begin not by asking, “Why talk about it?” The reasons for conversation need no explanation. Instead, let’s delve into the deeper questions, for instance, “What is happening within me when my inclination is to resist talking about race?” Or a second: “Is it possible my reluctance to discussing racism emerges from an ideological default setting that enables me to easily categorize and dismiss these conversations?” Or a third: “If I am honest, how much do I really know about all of this?” Or a fourth: “Am I aware of the diversity of views within and among African Americans and other people of color?” Questions of self-examination are critical for all of us in general, but they have particular urgency when it comes to issues of race and justice.
Times of urgency such as we’re experiencing currently bring us to the crossroads of decision: What path should one take? Should we follow the path marked “Least Resistance—Status Quo Ahead” or the proverbial road less traveled marked "Committed Inquiry—Discomfort and Growth Ahead”? The choice is really no choice. We must take the road less traveled. Christianity Today has featured countless articles on race during difficult times in recent American history, but this sustained series seeks to do more than react. We intend to engage in the steady, marathon work required for change.
It would be delightful, if not truly amazing, for a single article to serve as a “shalom pill,” providing the perfect resolution to all of the challenges racism presents. But just as a single moment of conversion does not yield instantaneous transformation into full Christlikeness, no single article (or sermon or conference or encounter) will usher an individual Christian or church into the fullness of sanctification expressed in the relentless love of God and neighbor. The race we run against race requires many runners and many strides. The good news is that in Christ we are assured of victory.
This series will not participate in the politics of guilt, but it will provide a “politics of reckoning.” To reckon is to take up and read, to ask God for eyes to see and ears to hear (Mark 4:23), to understand what the Lord would have happen in our hearts and have us do in the world. To reckon is also to acknowledge that righteousness under God must be done. Justice and peace go hand in hand (Ps. 85:10). Such divine reckoning elicits understanding and empathy, provides vindication and exposes guilt. The politics of reckoning evokes many emotions, but these need not be mere sentiments. Instead, these feelings present opportunities for the Holy Spirit to transform us more and more into disciples who do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Mic. 6:8).
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