Welcome to CPC New Haven’s Racial Reconciliation Resource Page!
We find ourselves at an extraordinary moment in history. As if COVID wasn’t enough, the issue of racism is everywhere around us. Branded into our conscience are names like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, and the list goes on.
It's amazing to think that a generation after the 1954 Brown school desegregation decision, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 racial discrimination continues in our country. According to the FBI, 60 percent of hate crimes are motivated by race, ethnicity, or ancestry. In 2019, Pew Research Center reported that “a majority of Americans say race relations in the United States are bad, and of those, about seven-in-ten say things are getting even worse.” In this present heated context, all of us are asking the question—what can I/we do?
Before we specifically address this question, let's keep in mind our fundamental conviction about racism that ought to inform all answers. Especially as Christians, we recognize that racism is a very serious sin and contrary to the heart of the gospel. For at the heart of the gospel is reconciliation—reconciliation with God, as directly related in scripture to human-to-human reconciliation between those made in God’s image. Moreover, it is our conviction that only the gospel has the power to truly knock down the “dividing walls of hostility” and annul the curse of Babel (racism). This is clearly reflected in the way Pentecost is described in Acts 2-3 and explained by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:15-16:
that Christ might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
Whatever our response to racism, it must be to assume a gospel-centered strategy and logic first and foremost! Said differently, to be anti-racist is to be pro-gospel, not just pro-gospel for the sake of the victim of racism, but for the perpetrator of racism as well. A gospel-centered logic has as its first priority reconciling all people to God through Christ wherein all other human to human reconciliation is possible. In the words of the apostle Paul, we "decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.. do not destroy the one for whom Christ died." (Rom 14:13,15). Love inspired by the gospel proves more powerful than condemnation and bitterness when it comes to our response to racism as with all other issues of human brokeness and sin.
We can’t forget this -- all other earthly powers that we might be tempted to trust in our fight against racism (political, economic, social, military, educational, etc.) can at best only condemn the sin and restrain the evil of racism. Only the kind of love that was revealed by God at the cross of Jesus has the power to both forgive the sin of racism and deliver us from the evil of racism. Only the gospel can accomplish both mercy and justice unto true redemption of the human condition. This was the deep conviction often expressed by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his most preached sermon, entitled “Love your Enemy.”
Love has within it a redemptive power. As was accomplished at the cross of Christ, such love is not just a message of redemption, but the power of redemption, love stronger and higher than the hostility of racism!
Our strategy is not to shame and condemn a racist (the self-righteousness of politicizing racism), but to save the racist (and to varying degrees we are all racists). More than to seek justice for the victim of racism, our goal is to restore the victim of racism in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)
If this was God's ambition for sending us His Son, how much more ought we to have this attitude toward people of all races and of all manners of sin including racism. And how might this change the way we engage public discourse about racism? The logic of the gospel teaches us to put off all anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk and to “put on love” as evidenced by “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience” with a disposition to bear with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgive each other; as the Lord has forgiven you. (Col 3:8, 12-14)
In short, the logic of the gospel enjoins a response that is seasoned with both truth and grace -- the two are always compatible even if we might need to grow more and more in the gospel to discern how exactly.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
We see in this amazing summary of God's strategy toward reconciliation how we must pursue reconciliation in his image.
The Word became flesh-- We must make it personal. God made it personal by becoming a person. Likewise, racism is deeply personal and can ultimately be resolved by "becoming" the flesh of other races. We do this by following the command of God to bear one another's burdens and thus fulfill the law of love (Gal 6.2). We must stand in solidarity (in person and virtually) with our brothers and sisters who suffer the evils of racism. We do this by listening, really listening, to one another such as to put ourselves in one another's "shoes," (both sides), and so fulfill the command of God that each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.(Phil. 2:4). A far cry from "I'd like to think I am color blind" (however unintentionally racist it might be meant), we must see color in a way to see "the others'" experience. We must believe our brother/sister when they tell us that their experience in America is not like ours -- and again, this cuts both ways. However long you may have known a person of another color, find the time to ask them, "What is it like for you living in America?" (c.f .#3 below)
and dwelled with us-- We must desegregate! Racism has always flourished under the banner "separate but equal." We must not only target the ideology that "all people are created equal" (almost universally affirmed throughout the history of America alongside racism), but we must also target the reality of inequity. And by desegregation, it is meant personal desegregation. Each of us, if we are really serious about racial reconciliation will need to consider a change in lifestyle such as to relocate ourselves in ways that we will more naturally and intentionally "dwell with" one another. Perhaps we relocate where we live. Or perhaps we join a civic organization or club that not only enables us to fulfill a passion or hobby, but with those of other races. In New Haven, there are countless such organizations where this could happen. And by the way, while the church must be diligent to root out any systemic hindrances to racial reconciliation through desegregation (willingness to, in love, embrace different styles of music, inclusive and racially diverse leadership, etc.) the only way a church will truly become desegregated is for her people to become desegregated. People bring people and the people become the culture of a church. There really is no way around that.
