Racial Reconciliation: Looking in All the Wrong Places

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“I know we haven’t met, but I thought you should know how much I’ve struggled with hatred toward you this year,” a young minority woman tearfully said to me. That night is forever burned into my memory. This was a striking admission on her part, and it was just the start of a long evening. This young lady and I both attended the same small conservative Christian college, and we were at a racial reconciliation meeting. It was 2007, and it had been a long, divisive year on campus talking about racial issues. Earlier that year, the campus was tossed into chaos by a chapel speaker who implied all white students were naturally racist. Little did I know at the time, but my alma mater was ahead its time as it pushed a Marxist vision of social justice.

As you can imagine, such rhetoric caused sharp divisions in the student body, even among those who didn’t know each other. This reconciliation meeting was my idea. I had been an outspoken critic of the chapel speaker and those who were using racist language to condemn racism. My opposition to this rhetoric was based on two critiques: their language wasn’t biblical, and their methods would never bring unity. My outspoken critiques put a target on my back and contributed to some students hating me.

At the meeting, this young woman revealed her heart to me as explain her hatred for her Christian brother. She did not ask for forgiveness; she just wanted me to know. As the evening progressed, another young man from the opposing camp group yelled at me when I extended my hand to him. The night was eye-opening for me on many levels. I understand how our emotions can get the better of us in heated debates as I have been guilty of that on several occasions. That is not what alarmed me. Rather, I noticed that night was that many in the racial reconciliation movement appeared to have little desire for actual reconciliation. Instead, they wanted individuals to verbally lash. The only way into their good graces was to submit to that lashing both now and in the future. It appears that for some the status of victim was more important than obeying the commands of Christ when it comes to showing love, grace, forbearance, and forgiveness to other Christians.

I left that meeting a different man, but not in the way I was hoping. I hoped that what we had in common, Jesus Christ, would trump any differences. That we could find common ground, but that never came to fruition. I believe this is the fatal flaw of many who speak the loudest about racial reconciliation—they are looking for it in all the wrong places. Much of the rhetoric dividing evangelicalism is driven more by a political ideology than by the Cross of Christ. I do not write these words lightly. I know there are good and bad examples on both sides of this issue. But as I look back at the fallout from that tumultuous year, it is clear little good has come from it. My school has gone further down the social justice trajectory with predictable results, and several of those I argued against that year have left the faith altogether.

Fast-forward to today. I have been watching the same discussion occurring within evangelicalism. Many of the same arguments and mistakes are appearing in this discussion. If we are not careful, the outcome will be similar—no reconciliation, more division, and one side will eventually drift into heresy. Here is a warning we must heed! Christian leaders, and parents, need to recognize it is no accident that we are having this discussion today. We are reaping what has been sown. Years ago members of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) adopted Marxist thinking when it came to ideas like diversity, racial reconciliation, and social justice. They have tilled the soil, and we are reaping the bad fruit. My experience at a conservative Christian college is not exceptional; rather it is has become the standard. Marxism took hold in evangelicalism long before most people noticed and this means rooting it out will not be an easy task.

Here is the basic problem: despite all our current attempts at racial reconciliation, we cannot achieve it. Perhaps this is because we are going about in the wrong way. We have unwittingly bowed the false gods of Marx, Postmodernism, and identity politics. But these gods are blind, deaf, and dumb. All they can do is give us an empty offer of reconciliation, but they have no power to achieve it! They can’t heal our divisions. All they can do is make our divisions worse as we follow their dogmas.

Below are common five mistakes made by those trumpeting racial reconciliation within evangelicalism. It must be made clear, I am not against reconciliation, but I am against trying to do so in unbiblical ways. Why? Because such reconciliation is a mirage which only further divides what Christ has united. In my post, I will outline how Christians can uniquely pursue unity and reconciliation. Below are five common mistakes of the racial reconciliation movement:

  1. Focusing on differences will never bring unity. This is one of those logical truths which cannot be said enough. If you want to bring unity between two parties you do not pit them against one another. If you balkanize an entire nation and insist that they find their meaning and identity in their differences, then you cannot be surprised when those differences become primary. You cannot fake amazement when these different groups become distrustful of each other. Conversely, reconciliation is about tearing down walls and coming together. Reconciliation is found when we start from common ground. Unfortunately, much of the reconciliation movement is too busy erecting walls of division by categorizing everyone by race, sex, class, and political affiliation. This is not the Christian way.

