Racial reconciliation must be intentional
David Ireland. The Skin You Live In: Building Friendships Across Cultural Lines. Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress, 2012. 173 pages. $14.99.
Mark Lau Branson, Juan F. Martinez. Churches, Cultures & Leadership: A Practical Theology on Congregations and Ethnicities. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2011. 271 pages. $25.
Seventy-nine percent of America’s churches are mono-racial. This reality gives credence to the statement attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. that “11 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week.”
Also, this reveals the need for more intercultural relationships, especially among the people of God.
Many Churches of Christ are mono-racial, although great improvements have been made since the civil rights movement. However, laws cannot bring true unity. Love, forgiveness and willingness to move out of one’s comfort zone are needed.
Two new books present data concerning weak cultural relationships — and show how these can be strengthened through practical interaction.
In “The Skin You Live In: Building Friendships Across Cultural Lines,” David Ireland, senior minister of a mega-church of more than 40 nationalities, provides two major insights that can enhance cultural relations — reconciliation and how to be racially attractive.
Using 2 Corinthians 5:17, Ireland shows that reconciliation is the vital sign of healed relationships. When people are reconciled to God, they are united with him. “Likewise, if we are reconciled to other races, our relationships must demonstrate that the alienation has been healed,” he writes. One proof of healed relationships is that “peaceful social interactions can and do occur.”
Ireland encourages Christians to be authentic reconcilers and advocates, bringing people together across racial lines. Christians must understand that prejudice is a deep-rooted issue that requires work to successfully conquer, he writes. As prejudice decreases and reconciliation increases, Christians begin to include all groups in their circle of friends, demonstrate tangible acts of love and practice social justice, which ensures equity and equal rights for all people.
The path of reconciliation is smoothed when one is “racially attractive,” or approachable to people of other races, Ireland writes. He looks to Jesus as a model. His encounter with a Samaritan woman, as recorded in John 4:9, reveals that Jesus did not make an issue of her ethnicity — but she did.
To study this idea, Ireland conducted focus groups in multiracial churches, asking members, “Why are people of other races attracted to you?” Hospitality was at the top of the list because “it leaves no room for guesswork,” Ireland writes. It is the mark of genuine expression.
In “Churches, Cultures, & Leadership: A Practical Theology on Congregations and Ethnicities,” Mark Lau Branson and Juan F. Martinez give additional insights on race relations. Both teach seminary courses involving churches and ethnicities.
The book explores — and urges church leaders to advocate — intercultural relationships. Rather than relying on common terms — “inclusive,” “integrated,” “multiracial” — the authors prefer “intercultural” as a way to emphasize “a continual, dynamic relatedness of diverse peoples,” rather than a mere casual relatedness.
Churches must desire to overcome the barriers that affect intercultural communication, they write. Among them are assumptions about superiority and inferiority, different worldviews, assumptions about roles and authority, misuse of power and lack of empathy.
On these ideas, African-American Church of Christ preacher Marshall Keeble once said, “A man who feels he is above others because of the color of his skin: 6 feet under he will be nothing but a lump of dirt with a necktie wrapped around it.”
Leaders must help members of the body of Christ develop competencies needed for multicultural interactions, Branson and Martinez write. Leaders need to create environments that make God’s reconciling initiatives apparent in church life and the community.
The authors suggest that church leaders encourage members to re-read Scripture and American history from a multicultural perspective and move the church beyond formal, in-house church settings to informal interactions. Leaders’ work also includes spearheading inter-congregational worship services and social gatherings, including statewide and national emphases.
Leadership is the ability to influence people to do what they would not do on their own. In this sense, anyone can be a leader when it comes to reconciliation among races. Real change can start with one person and one relationship.
JAMES O. MAXWELL, vice president of institutional expansion and professor of biblical studies at Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, Texas, spearheads multiracial and interracial activities among Churches of Christ.