The Great Commandments
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” - Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” - John 15:12-13 (ESV)
The Great Commission
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” - Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV)
The Great Requirement
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? - Micah 6:8 (ESV)
Am I My Brother’s Keeper?
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. - Genesis 4:9-10 (ESV)
A Guiding Quote
“God is not simply in the business of dry cleaning our souls; He is in the business of tearing down walls and creating a new family, a new way of belonging together. One could argue that the primary fruit of The Gospel is not going to heaven when you die, but rather the miraculous new family that is created out of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Racial justice and reconciliation remain two of the most urgent matters of faith and public witness. In this respect, the Cross of Christ isn’t just a bridge that gets us to God; it’s a sledgehammer that breaks down walls that separate us.” - Rich Villodas, The Deeply Formed Life.
How We See Racial Injustice in Our Country Today
We believe that because of Christ’s great love for us, we have been reconciled to God the Father and entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. Therefore, we seek to be a Spirit-led, Christ-centered, non-partisan church body that is aware of and responsive to the racial injustices(1) and systemic oppression(2) present in our community and world. We step into this work following the example of Christ - through prayer, intentional listening and compassion, deep lamentation and love in action.
We understand that partisan politics and the news media have deeply divided people, including people of faith, on racial justice. This deeply grieves us and we deeply lament the reality of this division, and more importantly, the lives that have been taken because of continued injustices. It is unloving at its core. We choose to engage in this issue first from a Biblical perspective and one rooted in God’s love, grace, and truth.
We have spent over a year formalizing our observations, thoughts, and convictions on the matter, and have sought to provide this statement to help anyone who is curious how our church views the racialization issues in our country today. We offer it in love and humility, knowing that we’re all on a journey of discovery and seeking to be faithful to God.
Sometimes we use the same vocabulary but have different dictionaries, creating confusion and further division. We have included definitions that are at the bottom of this statement. You may come across a word that has potentially different meanings depending on what ‘dictionary’ you have. For clarification, we have specified our definitions at the end to clear up confusion.
Rooted and Rejoicing in the Gospel
We believe that God the Father radically loves the world and demonstrates His just and merciful nature by the forgiveness granted to us through His Son, Jesus Christ.
As descendants of Adam and inheritors of a sinful nature, all of us are in a predisposition to receive God’s rightful anger and condemnation. Yet in a radical act of justice to address our sin, this condemnation was placed on the shoulders of Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection paid the price and reconciled us to God the Father.
Through this gift of grace and reconciliation with God, often called justification by theologians, we are now free sons and daughters and have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). We believe that the pursuit of racial justice and equity in the church is an essential component of reconciliation work and an opportunity to further demonstrate the Good News. We understand that the Biblical content of the Gospel is not the only thing to be communicated, but that we should also communicate the scope and implications of the Gospel in our daily lives. The Apostle Paul models this practice most clearly in his letter to the Ephesian church, specifically the entirety of chapter 2, in case you need an example of tying the content and scope of The Gospel together in an ethnic context.
Justice and Equity Mattered to Jesus
These days, the words ‘justice’ and ‘equity’ have become hot button trigger words loaded with extraordinary meaning. Justice and equity are ‘Bible words’, and we see them first in the Holy Scriptures. They mattered to Jesus. They should matter to us too. Simply put, ‘justice’ means ‘making things right’. We’re not sure why any follower of Jesus would be scared of the Biblical words of justice and equity.
Jesus Christ came to proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, sight for the blind, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18-19). Throughout Christ’s ministry, we see Him acknowledge, lament and address the practical and spiritual suffering of those around Him, particularly those that have been marginalized by systems and society (women, children, the poor, sick, and non-Jew). As we learn in the parable about the widow and the judge in Luke 18, God hears those that cry out to Him day and night and says that He will see that they get justice.
As followers of Christ, we too are called to hear, acknowledge, lament and address the current suffering that surrounds us. We actively pursue racial, social and restorative justice as a recognition of Christ’s power, glory and coming Kingdom. For some, these have become partisan political issues. For us, they are real time implications of praying for and receiving the kingdom of Heaven on earth right now (the thrust of the Lord’s Prayer.)
Talk is Cheap. We Must Do The Hard Work.
It seems that speaking to racial justice has become central to many of our societal conversations today. On one hand, we see that that awareness is good, overdue, and much needed. We want to make sure that it does not become “trendy,” as trends come and go.
When we look at Jesus’ example in the Scriptures, we see that Jesus consistently sought out the helpless, marginalized, and oppressed with love and compassion. He used His words and attention to speak life-giving truth towards their situation. He noticed them. Acknowledged them. Listened to them. And did something.
