11.17.16

A Theology for the Black Lives Matter Generation: Reconciliation

Can our country find peace?

The last two years have been marked by tension, violence, protest, mistrust and strife. We’ve witnessed repeated deaths caught on camera and protests spreading through our cities. “Justice” is now a ubiquitous word. “Peace” and “reconciliation” not so much. We urgently need substantive theological reflection on the nature and path to peace and reconciliation.

In our previous posts, we interacted with The Ferguson Declaration’s statements on the doctrines of God and man. Section 2.1 focuses on peace and reconciliation.

Section 2 shifts from more typical creedal summaries of key doctrines to an affirmations and denials format. With that turn, the creed focuses not so much on merely summarizing scriptural teaching but on making statements to clarify what is and is not agreed to by the authors. In some sense, the statement grows more ethical than theological.

2.1   “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (). We receive the Word through the Apostle Paul that the LORD Jesus was sent to bring peace (, ) to the nations. Our goal is for a social and spiritual renewal of our cities, our towns, our states, our country, and our planet, and the Gospel stories tell us that such restoration requires a confession of our sins. We reject the false doctrine as though Racial Reconciliation could happen apart from collective Repentance of White Supremacy (, ).

Each of the paragraphs in section 2 begins with a quotation of scripture. In this case, the authors quote while citing as the basis of their affirmations and denials.

The creed first emphasizes peace. It asserts that “peace to the nations” was the goal of Christ’s coming into the world. It further asserts the authors’ goal of “social and spiritual renewal” in every setting. Since that restoration requires a confession of sins, the authors reject any racial reconciliation apart from “collective Repentance of White Supremacy.”

Who could oppose peace and reconciliation? Who would not want it in every social setting imagined, including the entire globe? And who, calling themselves a “Christian,” could resist the pursuit of such peace and reconciliation?

Though the statement frames a worthwhile goal for all humanity—peace and reconciliation, it does not offer sufficient definitions to guide the pursuit.

For example, in context, focuses primarily on peace with God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. teaches us that “He himself”—that is, Jesus Christ—is our peace. It is in His body that he reconciles sinners to God and reconciles sinners to one another. So, peace and reconciliation with God and with man are consequences of union with Christ—only those in Christ share the peace that declares. The creed’s commentary removes Paul’s words from their context and calls the Church to a pursuit not clearly supported by the text. The references to and do prophesy the peace of Christ’s kingdom, but that peace waits final fulfillment in the coming of His kingdom in full. In the meantime, the scripture gives us a more dire projection for human society (see ; ).

Or, consider the call for “collective repentance from white supremacy.” What should that entail? How would we identify it? The authors make such repentance a prerequisite to reconciliation. They are correct in doing so. But the creed might be strengthened to clarify that such repentance is more fundamentally a prerequisite to conversion itself. One cannot be a Christian while committed to white supremacy. The biblical passages teaching this are too numerous to list. For example, in Christ we are one and there is neither Jew nor Greek (). Christ makes us “one new man” in himself (). We do not regard one another according to the flesh (). In short, Christians are members of a new spiritual ethnicity. The old ethnic identity is not obliterated or made irrelevant (), but it is made secondary and subordinate to our new natures in Christ. It’s doubtful any peace and reconciliation can be achieved in the world apart from this transformation. It’s even doubtful it can happen in the Church apart from deep confession and repentance leading to renewal.

At the broadest level, I find myself longing for what The Ferguson Declaration affirms—peace and reconciliation. But to be practically useful and instructive for the Church, the creed must set forth more definitions and reunite it’s call to repentance with the transformation the gospel produces at the core of our identity. “Collective repentance of white supremacy” cannot be less than mass individual repentance of the same. That’s not likely without the grace of our Lord and the power of His Spirit.

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (ESV)

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (ESV)

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (ESV)

30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, (ESV)

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (ESV)

15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, (ESV)

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (ESV)

2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (ESV)

2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (ESV)

2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (ESV)

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (ESV)

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (ESV)

12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. (ESV)

12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (ESV)

28 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. (ESV)

15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, (ESV)

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. (ESV)

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation, (ESV)

Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile serves as a pastor of Anacostia River Church (Washington DC). He is the happy husband of Kristie and the adoring father of two daughters and one son. Holler at him on Twitter: @ThabitiAnyabwil

C’mon Up!

  • Guy Spillers

    First, the the general thoughts I had when I first read this line up pretty well with Pastor Anyabwile’s; the scriptures were taken out of context, and the applications drawn from them were extremely broad, and therefore difficult to apply.

    However, I had another reaction: deep, deep sadness.

