The Road Forward is a Bridge

“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)

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

When Jesus died on the cross for the sins of all of humanity, He built a bridge of sorts. He built a bridge between Sinners and God. He built a bridge between a broken world and the Kingdom of God. To this degree, Christ is a “bridge over troubled waters.” Christ is a bridge over the troubled waters of sinful humanity and the sinful systems we create and sustain in this upside down world. Christ didn’t come into the world ethnically as a privileged and powerful member of the Roman culture and empire. He came as a Jew oppressed under the Roman Empire. But, based on the genealogy of Matthew 1, we can also come to the conclusion that Christ walked the earth as a Jewish, African, Asiatic Hebrew. God in human form was an oppressed, ethnic minority. When he was born, an unjust system of power murdered all the baby boys who looked like him. God decided to send His only begotten Son in this way, on divine purpose. God in human form comes in the package of one ethnically profiled from birth. This is the one who dies on the cross and is raised from the tomb so that we might have access to eternal life and to claim victory over sin, death, and the devil. All Christians must re-imagine the Savior from this authentically biblical perspective as we seek solutions, reconciliation, justice, and healing in our nation during one of the tensest racial moments since the Civil Rights Movement.

Just as Christ is the bridge between sinful humanity and God, the Church must be a bridge of reconciliation in this divided United States of America. The Church also has the challenge of building internal bridges. Race and class are not just dividing lines in the U.S., but also within the Body of Christ. As I have lifted up issues of race, class, privilege, and sin, I have at times been accused of labeling people and dividing the body of Christ. I simply provide theological commentary on what has been true for a long time. The racial divisions and congregational segregation that impacts the body of Christ in the U.S. precedes my birth year of 1969 by centuries.  In the midst of deep division over the trial verdict in the death of Trayvon Martin and the grand jury decisions not to indict in the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown by police officers, we need spiritual and social bridges of reconciliation. Reconciliation must begin with openness, not denial, defensiveness, or distractions from individual behavior or systemic truths.  Reconciliation acknowledges both individual and systemic sin. We see this in John 4 when Christ goes to Samaria and sits at the well with a woman. The sins of the Samaritan woman were revealed during her conversation with Christ.  A portion of the conversation was spent on the religious and divisive system that impacted the relationship between Jews and Samaritans. This system included ways in which Samaritans would have been both marginalized and profiled by Jews. It is not a far reach to make some comparisons between this social dynamic from Scripture and the racial history between Blacks and Whites in America. Evangelicals who raise issues of race, class, justice, privilege, and social disparities should not be accused of dividing, labeling, or of being neo-Marxists. They should be acknowledged for the Christian reconcilers, social prophets, and bridge builders that they are.

Reconciliation assumes repentance. Denial and defensiveness blocks both individual and corporate repentance. Both individual and corporate (or national) repentance is biblical. There are times when an individual must repent of their own sin that they have committed. There are also times when we repent on behalf of our family, ethnic people group, or cultural community for a corporate sin or sins committed over time. The individual may not have committed the sin himself but takes responsibility in order to be a voice of corporate repentance. He may have simply benefitted in some way from the systems that the corporate sins produced. To only repent of sins committed individually is a Western and deeply individualistic view that limits biblical repentance.  For the Church to be a bridge as we move forward in seeking reconciliation, justice, healing, and a greater realization of the Kingdom of God, we must have a deeper understanding of biblical repentance.

Reconciliation also assumes an incarnational approach to relationships. I must be willing to enter into the world or life of those who are ethnically, culturally, economically, and racially different than me. And those different than me must be willing to enter into my world. Now there is something that we must be mindful of if we desire to live into reconciliation the way Christ did. Christ as God, the One Higher, more powerful, and all righteous, enters into the world of the sinner, the lower, and the broken. You could say the One more privileged ought to lead the incarnational and reconciling approach to relationship building. With this biblical perspective in mind, I call those of privilege to be willing to enter into the world of the less privileged so that biblical reconciliation can take place. The rich must enter into the world of the poor to listen, learn, and reconcile. Men must enter into the world of women to do the same. This also includes Whites entering into the world of people of color. One might ask, “Well, shouldn’t people of color enter into the world of Whites?” My answer is that we already have no choice but to do this. People of color have to enter into the world of Whites in America. You can’t navigate the broader dominant culture of the U.S. without doing this.

We take this incarnational approach to relationships and bridge building because it’s what Christ modeled and called us as His followers to do. Christ went to Samaria and entered the world of a Samaritan woman. Christ entered the world of the poor, the paralyzed, and the marginalized. Too many privileged people are carrying views and making commentary on people groups that they have great social distance from. People would rather judge than enter the worlds of people that differ from them politically, racially, and economically. For the Christian, entering the world of another doesn’t mean you leave Christianity. Entering the world of another may lead you to find out that the Christianity you own and defend isn’t biblically authentic.

So how do we move forward in the midst of racial and class divisions in our nation? How do we find racial reconciliation and righteousness? How do we bring the Kingdom of God to bear on an upside-down, sin-filled, and broken world? The road forward is a bridge. We cannot deny the reality of race and privilege. We cannot use colorblindness and silence to solve deeply rooted racial issues that have plagued our reality for centuries. We must commit to prayerful discussions, bible studies, worship experiences, and solution-development cross culturally and cross racially. We can’t just look for people who look different than us but believe exactly what we do theologically and politically. That’s cheap reconciliation.

We must acknowledge both sinful humanity and the broken systems built by sinful humanity within their tribes, clans, nations, gender, and racial groups. We must also allow entering into the world of others to break the myths that we carry. It concerns me deeply that there is a belief among some that African Americans who are concerned with racial profiling and a broken criminal justice system give no major attention to the crisis of the family in the African American community or Black on Black crime. If you spend time in these communities you will find many churches, Para churches, and other community organizations working on these very issues and making a major difference. There are African American fraternities, sororities, and other historic organizations volunteering time away from their own families to address these issues within their communities.

Have you ever considered how the Church could also be responsible for decaying predominantly African American and under-resourced communities? And notice that I didn’t say White Church exclusively. It is true that many White Churches that began in urban communities left as African American families moved into Northern cities in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It’s also true that many Churches of various ethnic and racial make ups left urban communities as their memberships grew. How did this church flight impact urban communities? A lot of the church planting of the 1990’s and early 2000’s that included significant seed funding took place in the suburbs, not in the communities that needed these churches the most. Now that gentrification is coming to many under-resourced urban communities, many evangelical associations desire to plant churches in urban communities, but for whom? Bridge builders must lovingly and courageously be willing to enter into these types of discussions in order to find Kingdom advancing solutions within a divided reality.

This is an opportune moment for the Church. At a time once again of riots, racial division, and political dysfunction we need the Church to be a force of Kingdom compassion, justice, and reconciliation. There is a road forward and Christ has already paved it. He paved it when He came to earth. He paved it when he declared and demonstrated the Kingdom of God, mainly among the poor, the outcast, the sick, and the marginalized. He paved it when He hung on the cross and formed a bridge over the troubled waters of sinful humanity and broken systems. Until Christ returns, the Church must be this bridge.