It is striking for us to note how often Jesus had harsh words for the oppressor - especially those who were in religious authority and missing the very heart of God (the Pharisees, Sadducess, and teachers of the Law). We see that in confronting the oppressor in both grace and truth, He was inviting them to be aware of their blindness, where they abused power, and gave them an opportunity to step into life-giving love. Jesus doesn’t call people out; He calls people in. Calling out focuses on the sin; calling in focuses on the Kingdom. Based on His example, we feel it is entirely appropriate and necessary for God’s people to name where there is oppression.
For Jesus, ministering to those on the underside of power wasn’t a trendy or strategic thing. It was the core of His earthly ministry. He articulated through word and deed the realities of the Gospel and the Kingdom of Heaven. His care for those in need was one reason the crowds continued to listen to His teaching, and it was one reason why the religious leaders lobbied to have Him executed.
In John 4, Jesus spoke life and redemption to a Samaritan woman as she drew water from a well. A woman who would have been seen as an outsider from the majority culture.
In Luke 10, He tells of the Good Samaritan. Again, Jesus champions the act of the “ethnic outsider”, while those who are religious are cast as the ones who missed the mark.
In Mark 7, we learn about how Jesus heals the daughter of a Syrophoneacian woman, an individual with non-Jewish status. In a time of great divide between Jews and Gentiles, this woman and her daughter would have been seen as less than within the majority culture.
If these few examples are true (and we believe and proclaim that they are), and if we are to live our lives by Christ’s example (which we are striving to do), then in our current context and culture, we must acknowledge and mourn the racial mistreatment of our Black, Indigenous, Latina/Latino, Asian and other non-Anglo brothers and sisters in our nation’s history, past, present, and future.
In the pursuit of racial justice, and ultimately shalom(3), we believe that one step we can take as a church is to engage in the practice of anti-racism(4) with prayerful discernment, guidance from the Holy Spirit and rootedness in the Good News of Jesus. The practice of anti-racism is hard, costly, life-long and let’s face it, a bit messy. It is clear to us that it is what Jesus did and therefore what we are being called to do.
What does that mean in real terms? Glad you asked! For the Gathering Midtown Church this means:
First, we are committed to the Great Commission: sharing the Gospel to all nations.
- We bear witness to the Gospel that proclaims each of us are beloved children of God; we believe that the new family that God has created through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is made up of disciples of all nations and believe that the Gospel speaks to all situations.
- We proclaim that the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not and cannot include the sin and stronghold of racism and white supremacy(5) in any form; rather, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is liberatory for all peoples from this sin and its manifestations. The Supremacy of Christ is what we believe and preach, not the supremacy of any one culture or ethnicity.
- We believe that issues of racial justice are not just political, but arise within all areas of our lives. The gospel accounts demonstrate that Jesus dealt with issues of the heart and the majority culture with His saving grace; therefore, so must we. How can we share the Gospel to all nations (ethnicities) if we ignore the pain some ethnicities continue to experience in this nation?
Second, we are committed to the Great Commandments: to love God and love our neighbor as Christ has loved us.
- We value and uphold the inherent dignity - the Imago Dei (The Image of God) - in all. In this affirmation, we recognize that there has been particular harm done to fellow image-bearers, particularly Black, Indigenous, Latina/Latino, Asian and other non-Anglo communities due to the sins of racism(6) and white supremacy, whether conscious or unconscious. We believe that they are a sacred and integral part of Christ’s body. We must acknowledge and lament that they have not always experienced this honor.
- We believe that we ARE our brother’s keeper. Our nation’s racial history shows us that we have often failed to do so practically. We believe in communal responsibility, communal lament, communal confession, and communal forgiveness that will lead to communal restoration.
- In love, truth, and grace, we will humbly challenge current systems by refusing to accept indifference (“it’s not my problem”), claims of innocence (“I’m not a racist”), disavowal of responsibility (“I don’t see color”), dismissing the issue (“Racism is a thing of the past”), claiming helplessness (“There’s nothing I can do”), or invisibilizing the cries of those that have been most harmed and are crying out for justice (“All lives matter”).
Third, we are committed as a church to pastoring and discipling our congregation in this domain. Examples of this work and commitment will include, but are not limited to:
- Creating peace-filled spaces where Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) can openly engage with their emotional, spiritual, and mental needs. We currently do this in Be The Bridge groups and safe processing spaces with Pastors.
- Offer assistance, in whatever form God so chooses, to those in need - particularly for our brothers and sisters of color.
- Being willing and available to talk and meet with anyone who has questions about racism, systemic racism, racialization, and how Jesus engages and meets us in these things.
