All Ready, But Not Yet: Racial Reconciliation in Metro Washington DC

Aug 16, 2017
Howie Levin
Executive Director, OneHeartDC

Recent events in Charlottesville provide yet another reminder of our desperate need for change.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9 ESV

Let us not think that the visual examples of racism from the most hateful and evil fringes represent the entire problem. The sin of racism also exists in the Church. This grieves our Lord Jesus for He prayed for unity in His Church:

“that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:21 ESV

Scripture is clear that our oneness in Christ extends to all races and ethnicities.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 ESV

And all of humanity are of one divine and one earthly origin, of infinite and equal value.

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, Acts 17:26 ESV

…for God made man in his own image. Genesis 9:6 ESV

Pathways to unity

The Church must stand together as brothers and sisters in the fight against all forms of racism - invisible, subtle and systemic – for which we all bear some guilt. These sins create a big cloud over the Church, but also a great opportunity to demonstrate that in Christ we are different from the world.

The increase in racially charged incidents, coupled with acknowledgment of passivity in the Church, have been wakeup calls – paving a pathway for change and action. Our challenge and confession (particularly for white brothers and sisters) is that we need to do more listening and learning so that we become each other’s advocates, and so that ‘your people become my people.’ We need biblical lamenting - a deep grief and sorrow that does not go away until healing and justice are done. We must go beyond simply liking the idea of racial reconciliation and being willing to sacrifice for it.

In this tragic backdrop, God is not surprised. Rather, He is sovereign, present and working in powerful ways. Several years ago, God started working in the hearts of Church leaders around Metro Washington DC. A growing number of leaders were broken over the disunity of our churches and how this was affecting our witness and effectiveness in advancing the gospel.[1] Leaders began to meet across denominations, generations, racial and ethnic diversities. The OneHeartDC movement was birthed with a foundation on Prayer, Unity and Hope.

More and more leaders are becoming ready for change. This is happening through relationships cutting across racial and ethnic lines. God started it, but these leaders are courageously doing the hard work of reconciliation. “But not yet” have we reached our goal of unity. We have not yet reached the tipping point for broad transformation. We are in a process that takes prayer and perseverance. Much work lies ahead.

Transformation through relationships

So how can we overcome deceitfulness of heart and years of injustices? Sociologists tell us that there are compelling circumstances that lead to change:

  • When we absolutely have no choice but to act (the burning platform). For Christ followers, this means complete dependence on Christ and coming to His throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16),
  • When we learn enough that we understand the need deeply (biblically and sociologically), and
  • When we are equipped so we are able.

We have learned that the most productive way to bring unity is to invest in relationships. There are more than twenty leadership clusters around ten jurisdictions of Metro Washington DC where this is happening.

OneHeartDC is encouraging these clusters to embark on a racial reconciliation journey. We are recommending a locally contextualized transformation process articulated by Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil in her book

“Roadmap to Reconciliation: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice.” (IVP Books, 2015)[2]

Dr. McNeil describes reconciliation:

Reconciliation is an ongoing spiritual process involving forgiveness, repentance and justice that restores broken relationships and systems to reflect God’s original intention for all creation to flourish.

The process must be founded upon truth and wisdom in Scripture. Pastor Brett Fuller, Grace Covenant Church, Chantilly, VA so aptly expressed, “Let the Scriptures govern our sociological behavior. There's always a biblical response to what happens in our communities. Pray for our enemies." 

While each cluster will approach this in its own way, the objectives will be the same - heart shaping and equipping of pastors to lead their congregations towards transformation. These transformed Christ followers will show that only in Christ is unconditional love and unity possible.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

Early this year a group of Montgomery County, MD pastors and churches sponsored ‘United in Action’, a Christian conversation about race. The aim was to come together as local churches and have the uncomfortable conversations. These discussions weren't previously happening from pulpits, or in the pews or in the community. The participating pastors and churches came from diverse backgrounds, and the numbers continue to grow. As they shared over coffee and meals, they learned to be open to each other's perspective and understanding grew.

Together, we continue working for unity in and between our churches and for the common good of our communities – all for the glory of Jesus Christ. To be continued.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] We also witnessed a palpable brokenness over the lostness of our communities and our failure to be the blessing we needed to be. Even though God was working wonderfully in many of our churches, we confessed we weren’t significantly advancing the gospel regionally.

 

[2] We are also drawing upon wisdom from Dr. Tony Evans, “Oneness Embraced: A Fresh Look at Reconciliation, the Kingdom, and Justice” and Dr. Christina Cleveland, “Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart.”