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Some thoughts on the tumultuous times we face.
I was deeply moved by my meeting with Pastor Lattimore of the Progressive Missionary Baptist Church in Santa Cruz recently. This Black pastor prayed for our two churches, and in his prayer he noted how, in this cultural moment, some are leveraging the strong emotions associated with essential, urgent, and noble causes––such as ending racism, enacting criminal justice reform, and suppressing spread of the coronavirus––to drive wedges between churches and church members. But biblically, the goal of justice is reconciliation.
Pastor Lattimore prayed for unity and for patience. Most of all he prayed that we all, as Jesus-followers, remember what we hold in common, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the only hope for human hearts. Because, he said, it is only as White and Black and other People of Color work together as brothers and sisters that unity and healing can truly be accomplished.
I’ve been thinking a lot about his prayer, and what the Bible says on these issues. These are Biblical values we hold in common.
As Christians we must strongly affirm that every human is made in the image of God and worthy of equal respect (Genesis 9:6). We are called to seek justice for the poor and marginalized (Isaiah 1:17). We are called to repent from favoritism and prejudice, no matter how subtle, both on a personal and national level (James 2:1-9; Daniel 9:4-8). We must not put ourselves above others but stand with the "lowly" (Romans 12:16; Philippians 2:3,4). We should flee self-righteousness and instead humbly ask God for mercy and continued growth (Luke 18:10-14).
In America, this includes grappling honestly and painfully with the ongoing tragic repercussions of slavery and racism, a reality made painfully clear once again after the horrific killing of George Floyd, not to mention Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor and others. It means affirming the simple but powerful truth that black lives matter. As I heard another very conservative pastor say this week, "As a Gospel issue, black lives matter. Of course, black lives matter. Our black brothers and sisters are made in the image of God. Black lives matter because Jesus died for them." As another evangelical pastor said, "That 'Black lives matter' is important to affirm right now because we are seeing in our country the evidence of specific injustices that many of our black brothers and sisters and friends have been telling us about for years."
A Black woman at TLC asked me to share that, when she says "Black lives matter", she does not mean other lives do not matter, she means Black lives matter too. And saying these words does not mean we must agree with all the policy prescriptions or social theories associated with others who may also say these words. When Christians say Black lives matter, it means something more than partisan politics. It means we affirm those three simple words as a truth rooted in our biblical worldview of human dignity. It means we lament how far we are from God’s heavenly vision of every ethnic group worshipping in beautiful unity (Revelation 7:9). It means we seek to change not just our words but our actions to match our beliefs (James 2:14).
It means we reach out in repentance, humility, and love, with reconciliation as our goal, through efforts like helping our local Black churches and other People of Color like the Navajo Nation. It means we wrestle with the racist practices and attitudes of our past. In the specific case of Twin Lakes, it means acknowledging that apologists for the Ku Klux Klan held a series of lectures defending the KKK in the old 7th Avenue Twin Lakes Baptist Church auditorium, according to historian Ross Eric Gibson (“Founded on fiction, KKK recruited in Santa Cruz”, Santa Cruz Sentinel 6/29/2020, p. A2).Although this incarnation of Twin Lakes was dissolved and new leadership reorganized the church, decried the Klan, and invited Black pastors to address the congregation, we must still acknowledge this painful part of our own history, in part to admit how the pervasive evil of racist ideology touched not just the American South but coastal California as well, and in part to motivate our own reparations to the local black community through support of Black churches.
We are also called to honor and respect and pray for the civil authorities (1 Peter 2:13-17; 1 Timothy 2:1-2). We must pray for our law enforcement personnel, many of whom are brothers and sisters in Christ seeking to live out their calling in that context, often with long hours and low pay. They need our spiritual support. And we must seek justice and reform when civil authorities are corrupt (Proverbs 29:2; Proverbs 14:34; Isaiah 1:23). As we seek justice, we must have mercy and humility (Micah 6:8) and remain non-violent, overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).
We are also called to show love to "the least of these", to seek not our own advantage but to sacrifice for the weak, the elderly, the vulnerable (Philippians 2:3-8; Matthew 25:40, Romans 12:10). In our situation this means we must take into account the impact of our actions on those particularly vulnerable to the novel coronavirus including the elderly, the sick, the poor, and communities of color––even as we seek to bless those whose businesses depend on our patronage and whose well-being depends on our continued loving interaction.
