Introduction to the Author
Within our fellowship of churches, we have a Diversity Committee that is devoted to improving relationships between different races and ethnicities in our churches. The majority of the group are people of color, both male and female. Currently, we have three active members on the committee who are white. One of them is Michael Burns, who is married to an African American. Michael is very informed about all matters racial, as demonstrated clearly and beautifully by his book, “Crossing the Line: Culture, Race and Kingdom.” The other two white brothers are Chris Jacobs and me. We are not nearly as informed as Michael is, but we have much in common. We have been in this movement of churches for many decades. We have both served as elders (and he is still serving in that role). And, we are both seriously dedicated to learning as much as possible about racially related issues in our fellowship of churches and in the world in general. We are in that sense disciples – learners who want to change ourselves and help others change.
In a recent Diversity Committee conference call, Chris shared a devotional thought with the group that was excellent, and he agreed to put it in written form for my blog. It will be followed soon by two other articles that he has written on the subject, articles that will show us the heart of God through his own heart. Chris is a wonderful Christian gentleman by anyone’s definition who knows him. Here are a few facts that he included to introduce himself: “I become a Christian while attending the University of Florida in 1975 and married my wife Alison in 1982. Prior to moving to Denver in 2001, we lived in Tokyo, Japan for ten years, where I served full-time in our family of churches around Asia, supervising administration for those churches. I have served as an elder for the Denver Church of Christ since 2002, and co-lead a diversity team for the church here for the past almost three years. I co-own and work as the CFO for a sports apparel business, Pactimo.” Obviously, Chris has a very impressive resume, both professionally and spiritually. Thank you, Chris, for your heart and for your articles! You are a blessing!
Chris Jacobs Article
What’s all the hubbub? You may be wondering, why are you being encouraged to talk about race with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Aren’t we past that? This is out of my comfort zone. I must confess, as a white American, I’ve had some of these thoughts in the past. Gordon Ferguson and Michael Burns have been tirelessly writing and speaking on this vital topic, with a few others adding to their voices – many are grateful, while some have an opposing view. It feels like an uphill battle, but that’s true for anything of value, anything that the enemy doesn’t want us to comprehend. I hope the following will help to motivate you to engage your friends of different races or cultures about their experiences and perspectives in order to love more deeply.
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.[b] 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 1 Peter 1:22
Peter, in his great first letter to the Christians, gives instructions to God’s elect, the disciples of Jesus. He says you already have sincere love for one another – the Greek here is “Philadelphian,” which we might translate brotherly love or brotherly kindness. Then he charges his readers to love deeply and uses the Greek word “agape,” which refers to a godly selfless, compassionate love, the kind of love God has for his children. One of the themes of Peter’s letters is the need for us to continually grow into the likeness of Jesus, to avoid complacency in order that we might “receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Peter is urging us to progress and deepen in our love for our brothers and sisters. Brotherly kindness is good and even that kind of love requires God’s spirit working in us. My observation is that there is a great deal of brotherly kindness in our fellowship among many diverse groups and it is a beautiful thing to behold. But let’s be determined to grow in our love.
I wonder if Peter, when writing his letter, had in mind the words of our Lord Jesus, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love (all derived from agape) one another.” John 13:34
As I think about my own journey over the past few years, I am inspired by these verses. One of the things God has taught me is to try to see my brothers’ and sisters’ experiences and lives through their eyes rather than through my own. Ever since becoming a Christian many years ago, I think I’ve had a brotherly love for people who were different than I – for example, with my black brothers and sisters, I admired them, enjoyed their fellowship and called them brother and sister. But, honestly, it has not been until recently, at their urging, that I’ve taken the time to listen to their stories and understand their experiences from their point of view. And a greater understanding has helped me to grow in my love for many, with whom I’ve been able to converse. I only wish I had learned this lesson sooner.
At a recent midweek meeting, I had a great talk with a wonderful African American sister – she is successful in her career, happily married and is a great Christian mother to her children. As I engaged her on the topics of her background and of race, she shared with me her struggles of not only being black, but also a woman in a white male dominated world. These struggles have had and continue to have a profound impact on her life. She was grateful for the conversation, saying that she’s had precious few with white people in her 20 or so years as a disciple. She shared a story with me that has caused her to be guarded in the church, especially around those of a different race from her. Shortly after moving to Denver, this family had a white couple over for dinner. During their time together, the sister, who was the guest, said, I don’t know why black people don’t just “get over it.” As you might imagine, this, unfortunately, shut down the conversation, and reinforced the black sister’s fears about being able to engage white folks in a vulnerable way. We’ll say more about, “Getting over it,” in another article. Sadly, this is the not the first conversation of its kind between white and black brothers and sisters about which I’ve been told.
I shared these thoughts on a conference call with those on the International Churches of Christ diversity committee. Our quest is to unify the churches through greater understanding, and to help us to mature into a “church for all nations.” I believe Peter’s admonition to grow in our love must be at the center of our message. I know from personal experience, it is not easy (especially as a white person) to listen to a black brother or sister’s expressions of pain or anger without becoming defensive or dismissive. But I have also seen that when I do listen and acknowledge the pain and hurt, bonds are formed at a level far beyond what I’ve experienced in the past. We need one another. I want to echo the words of Peter and encourage you to love deeply enough to take time to humbly listen and understand another’s point of view. If you will, your conversations and relationships will be very different and much improved.
And isn’t this what Jesus did for us?
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Hebrews 4:15
Then all men will know that we are his disciples.