It strikes me that in today’s discourse around race relations, to hear one side or the other put it, to not be in their camp means that you are completely wrong and that there could be nothing true or right in what the “other” has to offer. This untenable posture inevitably leads to either side demonizing the other, causing even greater division, and ultimately failing to achieve the “victory” that either side would like. Within our Christian communities, somewhat ironically, this division is even more pronounced. Not just in our segregated Sunday morning worship services – thanks for highlighting that Dr. King! – but also in our public discourse when it comes to almost every social issue INCLUDING race.
In her book Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart, Prof. Christena Cleveland of Duke University highlights our proclivity to see the world through “right Christian” or “wrong Christian” lenses. Asking questions like, “What if there was no ‘them’ in the Church?” Dr. Cleveland points the finger back at each of us, illustrating our need to “remove the plank from our own eye” (Matt. 7:5) before we endeavor to correct what we perceive to be wrong in others. She offers that it is in fact our own insecurity, and our personal self-identity crisis, that leads us to separate ourselves from others as we seek to secure our identity in the superiority we claim in the perceived inferiority of others.
For the Christian leader, this is especially troubling. We must understand that as leaders, we are left even more vulnerable to these undercurrents by the natural privilege and power dynamics that exist with our status as leaders. However, it is our duty to work to uncover and lay bare the dissonance in privilege and power dynamics that are tied to the very real social construct of race within our communities. Only when we do so can we begin to acknowledge and more faithfully live in the role of reconciler (2 Cor. 5:18-19) that Christ calls us each to be.
So what do we do?
The Sufi mystic Rumi offered this: “Out beyond right doing and wrong doing there is a field. I will meet you there.” I believe the essence of Rumi’s teaching here was that we can argue all day about what each of us believes to be right and wrong. However, to do so will keep us from getting to work in the fields where God has called us to labor. As Jesus once said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest”(Matt. 9:37-38). If ever this was true, I can imagine no greater time and no greater mission field than the one we find ourselves in today.
Though research from Pew, Barna, and so many others highlights how more and more people across this nation have chosen to reject our Christian institutions and religious texts, I firmly believe that the fields of this country remain ripe for harvest. Yes, we must labor my friends. We must water and we must nurture. We must pour out Christ’s love and compassion, and let the rays of his joy and grace seep into the dark corners of our communities. This is our call as Christian leaders. I’ll be in the field should anyone want to meet me there.