Not Optional (Part 2)

A Preface from Pastor Jay

Jay Thomas, Lead Pastor

Friends, in this tumultuous historical moment, we need to process together what it means to be God’s people in the world. Our blogs are a means of thinking Scripturally about that very thing. Though tumultuous, indeed, these days are in God’s caring hands. I do believe He has coalesced certain realities such that His purposes might be fulfilled. One of those purposes is for His people to represent and bring about His kingdom purposes in our land with regard to ethnic unity and, dare I say, glory.

The elders of CHBC believe this is a God-given and clearly Biblical priority and we want to shepherd this body in pursuit of that mission. We are responding to the providential events of late but we are not reactive. This is not about hype. This is not about a bandwagon. We believe the Spirit of God is on the move and we want to respond in obedience. 

To that end, over the next weeks and months, you will see blogs written by some of our members regarding their sense of Biblical reflection and discipleship action with regard to ethnic unity and healing. But, this can be a controversial topic, can’t it? Therefore, I thought it wise to pen this as a preface of sorts. I need to be careful. I don’t want to mute, nor do I want to unduly endorse everything written. I am not sure if I will capture that balance by writing this, but my hope is to simply say that the things written here will be within the bounds of orthodoxy and wisdom. However, that does not mean everyone will agree, at least with everything written. The views of each author are not to be seen to represent the official position of the Chapel Hill Bible Church on matters that are not Biblically central or clear, at least as the church has interpreted Scripture through the centuries. But, nor will anything be put here that our leadership would object to as opposed to Scripture and wisdom. You will likely read positions from various viewpoints. Let us be careful not to categories or label too quickly without deep reflection and perhaps even dialogue with the author or fellow members who feel similarly. I especially want us to avoid binaries and dichotomies between liberal vs. conservative; Marxist vs. gospel; sound vs. irrational. Nothing will be put to print that is not orthodox, somehow helpful, sound, or within the bounds of evangelical convictions. 

My first hope is that we will all share fundamental and Biblically clear convictions that racial prejudice is profoundly sinful, even though we may disagree how racism plays itself out in our world. My second hope is that we will also use these blogs as a way to think, dialogue, and measure against the Scriptures like the Bereans. If you find something curious, troubling, interesting, hard to hear, or inviting, I encourage you to seek out the author and talk about it. Talk about these matters with your family, friends, life group, and other believers. 

The church of Jesus Christ has always cared about its world. It is not of this world, but it is in it and it wants to be a blessing to it. We have cared about orphans, the elderly, the unborn, the dissipation of rampant alcoholism and other substance abuse, sex trafficking, and many other social ills. It is my prayer that the Spirit of God convicts us of the social ill of racism in our land, that we all care deeply about it, and that we will grow together in making a difference in our spheres of influence to see the church reflect the kingdom, first and foremost, as we see the kingdom break more and more into our world. The church is not a social justice non-profit, in a secular sense. But we are a God’s justice people, armed with the Spirit and the Word, called to be a hallmark of Divine justice for the world. May we be of one mind on the main things, of complementary mind on the less main things, and gracious in all things as we move together. Soli Deo Gloria! 

— Pastor Jay Thomas (Lead Pastor)

An Open Letter to Our Church from Fellow Lovers of Jesus (Part 2)

At this point, I think it’s fair to assume that having made it this far, we’re all on the same page: racial unity and activism should be important to the Church. This means that we need to do something, and like anything else that we do, the moments leading up to the action are the most anxiety-provoking — but after all, “love does” (thanks, Bob Goff).

Turning Compassion Into Action – a Biblical Example

— Dana (UNC Grad Student)

Throughout the past few weeks, I’ve read through many secular reasonings and calls to action. But as Pastor Jay emphasized in his sermon a few Sundays ago, in the barrage of news, our focus should remain on the Word of God. And I’ve found that although my natural instinct is to constantly consume news via social media, in turning to the Bible I quickly find similar calls for justice and reform. Though this example sits on a smaller, individual scale, I think the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 can be applied to the steps of engaging in social and racial justice.

 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.

Here I see the parallels between this man exploited and left for dead, and the harsh histories and current realities of people of color (POC), particularly Black people, in this country. But something to note is that here the robbers not only represent the individual actions of the blatantly racist, but also the societal structures that can actively limit POCs from achieving security and well-being parity with White people.