  2. Promoting victimhood leads to more victimhood. In the ethics of social justice and identity politics being a victim gains an individual power. It is to achieve an anointed status that makes a person’s beliefs unquestionable. In this ethic, if you are oppressed, then you are holy. Many who promote reconciliation seem more concerned with being victims than they do with being eager to forgive those who supposedly wronged them. The Bible never promotes victimhood as a virtue. Rather, when we suffer we are called to do so righteously (Matt. 5:43-48; 1 Pet. 3.13-17). It is times like this that the parable of the unforgiving servant needs to be remembered (Mat. 18.21-35). Christian, if you have been wronged, then you need to willing and eager to forgive as Christ has forgiven you.

  3. Refusing to have a conversation with those you disagree with will not bring reconciliation. This is one of those ironic truths of this movement. Those advocating for reconciliation often stress the need for conversations to happen. That we need to listen more, but this seems only to be addressed at white people. It is only those who disagree with some facet of the current movement who need to be more willing to have a conversation. It appears there is no real desire for people with divergent viewpoints to wrestle together with these issues. Instead, if you are white, have a conversation means you need to keep quiet, listen, and then agree with them. Those of the anointed victim-class cannot be challenged in any way. It is like they have already arrived and have nothing more to learn. Here is where pastors have committed a dereliction of duty. There can be no reconciliation if one party is not allowed to speak. There can be no unity if your goal is just to shame those who disagree with you. The problem with this movement is that while it claims to want to have a conversation, it refuses to engage with any faithful critiques of its own position. Instead, to disagree with their dogmas is viewed as a personal attack. Is it any wonder why so many white people refuse to talk about race? They have seen those who do speak out be dismissed, demonized, and some have even lost their livelihoods. There can be no genuine conversations in such an environment. Christians, this should not be how we speak to one another. If we want unity between these two sides (and we should), then the two sides will need to be willing to actually talk to each other, listen, and go before scripture with deep humility.

  4. Blatant hypocrisy is left uncorrected and thus undermines anything good in the movement. It is true that any movement has some bad eggs. But when those bad eggs take center stage, behave poorly, and then get applauded the problem is more widespread. The hypocrisy of this movement has been displayed in several ways. Some minorities who looked at scripture and decided to speak out against modern racial reconciliation are viciously attacked by other minorities and are called things like Oreo and coon. At one racial reconciliation conference, an African American pastor used the racist term angloid which is often employed against white people. Later on, this man published a book teaching the church how to fight racism and injustice. This type of highhanded hypocrisy demonstrates that some in this camp have little interest in actual unity. You do not use derogatory, racist terms toward those you hope to be reconciled with. Such hypocrisy undermines the credibility of this movement.

  5. An implicit denial of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I want to be clear here, many in this camp are good Christians who I believe need to think through things more carefully. They understand the power of God to save the sinner through the death of Christ, but they seem to think this same gospel is not enough to heal the wounds of racism we are now dealing with. How do we know this? Because their solutions are not found in the church, but the state. They are advocating for reconciliation through socialistic programs. Instead of turning to Christ for healing, it is the god of the state who will save us! I am not saying the state has no legitimate role in combating racism and other sins, but it cannot bring about healing. It doesn’t have the power to bind up wounds and change hearts. This is a problem for people from every political persuasion in our day, but it is an impulse we must all resist. The government cannot save anyone.

It is these mistakes which doom the current racial reconciliation movement. It is when we doubt the power of God and his Word that we look for other methods. The other methods have no power to reconcile, so we get frustrated and lash out against one another. In this way, the movement becomes about our identity groups and a struggle for power. This is cultural Marxism, and it is hopeless. I have seen firsthand the fruit this thinking brings. If evangelicalism does not want to shatter into countless identity groups, then we need to return to biblical thinking on this issue. It is my desire that the objective unity of Christ bought for his church to be the standard in our churches, but we need to pursue that goal in biblical ways. I will address that topic in my next post.

Levi J. Secord