Laboring for Racial Unity

As I made the hour and a half drive up north each Thursday night, I had the same conversation with myself, “Why am I doing this?…I don’t want to go…It’s so hard and awkward…I don’t know any of the words to their worship songs…The women are really nice, but I I feel so different and disconnected from them…Well, I’m almost there, let’s just do this one more time..Maybe it will  get better.” As an African-American woman from an urban context, I had committed to go to this predominately Caucasian women’s Bible study in the suburbs.  I spent an entire semester with them and it never really got “better”.

But in the five years since that Bible study, I’ve continued to pursue relationships with the women from that church community. I keep making the long drive up north to do life with my Caucasian sisters in Christ to pursue biblical unity. Through hard conversations, awkward gatherings, and worship services where I didn’t know the words to any of the songs, God has been present and done a beautiful and transformative work. He has begun to break down walls, open up eyes, and break hearts for the sin that breaks His. But even more so, these women are beginning to become dear friends, who genuinely love and care for me. The work I wanted to happen in a 12-week Bible study has taken years to unfold. Change happens at the speed of relationships. As I have stayed committed to investing in my relationships with these women, I’ve seen and experienced that change.

Many times we look at racial reconciliation as a box that needs to be checked, as if it’s a one-time fix to a problem that has been present in our country’s history since its inception. The reality is the journey to racial reconciliation is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires an intentional choice to pursue biblical unity for a lifetime. In Ephesians 4, Paul talks about this pursuit of unity within the body of Christ. He tells us to do the work of Christ, “…until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.” As believers, we are called to pursue the things of God until the church as a whole manifests the character of Christ. To fully pursue the things of God means we pursue unity. Racial reconciliation is not the gospel, but we cannot fully embrace the gospel and grow to spiritual maturity if we ignore it. Our faith requires that we get engaged in this conversation about race in America and fight for our community to reflect the biblical ideals of unity we see expressed in Scripture.  But racial reconciliation can get heavy and hard. It means we have to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable as we do life with people from different cultures and ethnicities. We have to learn to be emotionally vulnerable, while asking for and giving forgiveness when we offend or have been offended. We have to be humble, showing grace when it’s not deserved. We have to have  honest discussions about the impact of slavery, Jim Crow, systematic racism, white privilege and all the other dark truths within our country’s history. But we pair these hard conversations with discussions about family, education, fitness, our favorite T.V. shows and whatever other interests round out our lives. We commit to not pursue unity in isolation, but to pursue wholistic relationships that reflect the value of unity across racial and ethnic lines.

The work of biblical unity is not easy, but it is the God glorifying work we were created for. So when you get tired, weary, and frustrated with this whole race conversation, acknowledge your emotions and take time to process them. Yet always be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3) Even when it’s hard, just keep showing up. Trust me, it will get better!