    I have the feeling that many reading this are going to write me off because of my skin color. So be it. It is how I really feel.

    White guilt is a real phenomenon. I know it because I have lived it. For the majority of my adult life, I have felt guilty for simply being a white person. One of the many ironies of this is that, while my father is one of the whitest people I know (shoutout Dad!), my mother is a full-blooded Lumbee Indian, a tribe that has been fighting for recognition by the Federal Government for decades, to no avail. When my mother was a child in rural North Carolina, there were three water fountains: white, black, and Indian. Today, the county I was born in has one of the highest crime rates and worst school systems in the state. Yet, because I resemble my father, I am considered white by all who see me. In their minds, all the conveyed privileges of “whiteness” are mine.

    God convicted me of racism many years ago. I remember I confessed it to a close friend of mine, a brother in Christ who is Jamaican American. My racism wasn’t really overt in any sense, and it didn’t manifest itself as a sense of superiority, but rather as fear. In general, I was afraid of black people. That was more than ten years ago. I have spent that time, by God’s grace, working to fight that irrational fear that lived in my heart. I have prioritized diverse Churches. I have actively sought out black and minority friends. I feel that God, in his sovereignty, has even orchestrated my life to aid me in this pursuit. My family and I now reside in Durham, North Carolina, where the population is 53% white, and 38% black or African American. God has been gracious to help me confront and deal with racism in my heart. I am not yet perfected, but, by God’s grace, I am on my way.

    However, during this period of repentance and renewal, a question has begun to rise silently inside me. How much repentance will be enough? I see the streets erupt in protest and violence at the unjust killings of black men, I hear the angry cries for justice and equality, I see people demonizing and marginalizing each other for their skin color. This includes me, demonized as the Great White Oppressor, and with life-threatening implications. There are streets in my city where I have been told, by both law enforcement and people of color, that I cannot go because I will likely not come back alive, simply because I am white. So I double down my efforts. I have spent the last couple of weeks reaching out to my friends of color, many of them with better jobs and higher social standing than me, asking them how they’re doing, listening to their fears, reassuring them that I stand with them. And that is what God calls me to do for those who hurt. I do it gladly. But the question rings in my ears: HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH? CAN I EVER BE FORGIVEN??

    And I then I read the Ferguson Declaration and these words fall on me with a weight incalculable:

    “We reject the false doctrine as though Racial Reconciliation could happen apart from collective Repentance of White Supremacy”
    There is the phrase I feared, and it is issued by the Christians representing the Black Lives Matter movement. What is required of me? What must I do to be forgiven and be reconciled to my hurting brothers and sisters of color? It is this: “The collective Repentance of White Supremacy.”

    I read this and I realize that nothing I do will ever be enough. I could give my own life, sacrifice my children, give away all I own, and yet I will always be hated, demonized, and viewed as the Oppressor. Because I know what “collective” means. It means the entire group. Everyone. Every single white person. And, in this broken, unjust world, there can and will never be “the collective repentance of white supremacy.” Racial supremacy will, sadly, always exist.

    Here is where faithfulness to the Scriptures could be so instructive and healing. Repentance is, first, and individual act. It is the act wherein the single person recognizes his or her sin, confesses it to God, and turns from it in faith. In the first century, as today, repentance happened to people of all ethnicities, races, and social classes. And it happened in the political context of a failing Republic of Rome, where countless injustices had been institutionalized for centuries. Slaves and masters, Jews and Greeks, and men and women all repented, believed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and came together as the Church. What stands out for me, and what is perhaps one of the most difficult things to understand, is that masters were not ordered in the New Testament to free their slaves. They were told to remember to treat their slaves as brothers and sisters in Christ, remembering that they had a Master in Heaven who would one day judge them (). Slaves were not told to rebel against an unjust system and their masters who dehumanized them; rather, they were told to work for their masters who were in the faith just as if they were serving the Lord (, , ).

    Let me say here that I believe that slavery, and especially what was seen in America, is one of the most horrible injustices and violations of the Imago Dei the world has ever witnessed. Yet and still, the apostles did not outright abolish the practice. Is their failure to condemn it outright to be construed as support? Of course not! In fact, the apostle’s words to slaves and masters no doubt paved the way for the abolition of the evil that is slavery. But, the apostles, in their apostolic authority, could have condemned the practice outright and ordered every Christian slave owner to immediately free their slaves (). But they didn’t. I believe this was for two reasons. First, they acknowledged that this world is unjust, and Christians are saved within the context of this unjust system. Christ did not come into this world to bring justice to every human institution that currently exists. Nations, kings, empires will fail. Instead, he came to bring justice through the Gospel to His Church, and through the Church to the world in increasing measure, with one eye always on the sure hope that in the new heaven and new earth, all injustice, pain, evil and sadness will be done away. Then will be the true and final Abolition!! Thus, the way Christians fight against systemic injustice in the world is to COME TOGETHER in spite of the outward distinctions that divide us, through individual repentance and supernatural unity, and create, not only a just community, but a grace-filled community, within the context of the Church. Second, Paul knew that repentance and sanctification is an individual and stepwise process. I believe he knew and trusted that Christian masters would free their slaves as a process of their sanctification, and the two would come together in love, not by compulsion, but by the miraculous and supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. Thus Paul’s words to Philemon: “Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love.”