31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

That two verses are devoted to highlighting these characters speaks volumes. They do no active harm, and yet their lack of action allows the effects of injustice to run rampant. As our church recently gleaned from James 4:17, “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” They also fail to realize that the assault of this man has implicitly benefited them – for had the first man not been there, the priest may have instead ended up the victim of these robbers. This is no perfect analogy for the ways that White folks (and in many ways, non-Black POCs) unconsciously benefit from years of Black struggle, but is worth noting.

33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.

There are few who could watch the graphic video of George Floyd’s murder without something inherently crying out within them. I’m sure we all were also emotionally affected by the testimonies of our brothers and sisters at the recent Listen, Learn & Lament panel.

34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.

This is where I think many of us get held up – in allowing our natural emotional response to move us to the active response the Samaritan displays. He interrupts his day, takes a personal risk, and cares for the broken man. In the same way, we should intentionally interrupt our daily routines to self-correct the ways we undermine POC voices, risk social conflict as we engage in tough conversations with our friends and family, and check in on our Black friends.

35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’

There is a limit to the change we can make individually. The Samaritan recognizes that there are some ways in which he cannot care for this man alone, and so he gives of his resources to someone (the innkeeper) with the capacity for longer-term care. We can likewise look for places to channel individual contributions into long-term, large-scale movements. We can give monetary gifts to organizations that serve POC communities, use our vote to place people in power who will enact policies of equity and anti-discrimination, and advocate for diverse representation within our spheres of influence. 

What Does Action Look Like?

— Michael (Duke Grad Student)

I wanted to make sure that we provided actionable means to participate in anti-racist movements as well. Full disclaimer, I am white, and these are a few of the actions that I have learned about and found to be helpful in pursuing racial justice moving forward.

I. Be Vocal.

Wherever you go, be on the lookout for and aware of micro- or macro-aggressions — and say something. Macroaggressions are what you might think of when someone first mentions “racism” — an overt bias, such as verbal or physical harassment, clear distaste for other cultures, or acknowledgement and support of supremacy. Microaggressions are more subtle. They’re small comments that are sometimes unintentional, but that acknowledge a cultural preference for one community over another. “You don’t really ACT black!” or “Wow, you’re such a beautiful person of color!” are examples, each suggesting that “acting black” is somehow less than “acting white,” or suggesting that people of color don’t meet the same beauty standards as white people. In daily doses, they hurt, undermine and exhaust people of color. If you see racial aggression of any kind on social media, say something. If you’re at dinner with your family and someone makes a racially biased comment, say something. The biggest step is not staying quiet.

These might helpful ways to think of and respond to phrases I’ve heard more than once:

  1. “I don’t think we can really end racism. It’s an issue of the heart, and only Jesus can fix those.”
    Perhaps consider it this way: we are living in a time “between” two covenants, the Old and New Testament promises, awaiting the return of our Lord. This is a “waiting time” — nothing is supposed to be finished, but we’re called to work here anyway. The life and ascension of Jesus have revealed to us how to live Christ-centered lives, and we are to pursue those goods even in this “between” time while we wait for Christ to return and finish His work. It may be hard, and it may be discouraging, but don’t not try.
  2. “But I’m not racist!”
    There’s truth in this, someone might not be personally racist; but here, it’s helpful to understand that racism is more than a “feeling.” Racism is any structural or professional setting or system that makes it more challenging for Black Americans or other people of color to navigate day-to-day life. We have all participated in the system at one point or another, either passively or actively.The importance of corporate repentance has been stressed to us more than once from Pastor Jay and Pastor Ryan, but from what are we really repenting? After all, we haven’t been actively racist, so what is it that I need to be sorry for? I think about it this way: because we’ve grown up in a culture that rewards us (under the table) for being white, we are intimately connected to this system which happens to be the same one that (also under the table) has reinforced structural violence to Black Americans. Our personal repentance manifests because of the opportunities to fight against injustice that we did not see – whether we ignored them, missed them, or simply did not actively search for them. We need to own our impact, not just our intent. 

II. Support Black Businesses.

This one is much more simple, but goes a long way! Money talks. Black-owned businesses have faced unique struggles – thinking about the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 (its 99th anniversary just passed on June 1st) as an example. By intentionally seeking out Black-owned businesses, the money we invest becomes power and awareness. Search on Google local Black-owned restaurants to try the next time you eat out, or during your search to become educated, purchase books directly from Black retailers. Historically, Black-owned businesses have been targets of attack to impact Black communities. Support local ones today.