It really is possible to seek racial reconciliation, and to honor law enforcement personnel, and to seek police reform, and to wisely and compassionately navigate the coronavirus crisis. These things are not mutually exclusive. We may disagree about how to implement these values, and Christians will certainly disagree on political solutions, but the verses I referenced here are all part of our deepest, core convictions. As Pastor Lattimore said, we all must share a passionate commitment to seeing the gospel, the good news that God so loved the whole world, lived out in the way we love others above ourselves. This is how the world will know that the Father sent Jesus: That we love one another (John 17:23). If Christian unity will be the sign to the watching world that Jesus was sent from God, then the enemy of our faith will seek to undermine that unity at all costs.
So let's not put ourselves above need of correction from God, but admit we are sinners in need of repentance (Romans 12:3; 1 Timothy 1:15; Proverbs 28:13). Let’s not judge others for exactly how they choose to live out their commitment to Christ, but treat them as fellow believers on a lifelong journey (Luke 6:37; Romans 14:10-13). Let’s listen charitably (James 1:19-20). Jesus told us to love our enemies, so certainly we should love those who are not enemies but simply have different views.
Growing together and humbly discussing how we implement these biblical values will, in the long run, be far more productive than assuming we have no more to learn and hastily condemning one another over every disagreement. I’ll be blunt: Let's spend more time letting Scripture influence our attitudes and actions than a news channel or a social media feed. God’s Word is designed to help you grow. Many talk shows and news feeds are designed to make you angry or fearful so you stay tuned or keep scrolling.
When Scripture fills our minds, we are dwelling on what binds us together— and will grow us closer together. As Christians we all serve the same Lord, are part of the same Body––and we all fight the same enemy, whose greatest weapon against the church is disunity. We do not all possess the same skills or passions or roles in the fight, which means we will each express our convictions in these areas differently, but we are all in the same effort (Romans 12:4-8).
We come from different backgrounds and political perspectives, but there is so much biblical common ground to find if we approach these issues with humility and an eagerness to learn. I am reading a fascinating book related to this on racial reconciliation, One Blood by John Perkins, which came to me recommended by Rick Warren and Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Seminary. If you pick it up, you may not agree with every line, but you will underline and highlight page after page, and you will grow in understanding.
Finally, one last verse: "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." Ephesians 4:2-6
God can develop in the church something the world rarely sees: Unity without uniformity. Let's grow together in that spirit.
Thanks for reading. I ask for your patience and grace as I seek to lead our church forward. I eagerly anticipate the many ways we will learn and grow as a Body, on these and many other issues, for years to come.
These are conversations with Black pastors and leaders from around the country recorded by Bayside Church near Sacramento at their Thrive conference on June 15, 2020. They represent different perspectives on this very important issue.
“Don’t allow the ways you describe your convictions to alienate you from your brothers and sisters. Let’s be more Christian than anything.”
Dr. Raleigh Washington
“We’ve got to get beyond vanilla and chocolate and go to fudge ripple.”
“We get stuck in us vs. them thinking. There is a third option: honor.”
“Look hard at everything you do and ask, will this help bring a world where every human being is valued as an image-bearer of God?”
“You can be the bridge”
“This is a big monster of evil, and not one single group can take it down.”
A Pastor and Police
T.D. Jakes sits down with several former and active members of law enforcement to discuss policing in America and how to address the divide between the police and the community.
Here’s a sample of the many valuable books and other resources on the Black experience in America.
SECOND HARVEST FOOD BANK
Latasha Morrison and other Black leaders point out that food programs are a foundational way to help People of Color and other minority communities, because food insecurity tends to hit such communities hardest—and can be tied directly to academic performance and physical and mental development. To donate or volunteer, click here. https://www.thefoodbank.org/
PROGRESSIVE MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH
TLC has begun a relationship with the oldest historically Black congregation in our community, the Progressive Missionary Baptist Church in downtown Santa Cruz. This is a Bible-centered, gospel-preaching community that we are proud to partner with. To find out how to donate or help, email .
This local non-profit envisions a thriving community where every person has the opportunity to unleash their full potential. Their family of ten programs provides equitable access to resources, and advocates for health and dignity across every group and life stage. To help, go to https://communitybridges.org/
Check back here regularly for great sermons we’ve found on racial reconciliation
HURMON HAMILTON “GREATER THINGS"
Here’s a powerful sermon Pastor Hurmon Hamilton delivered on June 7, 2020 to his ethnically diverse congregation about 4 ways to connect with Black brothers and sisters at this moment in our country’s history.
EFREM SMITH, “WHEN THE CHURCH BECOMES A BRIDGE”
Great sermon Pastor Efrem delivered at Twin Lakes in 2019…
TONY EVANS, “WHAT IS SYSTEMIC RACISM?”
Good 6-minute explanation of systemic racism