    So what does this all mean for me, personally? I see no way but forward. I see the call of Scripture to me: To live in repentance and faith. To love my neighbor as myself. To pray for my enemies. When faced with injustice, to entrust myself to God, whose will is Sovereign, and who loved me and gave himself for me. To share the Gospel with all people. To do good to everyone, and especially the household of faith.

    But when I see the leadership in the black church calling for protest, for revolt, for the withholding of forgiveness unless there is “collective repentance of white supremacy,” I am deeply saddened. The impetus for reconciliation is on both sides of a dispute. Oppressors must repent of their pride and ask for forgiveness, But, and I feel this point is the one most often lost, the oppressed must repent of their hatred and bitterness and ask for forgiveness. However, in a statement like the Ferguson Declaration, I see reconciliation held up as a one-sided proposition. We will not forgive you until you do X, Y, and Z. And not just one of you, all of you. This is “reconciliation” that the world offers. Conditional. Based solely on the actions of the other person. It is not the reconciliation that Christ brings about.

    My heart breaks during this time. It breaks for all my brothers and sisters of color who currently live in fear, who feel abandoned. I trust in the Sovereign wisdom of God, including his hand guiding the leadership of our country (). I echo Pastor Anyabwile, “I find myself longing for what the Ferguson Declaration affirms–peace and reconciliation.” But when I read that what is required is the “collective repentance of white supremacy,” I fear that reconciliation, perhaps, is not the real goal. I don’t know what is. But the wholistic reconciliation outlined in the Ferguson Declaration is not possible in this life. I look forward to Heaven, where all wrongs will finally be made right, and justice will be realized.

  • Guy Spillers

    I have been pondering/praying about what more I could do personally to foster reconciliation. As a white male, I sometimes feel that, due to an atrocious history of civil rights that I abhor and from which I feel personally disconnected, and the decisions of a government that I almost never agree with yet recognize is under the sovereign hand of God, I will always be percieved as an archetype of oppressive force unless my thoughts and stances on social issues line up with my minority friends. Do you think this is the case? Have the immoral actions of others with a similar melanin count as me caused me to forfeit freedom of conscience and intellect?

    • Guy Spillers

      Also, if anything I write on the blog offends, please understand that I am interacting with perspectives I have honestly never understood, or even really knew existed, before. So I don’t even know the “rules” of the conversation, if that makes sense. But I feel I need to try. I don’t know any other way to start dialoguing with my brothers and sisters of color who are suffering at this time than to, in all my ignorance and weakness, start trying to do it. Thanks for your patience.

      • Guy Spillers

        This feels like a pretty new new experience for me. I very sincerely apologize for any awkwardness that results. I feel a little intimidated, and like I must stick out like a sore thumb, but I appreciate you creating a public forum where I’m welcome.

  • Jason Guidry

    Well said brother Thabiti, it’s lacking in that on some level in the demand portion that white’s collectively have to repent for the sin’s of their ancestor’s. This assertion would have to presume regeneration,as this mind set has most likely been present since the tower of Babel. This meaning a general mistrust and isolation, that collectively led to more of a tribal mindset, due to the inability to communicate. I had the opportunity to check out a historical account of the Klu Klax Clan I believe on the History Channel earlier this year. During the initiating of new members, part of there pledge was a recitation of Roman’s 12:1-2, but stopped short of reading the 3 chapters that preceded them,and the remaining verses in Chp 12. Those verses stand as a rebuke to any individual and/or ethnic group, that would exalt themselves above their other Christian brethern. God’s program entails all believers of every tribe and tongue, to address those who have glorified man rather than God, resulting in Idolatry see Roman’s 1:21-23. This of course leads to decree’s by man, see public policies in our day, that tend to play into sterotypes and not realities proclaimed in the marketplace.(see Act’s 17:26-28). A just Gospel, is a proclaimed Gospel, with all that it entails, Roman’s 3:9-26, ,