III. Have Conversations.

This one in particular, I hope my white friends reflect upon. As a white person, it is so, so important to have conversations with our white families. Friends, these are not easy conversations — I’ve been there. They are uncomfortable and difficult both to initiate and to continually engage in. You will likely meet resistance and defensiveness, confusion and frustration, and even well-intentioned but misinformed and misplaced beliefs (like “all lives matter” as a response to “black lives matter”). First, establish common ground. If you can establish that at least you both are pursuing peace, that’s a great starting point! Build up from there and engage, so you both are using a shared language that makes it easier to understand one another. Second, understand that you might not change someone’s mind in one conversation, but be open and steadfast anyway. This is important work, but change takes time.

I’ve had confrontations with my family, and not all of them have gone well. They’ve sparked an increase in combative language and posts on social media, and I haven’t spoken to many of them in a while. I won’t pretend that I was perfect in these confrontations. At times, I lost my temper in my passion, and spoke before I thought. That’s why it’s so important to be careful and loving when you have these conversations and learn from other peoples’ (my) mistakes. I’m from Texas, and I think this summer will be the first summer that I don’t go home to visit because I’m uncomfortable and aware of the simmering tension. I know that my family loves me, and I love them, too — of course this doesn’t suggest otherwise. This is hard, though, and I’m mourning some sense of personal peace. But I’ve also felt God urging me to speak out, stand firm in this racial activism, and cast off that peace to love my other family (the one that doesn’t look like me) as deeply as I can. Friends, this is a hard position to put yourself in, but I — along with my family who is here together writing these pieces to you — truly believe this is Biblical.

From Dana:
I’ll jump in to note that these actions and conversations are vitally important in non-Black POC families too. There exists rampant anti-blackness in many minority communities. And in some ways, it can be even harder to address because the privileges certain POCs hold are often less apparent. I think about my father, who lived through race riots targeting his people group in his home country, who found no employment in the UK quite transparently because of his Asian background, who in many social situations sees people ignore him to talk to my White mother (see: microaggressions). It’s easy for experiences like that to create a sense of, “Why would I fight for this other group, when MY group still needs fighting for?”. But I don’t see them as mutually exclusive. Think about how the actions of African-Americans fighting for their rights benefited all people of color. The 14th and 15th Amendments exist. Personal to me, “Loving Day” just passed, celebrating the legalization of interracial marriage that was catalyzed by a Black/Native and White couple. The beautiful breadth of color God created should see each other’s struggles for what they are. Recognize that the oppression of another minority group does not contribute to lifting up their own, but rather the opposite, and break down lingering colonial mindsets that say that success and security are found by aligning yourself only with White folks and against Black folks. 

In Conclusion

Remember: Jesus loved us boldly, and that bold love brought him resistance, riots, and ultimately, crucifixion. With due diligence and a desire to be more like Jesus, we are called to likewise love our neighbors recklessly, regardless of what we’re met with. It’s true, we might not have all of the right answers, we might misspeak, we might make mistakes. I certainly have – but each time, there has been a friend who has corrected me and allowed me space to listen, learn, and change my mind. They were gentle and loving, but firm and honest, and that is the model by which I try to approach those I talk to as well. What’s more important than having all of the right answers right now is having the urgency to begin these encounters, and being more concerned with how radically we can love our brothers and sisters. Ultimately, the actions we take might look different from one another. We all are given spiritual gifts within the church, and we should use those gifts here in pursuit of God’s kingdom. I saw a post online the other day that I actually really liked: “It doesn’t matter what lane you’re in as long as you’re on the road toward racial justice.” (Of course, still, say something!)

Friends: Talk to your families. Love boldly. 

Feel free to reach out to us if you would like to discuss together or desire help in finding more educational resources.

Additionally, please reach out to Pastor Ryan if you feel that you need pastoral support in this time. 

Bespoken: Stop & Listen (Parts 2 & 3)

This blog article is published in parallel with our Bespoken series, “Stop & Listen”. In Part 2 (July 10) and Part 3 (July 17), Pastors Jay and Ryan sit down (over Zoom) with four of the above graduate students to listen to their perspective on Black Lives Matter and racial inequality. No matter what side you find yourself on around this debate, we are inviting you to STOP & LISTEN.