full of truth and grace-- We must always couple honesty with safety even as one without the other disables both. That is, with grace, we make it safe for another to be honest, to confess their sins and their mistakes such as to know that they can be forgiven and not shamed or condemned. With truth, we make it possible to be known wherein grace can be applied. Together the miracle of reconciliation can happen. When you do attempt #1 and 2 above, don't forget the gospel both for yourself and for the person with whom you are seeking reconciliation.
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Rom 5:10-11)
With that said, we hope this webpage helps foster continuing work among our church and individuals toward deeper integration of our life and faith. It includes books, lectures, and denominational resources with hopes of helping you form your own personal participation in racial reconciliation.
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the following resources do not necessariy reflect the views of CPC New Haven. They are presented for the sake of 'full-disclosure" relative to resources making an impact in the current context albeit from various Christian perspectives and strategic responses. It is hoped that as informed by a gospel centered approach (summarized above), a presentation of a variety of views and strategic approaches might inspire a healthy conversation seasoned with grace and the careful formation of biblically informed convictions, whether in agreement or disagreement with some of the views represented in these resources. May God's grace inspire truth and vice versa!
Pastors recommend you start with these three books:
Heal Us, Emmanuel: A Call for Racial Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity in the Church, ed. by Doug Serven (2016) - Contributors include a number of pastors in our denomination (PCA), offering theological justification and pastoral wisdom for racial reconciliation in the church.
Pursuit of Gospel Unity - The PCA Position Papers on Racism and Racial Reconciliation (2018) This collection of resources published by the PCA's Committee on Discipleship Ministries includes the Study Committee Paper adopted by the PCA General Assembly in 2018.
One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race and Love, by John Perkins (2018) - Authored by a longtime Christian pastor and civil rights activist, this offering comes after many years of wrestling with these important issues. See below for more wonderful books of his.
Additional Books by Christians on Racial Reconciliation:
Carl Ellis, Free At Last?: The Gospel in the African American Experience (1996) - Ellis writes, "It is my prayer that the principles contained in this book will play a role in building bridges of understanding and facilitating reconciliation where there has been alienation."
John Perkins, Let Justice Roll Down (2012)- His brother died in his arms, shot by a deputy marshall. He was beaten and tortured by the sheriff and state police. But through it all he returned good for evil, love for hate, progress for prejudice, and brought hope to black and white alike. The story of John Perkins is no ordinary story. Rather, it is a gripping portrayal of what happens when faith thrusts a person into the midst of a struggle against racism, oppression, and injustice. It is about the costs of discipleship--the jailings, the floggings, the despair, the sacrifice. And it is about the transforming work of faith that allowed John to respond to such overwhelming indignities with miraculous compassion, vision, and hope.
On the History of Racism in the American Church:
Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church's Complicity in Racism (2019) - now a NY Times bestseller, this book provides a introduction to the ways the American church since the country's founding rationalized slavery and oppression.
Theological Treatises on Christianity and Race:
J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account (2008) - this book is academic theology: dense, exhaustive, yet stimulating. It traces the theological underpinnings of race and how modern theology contributed to its construct. For example, many Enlightenment thinkers were convinced that the White, European race was superior to all others, and therefore began to conceive of Jesus as a white, european, rather than the Middle Eastern Jew he actually was.
Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (2011) - Similar in its topic to Carter's book, though very different in method and writing, Jennings traces historical figures and their experiences of Christianity and race.
Additional Resources on Related Topics:
Lamin Sanneh, Whose Religion is Christianity? The Gospel Beyond the West (2003) - a fascinating and easy-to-read short book by World Christianity scholar and convert from Islam to Christianity. He covers topics such as Christianity and imperialism, the gospel imperative to mission, and translating the Scriptures into indigenous languages.