Forth, we are committed to the Great Requirement in Micah 6:8 to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. This means:
- We are committed as a Staff and Leadership Team to prayerfully examine our biases, church systems, and interactions with one another, etc. for where we ourselves have blindspots and are unconsciously upholding the sin of racism and white supremacy. As we model this humble posture, we invite our congregation to prayerfully do the same.
- We acknowledge that God is a God of repair, redemption, and restoration. There is a lot of controversial talk about reparations these days, but we see repartion as a biblical and Godly concept (Zaccheus is a good example). We believe that the God of the Universe, our King, has an imagination for reparations and that He desires for us to participate with Him in this work. For starters, we think that looks like making every effort to seek the equitable distribution of our gifts, talents, and blessings to those who have been unjustly oppressed in this country.
- We will engage in anti-racist curriculum and events that equip us with the historical context and tactical knowledge, skillsets, attitudes and relationships to participate in God’s kingdom work of justice and reconciliation.
- We commit to the intentional diversification of church staff, board and leadership team, as well as elevating the voices of Christians of color within our immediate church body and the larger Church.
- We grieve the continual violence and harm that communities of color, and in particular Black men, women and children have experienced at the hands of law enforcement in the past year and within the longer arc of history in the United States. Where there is injustice, we must name it as such. We denounce the abuses of power - seen and unseen - within the criminal justice system that disproportionately affect communities of color. We don’t see how those abuses are godly or the way of love. We commit to praying regularly for comfort and justice to those that have been harmed or have lost a loved one at the hands of law enforcement, as well as for measures of accountability and compassionate, responsible public service by law enforcement departments. We believe that our local law enforcement agencies, employees, and officers must be held accountable to the standards and oaths to which they are called and under.
- In the spirit of true Biblical reconciliation, reparations and restoration, we will (a) encourage our Gathering family to individually engage in Holy Spirit led acts of kindness, relationships and acts of personal sacrifice to promote racial healing and reconciliation and racial justice in each of our unique spheres of influence; and (b) as a corporate church body, we will seek the Lord and be active in building relationships with our neighboring communities of our brothers and sisters of color to initiate relationships, racial reconciliation and healing, that will further lead to corporate acts of reparations as a church family as the Spirit leads.
We recognize that these commitments are in many ways overdue and just the beginning steps towards the larger work of racial justice, restoration and reconciliation that needs to take place. We believe that these steps are a starting place to listen, learn and explore opportunities on how we continue to engage as a body, culturally and civically with compassion and conviction.
Our Encouragement to All
We encourage everyone to practice the Three L’s: listen, learn, and lament. It is easy to respond to these issues with our experience and our opinions. While there is an appropriate place for that, we caution against leading with that. For starters, we encourage everyone to join us in a posture of humility and compassionate curiosity. Listen more than you speak. Learn and take the posture of a student. Enter the discipline of mourning and lamenting. We should be sad about sad things. It is when we aren’t sad that we should be alarmed.
Finally, in our pursuit of justice, we understand that it is not we, but Christ who makes justice roll down like waters. May His Kingdom come and His will be done, on this Earth, here and now, as it is in Heaven.
If you’d like to engage on a deeper level, we encourage you to learn about our Be The Bridge Groups, or some recommended resources you can engage with on an individual level.
1: Racial Justice: Racial justice is the proactive creation, examination and enforcement of policies, practices, attitudes and actions to promote equitable opportunities, outcomes and treatment for people of all races. Racial justice is a conscious act, an individual and institutional responsibility.
2: Oppression: The unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power over individuals or people groups.
3: Shalom: Hebrew - Peace. The ancient Hebrew concept of peace. Wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety and prosperity, carrying with it the implication of permanence.
4: Anti-racism: Individual and collective action that consistently challenges systemic racism and racial prejudice, with the goal of creating racial equity and justice.
5: White Privilege: White Privilege is a set of unearned advantages granted to those who are perceived or are White; and provides greater access to power and resources to White people. White privilege provides the opportunity for several doors to open to White people that are not open to People of Color. Unearned advantages based on presumption of White racial identity. White privilege provides greater access to power and resources to White people.
6: Racism: A system of social structures that provides access, safety, resources and power to White people and denies access, safety, resources and power to people of color. Racism is “a system of advantage based on race” in which the White race has power, privilege, and access over People of Color. This system is reflected in cultural beliefs and messages, institutional policies and practices, and individual conscious or unconscious beliefs and actions. Racism is the fabric of our culture and is embedded in all the social institutions, structures and systems in our society. The system of racism is favorable to White people while oppressing and disadvantaging People of Color. Racism is different that racial prejudice and racial discrimination. Racial Prejudice + Systemic Power = Racism